When Chris Peagler was called to pastor Victory Baptist Church in Bonneau a decade ago, he arrived on the heels of a painful period when the church had gone through nine pastors in 11 years.
“People were hurting, and our church was divided. God has brought healing; and we are now a missions minded church, glory to God,” Peagler said, remembering his arrival.
The change has been a slow process. As early healing was taking place, elements of overall church health became clear to the pastor. Attendance was good, Victory Baptist regularly had about 120 in worship each Sunday, and members enjoyed each other but were not making disciples. Church activities lacked meaning and purpose.
A few years ago, Peagler learned about the Intentional Church Multiplication Process (ICMP) offered through the South Carolina Baptist Convention. The discipleship and vision casting process leads a church to adopt an outward focus to better reach its community. Fearing it would be too overwhelming, Peagler admits he was initially apprehensive. Church deacons were receptive to the idea, and Victory Baptist officially started ICMP in 2012.
“ICMP taught me to do what Jesus did — to pray, model it, and encourage my church to also do what Jesus did. It has taken three years to see fruit from the process because it’s a process in changing mindsets. It has been amazing,” Peagler said.
ICMP helped “open the door” for the church to gain a new understanding of what worship is and provided the tools Peagler needed to equip small group leaders and deacons to lead and disciple. Lives are being changed, and Victory Baptist recently baptized ten people, including seven adults.
Ben Ulmer started attending Victory Baptist in November, when a coworker invited him; and he recently made his profession of faith.
“I fell in love with the place, and felt I was part of the family the day I walked in,” he said. “I never understood how important God’s love is; I never knew about His forgiveness. Before, all I had in my heart was vengeance and hate toward the people who hurt me, but accepting Jesus as my savior has been the only way to find peace and to move on with my life.”
Peagler, Victory’s pastor, said the church is walking alongside some with drug addiction, and others with struggling marriages.
“None of this would have been possible if we had continued to coast. As a pastor, I wasn’t accepting new challenges; I was fine with everything the way it was. Now, through ICMP, I see people growing in their faith because they understand why we’re Christians and what we’re supposed to be doing,” he said.
The Girl Scouts introduced April Elswick and her family to Victory Baptist, which began hosting the troop of 40 girls in the midst of ICMP. Troop Leader Elswick and her family are one of many families that have plugged into worship and other ministries because of the relationship between church and scouts.
“We found our church home through a sort of ‘side door.’ Becoming members has meant a lot to us. Victory Baptist is a close knit family that prays and supports each other,” Elswick said.
Deacon Danny Tracy said he likes seeing first time guests return to church the following week. “We are growing and seeing baptisms, spiritual growth, and people stepping out of their comfort zone. Moving forward, I see us continually growing in Christ and as a church to reach out beyond our walls,” he said.
The church began ICMP in the midst of financial distress, including a church mortgage of about $250,000. Victory Baptist cast a five-year vision to become debt free, and now it is set to pay off the mortgage this September.
In addition to ICMP, Peagler has plugged into the leadership track through the convention.
“I didn’t realize how lonely I was as a pastor,” he said. “Through this leadership support, I have shared life and prayers with these men whose friendships I wouldn’t have gained otherwise in ministry,” he said. An ICMP consultant since 2014, Peagler now meets regularly with pastors active in the leadership track and whose churches are going through ICMP.
“I feel that the Holy Spirit has used tools we’ve learned through ICMP to reach every person saved at our church over the last four years and, for that, I’m eternally grateful. I have grown so much as a Christian through ICMP. It’s an opportunity that I’m so glad the convention let me have,” Peagler said.