By Bethany Hales, Special to the Message
NEW ORLEANS – A church that was decimated by Hurricane Katrina is now rebounding in a big way.
First Baptist Chalmette, averaging 300 or more in Sunday School attendance before Hurricane Katrina, lost 97 percent of its membership after the storm.
[img_assist|nid=6130|title=First Baptist Church of Chalmette is on the rebound since being decimated by Hurricane Katrina|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=67]Since the reopening of the sanctuary in October, the church has had at least one baptism every Sunday except one.
In the last four months, First Chalmette has baptized more than 60 people and seen about 110 professions of faith.
Worship attendance has grown from an average of 50 to an average of 150.
“Since Hurricane Katrina, God has done so many wonderful, powerful things at just the right time. I call these movements of God ‘Divine Kisses,’ and goodness, I have Divine Lipstick smeared all over me,” said Pastor John Jeffries. “For a period of time we were described as a ‘church on the bubble’ because some who were aware of our membership loss felt that the church would not survive.”
Until recently the church had been averaging about 50 people in worship.
In October, First Baptist Chalmette celebrated the reopening of most of its facilities. The church held a large-scale block party, inviting the entire area to what also was a dedication of the worship center and other facilities. More than 500 people attended the weekend’s festivities. Since then the congregation has been intentionally seeking ways to become an evangelistically aggressive church.
The church launched “The Chalmette Initiative” in January of this year, which set the goal of averaging 300 in worship by Easter. To accomplish this goal, the church is spending a lot of time praying and working in evangelism.
Jeffries said he prays every day for God to bring someone into his path to witness to that week who will become a follower of Christ and be presented for baptism the following Sunday. He has encouraged others in the church to develop a list of 10 of their friends, relatives, or neighbors that they would like to see become followers of Christ and pray for them daily.
Prayer is a huge cause of the recent growth, the pastor said, adding that “while prayer is critical, prayer without action nullifies the prayer.”
First Chalmette is heavily involved in outreach in its community on a regular basis. Jeffries and his wife go out on visitation twice a week. On Tuesday mornings, he and a lay leader visit key community leaders. The church hosts a food pantry ministry twice a week in addition to having a church-wide evangelistic ministry every Thursday night.
In addition to all of this, the pastor and other laymen go on visitation every Saturday morning.
Pastor Jeffries is not alone in leading First Chalmette in this new evangelistic focus.
“The stress and struggle to simultaneously build the building and build the body would be impossible to manage without our Unlimited Partnerships students,” Jeffries said. “As Aaron and Hur held high the hands of Moses in his day as he dealt with adverse circumstances, I have been encouraged and greatly aided in the work of God’s Kingdom by both Marvin and Joseph, my Unlimited Partnerships students.”
He was referring to Joseph Thompson, the minister of education, and Marvin Robinson, the youth minister, who are serving on staff at First Chalmette through Unlimited Partnerships.
Unlimited Partnerships is a ministry dedicated to training leaders to effectively serve churches by providing on-the-job experience, mentoring, and networking.
This ministry places seminary students on staff in area churches to help with evangelism, discipleship, starting new units, and leadership development in order to see the churches in New Orleans flourish. Sponsoring churches pay the salary of the students and mentor them in their work at their churches.