WEST WINFIELD, N.Y.—Two years ago, Unadilla Forks Baptist Church was ready to close its doors. The church, established in 1914 through a merger of two churches, found itself with less members than when it began. At the time of the merger, 212 people were on the membership role. But in 2013, only about 10 members and one deacon remained.
West Winfield is a hamlet about 25 miles south of the much larger city of Utica, the 10th most populous city in the state. Jim Vogel, state representative of the Northeast Fellowship, felt the church “was in a viable location and worth an attempt at revitalizing.” First Baptist Church in West Danby—two hours away from West Winfield—stepped in to help the church remain open.
Bruce Scott, pastor of First Baptist, sent 25 people to the struggling church to work on its historic facility. The church building had been built in 1895 after a fire destroyed the original 1832 structure, and the parsonage was built in the 1840s. First Baptist also paid to get a website up and running for the church. Meanwhile, the Northeast Fellowship provided support and some funding. It was “a true network effort,” Vogel says.
After the revitalization work, Unadilla Forks Baptist Church reintroduced itself to its community with a launch service on Sunday, June 7. The church expected 75–100 people to come from the community and Northeast Fellowship churches to show their support. About 140 people attended, maxing out the space in the sanctuary.
“What a wonderful time we had—and the weather was beautiful, allowing us to use the adjacent lawn for tents and tables/chairs for the meal and fellowship after the service,” Vogel says. The church even rented a bounce house for the kids in attendance.
Jim Vogel spoke during the service, along with Bruce Scott; L. D. Maxson, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Binghamton and chair of the Northeast Fellowship Council; and Brian Cook, who was installed that day as pastor.
This is the first pastorate for Cook. He began his role on May 24, serving as the 13th pastor of the church since 1914. The last pastor served from 1970 until his retirement in 2011.
Cook, a former member of First Baptist in West Danby, studied engineering at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He became active in his church, serving as a Sunday School teacher, youth group leader, trustee, and deacon. Then while on a missions trip to Santiago, Chile, he felt called to full-time ministry. To further his education, he studied at Davis College in Binghamton, New York.
“The support shown from the community, the Northeast Fellowship, and the First Baptist Church of West Danby really showed us how much God values this ministry in Unadilla Forks,” Cook says. “The congregation is excited about our future and the prospect of serving and reaching the people of the community. We are blessed to see the Body work in this way and encouraged by the continual support of everyone involved. We anticipate great things in the future.”
Revitalizing churches is important to the Northeast Fellowship. It has developed two approaches to lead churches toward health and growth. Its No Church Left Behind initiative helps “churches that are viable but may need to move beyond a plateaued or declining ministry.” About 20 churches in the state are currently involved in the program, benefiting from workshops for pastors and leaders that focus on strategic planning and outreach ideas.
Unadilla Forks Baptist Church grew through the fellowship’s second approach: the New Life initiative. This strategy brings together a revitalization pastor, a mentoring pastor and church, and Northeast Fellowship churches to give struggling churches new life. Vogel says, “We are launching another such work this summer, Lord willing, on the other side of the state. Exciting times.”