In the winter of 1891 a group of 12 people from regional Baptist churches came together in Walnut Cove with a mission of forming a new church for that community, bringing with them letters from their host churches appointing them as founding members of First Baptist Church of Walnut Cove.
Last Sunday the current congregation celebrated the 125 years of service to the Walnut Cove community those founding members started.
“The church was basically a church plant from Mount Tabor Baptist,” said Pastor Jim Cohn. “It was a common way for churches to expand. You need a core of people that can start the church. You usually start the first service in somebody’s home and then build the congregation and then find a building.”
From the initial congregation of 12 transplants the church rapidly grew its congregation and built its first church building just a year after being founded. The first building was an octagon-shaped single room building on Summit Avenue.
From those humble beginnings the church has grown and expanded its work in Walnut Cove.
Today the church serves a congregation of about 200 members, with 120 to 130 people attending service each Sunday.
“We see the core mission of our church as evangelism,” said Cohn. “To reach out to other people and reach the community. We evangelize in our local community, in our region and in the world.”
He said the church regularly sends members on overseas mission trips and also on trips to help establish more faith communities here in the United States.
“We have a partnership in Vermont that we send people to twice a year,” said Cohn. “Less than two percent of the people there are evangelical Christians, so we have been planting churches and we go and help twice a year.”
Locally, Cohn said his congregation is very involved in everything from childcare to helping the hungry.
“Our daycare program has been going on for about 30 years,” said Cohn. “We also have a new children’s ministry that meets on Sunday mornings. We have designed that so it is not just babysitting for little kids but instead they learn how to worship. They learn Bible stories, how to give, how to sing, and how to pray.”
Cohn serves on the East Stokes Outreach Ministries board and many of the church members volunteer at the pantry, but he said he is particularly proud of what the church has done on its own to help combat hunger in the area.
“We do a food program once a month called Hope Kitchen,” he said. “The original plan was to prepare meals on Saturday and invite people to come here, then we started delivering meals and now we deliver over 200 meals each month. I would really like to expand that because there is a lot of need and hunger in this community.”
He said the congregation is always looking for ways to get out into the community to do outreach and share their faith.
“We have to get beyond the walls of the church,” said Cohn. “We have a trunk or treat every year that has been pretty popular. We sometimes go to some apartments here in town and just bring hot dogs and talk with the residents. We are really trying to look at the youth and the children in the community who are not currently in church. We are even considering doing some type of bus stop ministry where we could go and bring refreshments to a bus stop and just get to know the kids and their parents.”
Cohn said all of the outreach efforts were important to the community, but also key to the church continuing its 125 years of heritage into the future.
“We have to always be changing,” he said. “The Gospel never changes, but our methods will have to change as generations change. Today people have different music and different likes and dislikes and different schedules.”
To meet the changes in society the church is evolving both its services and meeting times, according to Cohn.
“We are a traditional church with traditional music and a traditional worship style,” he said, “but we are trying to make that a little less traditional. We are working to modernize our music and make our worship more informal. We tell people to come as you are, you don’t have to dress up to come to church.
“We are also trying to do things on other days than Sunday and at other times to be more accepting,” he added. “We have to set a mindset in the church that we are willing to adapt to the culture that is here. Not adapt our message, but maybe the way the message is delivered. God’s word never changes, but we adapt the way we reach people. If we do that and do it in this generation then the church will survive and thrive.”
Cohn noted that ability to adapt to the needs of the Walnut Cove community while still providing a clear and dependable message from God was a key part of the church’s 125 history.
“This church has been here for a long time and made an impact on the community,” he said. “Our job and our calling is to make sure we are relevant in this community and to be a beacon in the community as we are called to do. We are trying to be the church the Bible says we should be.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.