Published October 31, 2013
DALTON — While many churches struggle to keep the doors open, Salem Baptist Church has found a simple formula for remaining vibrant as a church and relevant to its community – focus on others.
Salem Baptist’s pastor, Darey Kittle, exemplifies that objective.
“Our mission is others,” Kittle said. “We’ve tried to stay outwardly focused instead of inwardly focused.”
This summer, a sister church had a problem. Their youth were in Florida when their bus driver had to return home due to a family member’s death. When asked, Kittle agreed to go to Florida and drive the other church’s youth home. One might have to look far and wide to find another senior pastor with 18 staff members and about 1,000 worship attendees each week who would do that.
Salem Baptist Church started more than 30 years ago among friends who were having a Bible study. This core group of laity had a burden to reach people, Kittle said. That burden has not waned since Kittle became the senior pastor 18 years ago. Currently, the church is growing at about 18 percent a year.
“In five years, we’ll be in a real mess,” Kittle added. “We’re out of space now in Sunday school and worship.”
When space first became tight in their main auditorium, the church established an overflow room in their gymnasium. With a separate and less traditional worship team, Salem Baptist found that people enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and it grew. In September, the church will have five morning worship services and two Sunday schools.
Salem Baptist has a 20-year growth plan that includes a 2,500-seat auditorium.
“There’s going to come a time when Salem is going to have to proceed with a new worship center,” said Salem Baptist’s deacon chairman David Chandler. “Right now, the Lord isn’t leading that way.”
While Salem Baptist has enjoyed consistent growth, the church has also turned outward to help other churches. Salem Baptist supplements the salaries of three bivocational pastors in their association.
“Some of our pastors are in churches that are in decline,” Kittle said. “These were good men who were preaching the Word every day, but they had to take a reduction in pay.”
When Kittle first mentioned this to Salem Baptist, a member asked, “Why can’t we make up the difference?” Salem didn’t just make up the difference; they also gave those pastors a raise.
Still another church needed worship assistance. Salem has choir members who were leaving after Salem’s 10 a.m. worship to “help [others] with music and give them a boost.”
Salem has helped other churches by conducting Vacation Bible Schools and purchasing baptisteries, sound systems, and even a van for one church. Chandler, who also serves as Sunday School director, is currently “on loan” to another Dalton church to establish a Sunday School there.
“We’ve tried to help as many churches as we can,” Kittle said. “Sometimes people need a little help.”
Wayne Gribble has seen that both as a member of Salem Baptist and now as pastor of Lindsey Memorial Baptist Church in nearby Rocky Face.
“They have helped our church immensely over the years,” Gribble said. “They have been a blessing financially and spiritually.
“Salem doesn’t have jealousy over other churches. They just want to help people get saved.”
Helping others goes far beyond their association. When Kittle came, the church treated missions as a line item, not a percentage of undesignated gifts. After he led them to change, the percentage of giving grew. Today, Salem’s mission giving has reached 25.5 percent, including 10 percent through the Cooperative Program. Their mission giving equals an estimated $325,000 annually.
Salem does not just define missions by its giving. The church also engages in hands-on missions, starting locally. Marshall Worley serves full-time as Salem Baptist’s missions and projects director. Besides leading short-term trips, both domestically and internationally, Worley regularly leads volunteers to assist with local projects including wheelchair ramps, roof repairs, and even car maintenance.
“That vision of others really drives everything as far as missions and ministry and everything,” Kittle said. “Our church is defined through that.”
Jim Burton is a photojournalist living in Cumming and the bivocational pastor of Suwanee International Fellowship.
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