By Brian Blackwell. Message Staff Writer
DERIDDER – Laughter of 25 little ones fills the room as Pastor Lynn Clayton walks into the children’s building at New Life Baptist Church.
Not far away, a group of young adults huddles in a classroom for Bible study, enjoying the lesson and one another’s fellowship.
But 12 years ago, the thriving children’s and young adult department were almost non-existent.
Clayton had just come on the scene as interim pastor at the church while working as the editor of the Baptist Message.
The church was averaging around 28 in Sunday morning attendance in what was at the time a mission of First Baptist Church in DeRidder.
Then, God began to move in a mighty way.
Within 18 months, they moved from mission status to a self-supporting church with 73 members.
By 2008, the church had grown to the point where they needed a new worship center to accommodate what was now an average attendance of 100.
Four years later the building was complete and today attendance on a Sunday morning ranges between 200 and 250.
However, New Life Baptist is not done with making sure it adds more space to accommodate its growing congregation. This year the church plans to construct a building that will house 10 children’s classrooms and four adult classrooms.
“We know how important children are and young families and we have been blessed with a strong group of young couples,” Clayton said. “We think we are not going to grow in that area like we can if we don’t provide the right kind of space for them. For some reason God has blessed us with young couples, so we want to be good stewards of what God has blessed us with.”
Clayton said the heart his congregation has for outreach and welcoming guests are what makes New Life Baptist a healthy, growing church.
“It’s just a God-thing,” Clayton said. “One of the things is we are very inclusive. Anybody that walks on the campus is welcome and we love them. We have people say as soon as they got out of the car they felt a spirit of love and acceptance.”
Among its ministries is the annual Trunk or Treat, held on its campus around Halloween.
Hundreds of people visit the event and receive a dose of Christian love to go along with candy.
In addition to the Trunk or Treat is handing out homemade bread baked by members to first-time guests on Sunday mornings and at homes in the DeRidder area. In 2014, 1,500 loaves of bread were distributed, along with information about the church, a gospel tract and on Easter an invitation to the special service. This effort is primarily a prayer walk and every household is prayed for.
“We don’t do it just for outreach; we do it to bless the community,” Clayton said. “The community response is always overwhelmingly appreciative and we get numerous phone calls and comments of appreciation from it.”
Clayton said the heart his congregation has for outreach and welcoming guests to its church are what makes New Life Baptist a healthy, growing church.
Ed O’Neal said that atmosphere of concern and care by New Life Baptist members is what drew him to the church, joining four years ago.
“It’s a really warm fellowship with a great group of people,” he said. “When you come here, you really feel a level of compassion and friendliness.”
Paige LeBeau, echoed the thought. When she first became a member of the church in 1996, she felt she could help the church which was hovering around 25 in attendance. But in the end she received an even greater blessing.
“I thought I could go and add to the numbers and maybe I could be a blessing to the church,” LeBeau said. “But the church blessed me. The small core of people that stabilized New Life and helped it grow had a great love of people and were very accepting of everyone. And that’s still the case today.”
Another long-time member, Betsy Roy, added that a special quality of New Life Baptist Church is that it is an inclusive church rather than an exclusive church.
“We are a very diverse congregation made up of people from all walks of life,” said Roy, who is a member of the praise team and facilitates a women’s Sunday school class. “At New Life we try to make sure that every person that walks through the doors there know that they are loved and accepted and this is a place of refuge – God’s house, not our house.”
Clayton said the testimonies of LeBeau, O’Neal and Roy reflect the larger congregation as a whole, whose motto is ‘everyone is someone special.’
“We are thankful for the good beginning that First Baptist and Louisiana Baptists gave us,” Clayton said. “We don’t try to figure out why we are growing. We are just thankful that we are.”