by Tess Schoonhoven

LINWOOD, Kan. (BP) — When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Linwood Baptist Church, established in 1911, closed down. Its three remaining members did not plan to reopen. They thought it would be best to move on.

They called real estate agent Mary Knapp, a member of First Baptist Church in nearby Basehor, Kan., to help sell the building. But when Mary and her husband Al heard of the plans to close the church, they felt God saying it was not quite time for that.

“God just really spoke to my heart and said, ‘This isn’t right. This is not what is supposed to happen’,” Knapp said.

Al called Mark Clifton who lives about 20 minutes away from Linwood, a rural town of about 400 people on the western edge of the Kansas City metropolitan area. Clifton is senior director of church replanting with the North American Mission Board.

Clifton met with the members and discussed ways they could revitalize the church rather than closing it. He explained that the church did not have to die, and they didn’t have to go it alone.

“They agreed after some prayer and thinking about it,” Clifton said. “They felt like that was what God wanted them to do.”

Things moved quickly. The members adopted the Baptist Faith and Message as their statement of faith and voted to align the church with the Southern Baptist Convention. (It had previously been aligned with another Baptist denomination.) Then, to Clifton’s surprise, they called him to be their pastor.

Clifton said he was not anticipating the call but saw God at work in Linwood and in the replanted church.

He connected with other churches in the area and encouraged leaders to come alongside the replant and to help spread the word about the anticipated reopening.

Partner churches include:

  • Fellowship West, Bonner Springs
  • Lenexa Baptist Church, Lenexa
  • First Baptist Church, Basehor
  • West Haven Baptist Church, Tonganoxie

The first stage of replanting was building community through a weekly Wednesday evening study of “Experiencing God” by Henry Blackaby. The meetings began in mid-May. Al and Mary Knapp attended the first meeting.

After meeting on Wednesday nights all summer, the church launched Sunday services Oct. 11. It held a free garage sale the day before to help publicize the beginning of Sunday services.

The KNCSB Mission Board welcomed the church into the convention during the meeting on Oct. 16.

The church has reached out to the community in a variety of ways. It worked with the Linwood library to sponsor movie nights. And it also co-sponsored a Christmas celebration with the City of Linwood. The event was held Saturday evening, Nov. 28. It featured Santa Claus, KC Wolf, mascot of the Kansas City Chiefs, Chosen Road, an Americana/bluegrass group from Bluefield, W.Va., and Lulu Roman, long-time star on the TV show “Hee Haw.”

The church is now averaging 70 people per Sunday and remodeling is underway on the building.

“Dead churches can live again,” Clifton said.

Tess Schoonhoven is a Baptist Press staff writer. Additional reporting by Eva Wilson, Baptist Digest editor.