From its brick façade, the building looks church-like and historic. But its west side features the church name in large 1950s lettering, visible from the highway. And above the name in even bigger letters are the words “Jesus Saves.” The sign, which is illuminated at night, caught the attention of Press & Sun-Bulletin correspondent Thomas Picciano, who wrote about this sign and a second one, the church’s outdoor message board. “We try to have a smiling sign,” Pastor Michael Brink told Picciano. “We want a friendly message that isn’t confrontational, isn’t mean-spirited. Maybe a conversation starter.” Although Brink reaches out to Binghamton residents via social media, he likes that this message board is another way to connect with the community.
Connecting with the community was the goal on Easter Sunday. The church hosted an Easter celebration, inviting the community to a family-style brunch and a kids’ Easter egg hunt. On Tuesday nights this church of 70 has a women’s outreach, with about 20 women of various ages and at various life stages attending each week. This ministry includes Decadent Decades luncheons, designed to bring together those dissimilar generations of women, and an upcoming Coffee, Cake, and Comedy Night.
The men’s ministry has been less robust, with an average of less than 10, but Brink says the church is making modest gains and is hoping to continue gaining ground in that regard.
Brink stresses that while the signs and community outreach events are important, the church’s most valuable sign is people’s lives. “We can come up with clever sayings to put on our sign in five minutes. But building a reputation is a lot more work,” he told Picciano. “This has to be a kind of Monday through Saturday thing [with] the people that you interact with all week long. . . . They ought to be noticing that something is going on in you. Something is changing in you, and if we’re living it right, people are going to want to know what is going on.”
Members have felt more comfortable bringing guests, and the church has had more visitors lately. Brink says some find something that connects for them and stay but that many do not return. Still, in the last two years, the church has had 14 baptisms: 11 adults and three teens. For eight of the adults and the three teens, Park Ave’s ministries have been significant in their salvation and growth over the years. “Some of these are children and grandchildren of members, while others are coworkers or neighbors that our folks have built relationships with. It’s been an exciting time!” Brink says.
He also says it’s not all success stories. While the church has gained 20 members these last two years, they’ve lost 15 due to geographic relocations, one death, and disagreement with the church’s direction. “Every one of those departures costs us in terms of relationships and ministry energy,” Brink says. While Park Avenue Baptist is “not the church we want to be and not the church we need to be, we want to continue pouring more energy into what matters most, and that can be a major challenge. We want to be found faithful by the God Who has called us ‘for such a time [and place!] as this.’”