WRENS — When travelers on US Route 1 breeze through this small southeast Georgia town, they will likely notice Wrens Baptist Church, the largest building in a town of about 2,100 people.
What may not be so obvious is that the New York Times once ranked Jefferson County among the ten hardest American counties to live in, along with a host of counties from eastern Kentucky.
“I can go a mile from my steeple and find people living with no electricity or water, not sure where they’re going to get their next meal from,” said Scot McKinney, Wrens Baptist Church’s former pastor earlier this year.
What is also not immediately obvious to passersby is what God is doing within the church, particularly its Baptist Men. In recent years, McKinney saw a turnaround of participation and commitment from his men.
“If we can get the men assimilated into church and to feel there is an importance to being here, we can move the church forward,” McKinney said. “We need the men to show up and understand the value of a relationship with God on a daily basis. So we go after the men.”
Going after the men meant there had to be a few changes at Wrens Baptist. Their former Brotherhood group averaged about 10 men in a monthly meeting. McKinney recognized that the church men’s group was in a rut, so he led them to stop meeting for a while. He wanted to see if there was a “hunger and desire” among the men to grow.
After about six months, McKinney said there was a rumble in the church to form again. A layman, Jim Gay, hosted a cookout at his home, and about 50 men attended. After hearing Gay’s testimony, McKinney spoke and “re-energized” the former Brotherhood, according to church member Randy Smith.
After the cookout, Smith told his pastor that he felt God calling him to get involved in men’s ministry. He had served in other church leadership positions, including chairman of deacons.
The church changed the name to Baptist Men and saw its monthly attendance grow to 40-plus men, sometimes reaching as high as 70. Younger men got involved and are now leading Baptist Men.
“We feel like God’s hand is in it and we are following His direction,” Smith said.
Some attractional events resulted in synergy and evangelism. Five years ago they started a January Men’s Conference to speak directly to men’s issues. After a daylong Saturday meeting, they follow it with a Baptist Men’s Day emphasis on Sunday, which McKinney says is one of the biggest days in the church.
About a month later, Wrens’ Baptist Men hosted a wild game supper. When it started a few years ago, they expected about 100 attendees, but 330 showed up. Now, they require reservations to manage the crowd in their facilities.
“We need the men to show up and understand the value of a relationship with God on a daily basis.”
Before school starts each year, Wrens Baptist has a backpack ministry to serve underprivileged families. The men provide much of the labor to assemble backpacks for their community’s students, and they host a block party to distribute the backpacks.
They gear the men’s conference, wild game supper, and backpack ministry to present the Gospel. The 2014 backpack block party alone resulted in 34 professions of faith, while the 2014 wild game supper resulted in more than 50.
McKinney has a history of initiating and growing men’s work through one-on-one discipleship. He started with three men at Wrens, and discipled them for about a year. In turn, they began discipling other men.
“When men were brought into a discipleship group, they attended more often,” McKinney said.
In 2009 when McKinney arrived, he counted 130 people who were truly involved in the church. As pastor he estimated that number to be 225.
“We’ve got more men involved,” McKinney said.
Beyond the attractional events, discipleship, and monthly meetings, Wrens Baptist Men have adopted a cottage at the Baxley Children’s Home where they try to interact and mentor the boys. And many men have traveled to Panama to support the church’s partnership there to plant churches.
Wrens Baptists’ Royal Ambassador ministry has also benefited from the growth in Baptist Men, as has the church’s missions giving. Wrens Baptist gives 10% of its undesignated gifts through the Cooperative Program. The church exceeded its 2014 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering Goal by $3,000, giving a total of $11,649.
“The men of our households are leading that,” McKinney said.
Jim Burton is a photojournalist living in Cumming. For more information about Georgia Baptist Men’s Ministries, visit www.gabaptist.org/mens-ministries.