HODGENVILLE—DeWayne Gibson's ministry plan didn't work out just like he had planned. And he's thankful it didn't.
After surrendering to the ministry at age 16, but not "having a clue" about what God wanted him to do, he worked in student ministry for 25 years. "I had bargained with God that when I retired from teaching, then I would take on a church (as pastor). But God had other plans."
That plan involved him going as a bivocational pastor to Parkway Baptist Church, a small church about a mile outside of Hodgenville. That was seven years ago when the church had just a handful of people. Today, it has two Sunday morning worship services and averages 350 people in attendance. It had a high point this past Easter when 753 people attended.
The church is young, being organized in 1991. When Gibson went to meet with three deacons and a few leaders, the attendance was only about 35-40 people. "People were really hoping for and striving for the church to grow. I laid out my vision for growth and for reaching people. We're more kingdom-minded, more kingdom building-minded than we are Parkway Baptist-minded. They were all unanimous that they wanted growth, and we began to make some changes and do some things to step out of our comfort zone. They were willing and we began praying, praying, praying."
At that time, the church's only building housed a kitchen, some classrooms and a small sanctuary "that seemed very uncomfortable," Gibson recalled. "I came from South Fork Baptist Church where our youth group on Wednesdays had about 150, and I came into a congregation of about 35 and I wondered, 'God what are you doing?' The layout for the sanctuary was strange. They bunched everybody in a corner because there weren't that many people. So we said, 'Let's get prepared. Let's make this place ready for people.' We extended the stage and realigned chairs and set out chairs—we filled it with chairs with anticipation and hope and we started seeing people coming. That excited everyone, and they started reaching more and more people. That first Easter we were hoping to fill the sanctuary, and we ended up with about 200. We were beyond excited."
That rapid growth led to discussions of what to do next. The church contacted regional consultant Alan Witham, who came in and held deacon training sessions and did a space analysis. "He is such a great guy, an encourager. He's been back since to check on things and always says 'if you need anything just give me a call.'
"This whole place looks different now. It used to be grass and a gravel parking lot. We took a huge step of faith then. There was no debt, and the church owned about 25 acres of land." The church agreed to build an addition that would house a new and larger sanctuary and some offices.
"It was about $350,000, which was huge for the small group we had at the time, but it will be paid off in less than three years. Then we'll move on to the next phase. We've been blessed with growth, and with growth we've added some staff members, and all our staff is bivocational."
DeMarcus Compton serves as the worship leader and also works as a teacher. His wife Brittany is the children's director and is a social worker in Jefferson County. "She's done an amazing job — our children's group on Sundays is growing by leaps and bounds." Michelle Milford is the administrative assistant, but Gibson said she assists in many other areas. Jeremy Williams is the student minister, Sandy Kidd is missions coordinator and Missy Wilkerson is nursery coordinator.
The rapid growth, which included building a new sanctuary and classrooms less than three years ago, hasn't resulted in any complacency.
"We are a county about 14,000 strong, and about 80 percent aren't connected to a church. We love missions, international missions and other missions, but our mission field is our schools. As a teacher, I hit that area hard. There is a huge amount of people who are unchurched or dechurched. There are about 66 churches in LaRue County and Hardin County has a lot of churches — there are a lot of big churches, great churches, but we're still seeing growth despite all that. We've seen a lot of young couples come and accept the Lord and we've been blessed with a lot of baptisms each year."
His affiliation with the school system has opened many doors. Gibson has led the Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter for 16 years, but has stepped down from that position because of time demands. He teaches special education, and has coached football, track and girls softball in the past.
Although the church is situated among fields of corn, soybeans and hay, it has successfully utilized its website and social media to attract people's attention. "We don't want to look at the church as a business, but it is a business. So we've utilized social media, a lot of word of mouth and being involved in the community. We reach out to our school system several times a year and invest into the teachers, administration and students," Gibson said.
Parkway has demonstrated a strong mission focus. "We do local mission projects, and we've partnered with two missionaries who work in Oregon, and we send teams there." Gibson began taking mission trips to Ireland while he was at Campbellsville University. He was the intramural sports director and a man walked into Gibson's office asking where he could find the campus minister's office. The man said he was trying to recruit people for mission work in Ireland.
"The campus minister and I put a team together of about 22 people to go there. That was the first time going there and I fell in love with the people and the culture and the ministry going on. We have another team going back there in October."
Parkway gives to the Severns Valley Association and the Cooperative Program. "I am very clear to let them know this is money going out to do the work. There's been an increase in giving. I want them to know that's a great way to give money. The demographic we're reaching (mid 30s) — they're at a phase where they're learning to give and what that means to their family and to their own spiritual life.
"I definitely want to continue to invest in missions locally, across the nation and abroad. I would love to add more staff and full-time staff and we're praying for growth."
One giving tool that has had great success is a "dollar box," designed to be a local mission giving opportunity that helps parents teach their children to give. We tell them bring a dollar, only a dollar, have your children give it so they learn about giving. That's what we use to reach our schools. Each week we come out with $300 or $400 so it adds up pretty quickly."
The word Gibson, who is in his 50s, uses so often is "thankful." "We're so thankful. Our prayer constantly is that the Lord will keep Satan out and not let any little thing come in and destroy what God is doing."