IBSA @ Prayer ~ Renewed Focus on Prayer as Communion

Casey Church Experiences Revival, Dramatic Growth: Pastor Credits 'God's Hand'
Meredith Day – IL Baptist paper
Pastor credits 'God's hand'

CASEY, Ill. | On any given Sunday in Casey, a rural farming community in extreme eastern Illinois, about 10 percent of the population worships together at First Baptist Church. The congregation has almost doubled in the past 18 months, and the church baptized more people in that period than in the last five years combined.

“I attribute everything that’s happened so far to God’s hand,” said Pastor John Blaylock. “We really are in revival.”

The church has grown from a congregation of 175 to an average Sunday morning attendance just under 300. There’s rarely a Sunday without new guests. More than 50 people have been Baptized in 18 months, and more than 40 of those are actively involved in the church.

Casey’s youth and young adult ministries also have grown, Blaylock said. The College & Career Sunday School class has grown from four to 19 people, and Mark Shipman, the church’s youth pastor, is ministering to a group of 50 teenagers on a weekly basis – four times what they had two years ago.

When Blaylock is asked how they’ve grown so quickly, what new programs or outreaches they’ve started, he says the answer is simple: The church’s goal is to make Jesus famous in Casey. When Blaylock first came to Casey, he challenged his church members to live in such a way that God’s work would be what the town was known for.

“We need to be compelling,” Blaylock said. “People need see something. They know my life is different, they know the church’s life is different. When they look at us, we have joy in the midst of wrath. Whatever comes our way, there’s something different about us.”

One of those differences is the church’s renewed focus on prayer. “We’re trying to move our prayer life from just a simple matter of communication to a matter of communion. We want to be able to spend time with God, not just rattle off a list of petitions. I think that’s what He’s looking for, people to come and say, ‘I’m not looking for anything but You.’”

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At their weekly prayer meeting, Blaylock challenges the church to prepare for prayer. They brainstorm together about the things they want to present to God, and spend time preparing their hearts for prayer.

“Even though [Scripture] says we can come boldly, I don’t think we should come foolishly,” Blaylock said of prayer.

The strategic, focused approach FBC Casey brings to its prayer meetings extends to the way they do ministry as well. Based on principles from “Simple Church” by Life Way Christian Resources President Thom Rainer, Blaylock has moved his church toward the two commandments found in Mark 12: loving God and loving others.

He credits his church’s commitment to love others with helping new Christians assimilate into the congregation. He said they’re striving to be a church with “level ground,” where people are accepted and discipled. When each new believer is baptized, they’re connected with a “sponsor” to walk alongside them in their faith. The focus is on taking care of people, Blaylock said.

Even as he talks about the things his church is emphasizing, and the changes they’ve made over the last 18 months, Blaylock is careful to give credit where credit is due.

“Just as much as I didn’t deserve His grace and His tender mercies when I got saved, this community and this church doesn’t deserve what He’s doing here now. But I’m grateful for it.

“He’s been very generous to us.”

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