“We want young families.”
That was the dream of Pastor David Gray’s church, Sterling Baptist in Fairview Heights. But when Gray arrived as pastor in May 2013, there was not one child at the church. No preschoolers, no school-aged kids, no youth.
Still, Gray, who had spent a few months as the church’s transitional pastor before accepting the permanent role, gave them some unusual advice. “Let’s call a children’s minister.” As Gray says now, “You get what you prepare for.”
Terenda Wyant joined the staff as children’s minister, and the church started a three-month process to overhaul the preschool area. “And we had not one kid enrolled anywhere,” Gray said. “We didn’t have a family that was young enough to have kids.”
But that fall, the preparation paid off, when Cal Ulloa approached Gray about starting a Hispanic ministry at the church. Gray and his church agreed, and Ulloa brought 10-12 families with him to begin a worship service in Spanish at the church. On months with five Sundays, the Anglo and Hispanic groups met together that morning, with Gray preaching and Ulloa intepreting in Spanish.
And the newly renovated children’s wing was well-utilized.
“God just began to bless in a marvelous way with them, as well as with us,” Gray said. Now, Sterling Baptist and Iglesia Bautista Sterling, as the Hispanic ministry is called, have dozens of children and youth in the building every week.
The pastor with more than 50 years of ministry experience says God has blessed in “places and ways that I never would have dreamed.” A church that had dwindled to 15 in attendance just five years ago now has three worship services among the two ministries. Several teenagers who had been attending the Hispanic service now worship with Sterling Baptist during their English-language worship service. And five families in the church are expecting new children soon, Gray said.
“I think we’re going to be able to keep the nursery open for a little longer.”