In November of 2020, following a year of challenges caused by COVID-19, the future did not look very bright for East Alcoa Baptist Church in Tennessee.
Attendance had dwindled down to eight people and the church was holding regular yard sales to raise money to pay utilities. The church’s Sunday School rooms were filled with items for the yard sales and there was no hot water in the building. The church could not afford to pay a pastor and local ministers were taking turns preaching at East Alcoa Baptist.
In November, David Kirkland, who then was minister of music and worship at Oak Street Baptist Church in Maryville, Tennessee, was asked to take a turn. Kirkland preached two weeks in a row and noted that God began to lay a burden on his heart to help the struggling church. As a bivocational minister, no salary was not a detriment to Kirkland. “I didn’t want to get paid. I just wanted to help them get to the point that they could pay a pastor,” he recalled.
Kirkland left Oak Street Baptist and began serving as pastor at East Alcoa on the first Sunday of January 2021. It is his first pastorate after 30 years in youth and music ministry.
In just a few months, Kirkland has witnessed miracle after miracle at East Alcoa. When he first arrived, he prayer walked the entire church and prayed for “every brick and square tile on the floor.” He then began meeting with a few men on Wednesdays and they prayer walked through the neighborhood surrounding the church.
God has answered those prayers, Kirkland affirmed.
Shortly after he arrived, attendance climbed from eight people to 24 in just a matter of weeks. There were 58 people present on Easter Sunday and in recent months, the church has averaged about 40 people each week.
Blessings from God
In January, the church had $1,200 in the bank which was barely enough to pay the utility bills and insurance.
The church’s finances have since improved to the point that yard sales have become a thing of the past, Kirkland said, noting that the church had more than $10,000 in the bank in June.
The members learned about the $10,000 in the bank during a business meeting in June, and they celebrated this fact along with the recent rise in attendance.
People who don’t even attend the church, including one of Kirkland’s co-workers, have sent their tithes to East Alcoa to help them financially, Kirkland said. In addition, God has sent blessings to the church as they were needed.
Kirkland recalled that one night after completing a prayer walk, a complete stranger stopped by and began talking with him and his prayer walkers. He told them his name was Jim Allen and that he was a member of Everett Hills Baptist Church in Maryville which has a tremendous ministry to people in their community.
Allen said that if they could help people, why couldn’t they help struggling churches.
Allen offered to fund and do the work on several projects the church desperately needed, including striping the parking lot and bringing in a bucket truck to do some repairs and painting too high to reach from the ground.
Kirkland said he cried during the conversation with Allen. He later told those with him, “Why are we surprised? God is doing miracles but we’re too busy to recognize them.”
One ministry that the church had been forced to stop for nearly 10 years was Vacation Bible School, the pastor shared.
“I told the church that I wanted to begin VBS again,” Kirkland said.
Again, the men of the church turned to prayer and in a short time, East Alcoa had volunteers and churches willing to help, Kirkland said.
Unity Baptist Church offered to let East Alcoa use their decorations and a lady from another church gave East Alcoa $500 to help with additional expenses. “That was totally unexpected,” the pastor said.
Kirkland led the worship rallies and Bible studies during VBS and East Alcoa members did everything else, he said. God blessed in a mighty way, Kirkland noted. The VBS drew 24 students and 24 adults. Eleven girls, all in the same class, prayed to accept Christ during VBS, he said.
“We will follow up on each decision,” he pledged.
Kirkland, who is the VBS director for Chilhowee Baptist Association, is adamant about the importance of VBS. “It is the largest outreach effort that we do,” he affirmed.
Two of the girls were among 10 people the church baptized in the Little River in Townsend on July 25. More than 70 people attended the service.
What was amazing, Kirkland said, was that three kayakers blocked the river up stream so that “tubers” had to go around the baptism, but many stopped and watched. “I was in awe of the reverence and respect shown for our baptisms,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Kirkland said the church did not baptize anyone last year and, to his knowledge, had not baptized anyone during the past three years.
The new pastor is overwhelmed, but not surprised by what God has done in just a few months at East Alcoa. “God is blessing. I don’t know where it’s going, but I’m going to enjoy the ride,” he pledged.
Jim Snyder, director of missions for the association, recalled that East Alcoa definitely needed a boost. “David came in and provided the help they needed to grow,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This article was written by Lonnie Wilkey, and was originally published by Tennessee’s Baptist and Reflector.