By Kirbi Cochran, Message Staff Writer
MELVILLE – For more than a decade, the First Baptist Church in Melville had declined in numbers, dwindling to just nine members as recently as 2015 and at risk of closing its doors for good. But in just three years, the congregation has experienced revitalization with more than 30 worshipers regularly attending Sunday services.
Pastor Nathaniel Dutton told the Baptist Message he sensed a spiritual malaise among the members during his first Sunday in the pulpit in December 2015.
“They were in a deep funk,” said Dutton, “They were playing church: Come Sunday morning — come to Sunday school, come in and listen to the service — and go home.
“That was their church life,” he said.
Dutton, who was named a 2018 Louisiana Baptist Convention Exemplary Bivocational Pastor of the Year for his dedication and hard work at his secular job and his congregation, is pastor of First Baptist Church, Meville. Also photographed are Stacy Morgan, church administration strategist for Louisiana Baptists, and Jacob Crawford, pastor of Life Point Community Church in Mansura and director of missions for Louisiana Baptist Association. said the key to his revitalization approach has been to love them, “and they are responding to that,” adding that now congregants are sharing love with each other and have created a “good fellowship” that draws others.
Dutton also focused on growing each member’s relationship with Christ, keeping his messages simple with a clear life application.
“My heart’s desire is to see all their progress,” Dutton shared. “They have come to a place where if you mention a need for prayer, they are ready to pray right then – even in the middle of a service.”
Dutton credited a series of revivals throughout the association for helping his church as well as other congregations in the area to renew spiritually.
Revival services were held at a different church sixteen nights in a row and Dutton was involved in the planning and led worship each evening as well.
“We’ve got this thing backward,” Dutton observed. “Most people think a revival is when you win over a lot of people to the Lord and get them baptized, but that’s not a revival, that’s evangelism.
“A revival is when a church gets right with God, and then you will have evangelism because the church has got right,” Dutton insisted. “What we saw was churches coming together, praying together, worshiping together, and now they can go out in the community and bring them in.”
Dutton said revival among his congregation has given him the opportunity to baptize five new believers so far.
Jacob Crawford, the director of missions for the Louisiana Baptist Association, told the Baptist Message, “God brought the right pastor at the right time,” in commenting about the spiritual renewal of First Melville.
“A lot of churches who need revitalization are filled with great people, but they have just become complacent,” he said. “Pastor Dutton is bringing solid biblical leadership and just loving the people.”