INDEPENDENCE—A 216-year-old church lies in the heart of Kentucky’s third largest city by land, where 85 percent of the population is unchurched. The Kentucky Baptist Convention designated Kenton County as one of the most strategic places in the state for church planting.
Yet, Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Independence, averages 650 each Sunday, is engaged in a building program, and intentionally reaches out to their community on a weekly basis. They’re thriving. Their secret: prioritizing reaching “their Jerusalem.”
“Our mission statement is that we exist to do whatever it takes to help every person take their next step with Jesus. We’ve really leaned into that phrase ‘whatever it takes,’” Bill Clark, pastor at Hickory Grove for the past nearly eight years and staff member for almost 20 total years, said.
“I think really two or three years ago, we started thinking about who were we linking arms with in our very own community. Just going back to Acts 1:8—we were told to be His witnesses in ‘Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ Based on that metaphor, the light should be shining brightest at its source,” he continued.
Clark added, “Our light at Hickory Grove should be shining brightest here in Independence.”
Hickory Grove still prioritizes missions giving through the Cooperative Program as well as other misisons endeavors. However, they are especially intentional about bridge building within their community.
“They got a lot of community engagement, getting to know people by serving the community, and doing so strategically and intentionally with a gospel intent in place,” Jim Woolums, director of missions for Northern Kentucky Baptist Association, commented. “I think they are doing a good job of equipping their people to turn those everyday conversations into gospel conversations as they build bridges by meeting needs and meeting people where they are in their community.”
Hickory Grove partners with area schools, officially “adopting” a local middle school—being their point of refuge in case of an emergency, helping with their family resource center, and facilitating a student led prayer group each Wednesday morning, as well as other partnerships with public schools throughout the area. Additionally, they collaborate with a local alternative school to provide weekend backpacks full of food for students who would likely have nothing to eat otherwise.
Last year, the church assumed responsibility for the community-wide Easter Egg Extravaganza, with numbers growing from 200-300 people to around 6,000 attending. They regularly take upon themselves other projects.
Clark noted that from this “mindset” of outreach, the church has seen significant growth. “We’ve had an uptick in our baptisms and attendance. There’s growth. The ultimate goal is we want people to meet Jesus.”
He added, “Sometimes we have to show them how much we care physically and how much we care for them as people, individuals, and as a community before they want to hear the gospel.”
“In addition to that, the mission itself is invigorating for our people,” Clark continued. “They realize that the whole reason we’re here is to be able to shine our light in the community in which He has planted us. We’re not here to do church as usual, to gather, to enjoy worshipping together.”
This vision, combined with intentional small group discipleship, has invigorated his church, Clark shared.
“This church is willing to do pretty much anything if they know it’s reaching people for Christ. That culture was set a long time ago. It’s a blessing,” he added. (WR)