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Change. Cooperation. Covenant.

How Two Churches are Combining Resources for Staffing Needs and Greater Outreach

October 9, 2023
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Watch the video above about the growing partnership between two BGAV churches in the small city of Martinsville, VA, and read the full story below to learn more about how their creative cooperation has enhanced the ministry possibilities in their congregations and community.

On July 23, Caroline Tucker began serving as the associate pastor for families at Chatham Heights Baptist Church. That same day, she also began serving as associate pastor for families at First Baptist Church of Martinsville. Both roles are part of one full-time position, shared equally between two churches.

Caroline is the first new hire in this shared-position initiative, but the congregations also began sharing another minister just over a year ago—when Chatham Heights’ longtime associate pastor for music and worship accepted the call to serve at First Baptist.

Caroline Tucker led the children's sermon for both churches during her "call Sunday" in June (pictured: FBC Martinsville).

The two Martinsville churches are only two miles apart geographically. In their shared passion to reach their changing community, they have intentionally cooperated in remarkable ways over the past four years—leading to the creation of a covenant between the congregations, formally establishing a unique partnership.

Their relationship was born out of a sincere desire to work together in their community. For decades, Martinsville was a booming center of the textile and furniture industry in that region of the US. In the 1990s, those jobs began to go overseas, and a tremendous economic downturn ensued. For many years since, the city has led the state in unemployment rates. As a result, churches there have been greatly struggling. 

According to Libby Grammer, senior pastor at First Baptist, her church and Chatham Heights had also worked with several other churches in the area in years past, “But our two specific congregations emerged from those experiences ready to try some new things,” she explained.

So in 2019, First Baptist and Chatham Heights had been planning a conference together to focus on how to do church in a new era, when they’d seen a consistent decline in attendance trends. But just as that conference was about to occur in March 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Libby had been in her position at First Baptist only since 2018, and their attendance before that had been drastically down. “My church was already in a more desperate place,” she explained.

Then Chatham Heights lost 30-40 percent of their attendance during the pandemic.

Rev. Dr. Libby Grammer and Rev. Dr. Mike Hatfield, senior pastors of FBC Martinsville and Chatham Heights Baptist Church

“In the midst of Covid, we started to realize more changes were coming our way,” recalled Mike Hatfield, pastor of Chatham Heights. “So we proceeded with our partnership with First Baptist, even though we couldn’t do the conference we’d planned together.” The two churches shared special video services and did some Lenten and Advent/Christmas services together, but that was just the beginning.

“Everybody talks about all the negative things that happened because of Covid,” said Audrey King, chair of the Associate Pastor for Families search team at Chatham Heights. “But in my opinion, our partnership is a great thing that came from Covid. It forced us to think outside the box.”

She continued, “The things we’ve done for the past 100 years are not going to work any longer, so we’ve got to do something a little bit different.” She remembers how they brainstormed and realized, “First Baptist is having the same struggles as we’re having. They’re doing this program, and we’re doing this program. What if we combine the programs?”

One thing led to another, and the churches did several things together including a live Nativity, a Halloween trunk or treat, a food pantry, and some combined music services. 

During that same time, both churches worked with Mark Tidsworth of Pinnacle Leadership in a study called “ReShape,” a guided process designed to assist congregations in adapting and innovating after disruptive life experiences. A fascinating idea grew out of that process: the two churches could share certain ministerial staff positions.

At the time, First Baptist needed a music and worship minister, and Chatham Heights needed a minister to work with youth and families. But neither church had the budget to fund two full-time positions.

“I don’t really remember when the concept was first broached, but we talked about it and wondered if this was something we could do,” recalled David Cameron, who is now the minister of music and worship at both churches. He’d been serving at Chatham Heights for 20 years, he understood their needs and situation, and he wanted to be part of a solution. “I love kids and enjoy working with them,” he explained, “but that’s not my main calling. My main calling is in music—working with people and helping them sing praise to God.”  

David Cameron, associate pastor for music and worship

Leaders from both churches worked together to develop shared job descriptions, and they also wrote a clear, concise covenant document to establish a formal understanding between them of how they would work together in the shared-staff effort. In 2022, David began serving both congregations as the minister of music and worship.

Members and leaders at both churches wondered how a shared position would work. David had been on staff full time at Chatham Heights for two decades, and leaders there wanted to be sure he’d be treated equitably and with sensitivity in this new situation, where the two full-time positions would be shared equally by the two churches. Audrey remembered many questions they considered at the time: “Does he think we’re trying to get rid of him, will he get burned out, and are we being fair to him?” were just a few of her own concerns.

Worship schedules, which could have presented a major challenge to sharing a minister of music, worked out well after Chatham Heights agreed to continue their 9:30am service as their only Sunday morning worship time. Before the pandemic they’d had two services on Sundays—a contemporary at 9:00am and a traditional at 11:00—but the disruptions of Covid caused them to combine services into one blended worship. Because they’d made that shift already, they simply agreed to keep their one service at an earlier time. Doing so enabled David to lead worship there and then travel the two miles to First Baptist to lead their 11:00 service, which worked well because the leadership there had been more hesitant to move their long-established primary worship time.

“One of the things I love best about this whole situation,” said Marsha Frith, a member of the personnel committee at First Baptist, “is that our pastor, Libby, and their pastor, Mike, work so well together. They have a strong relationship, and I doubt this process would have gone so well with David if they didn’t have the relationship they do.”

“The ideas of shared programs and staff were a little hard for some people at first,” Audrey recalled. “They didn’t want our church to lose its identity.” But now she says, “We’re a little over a year into this, and everybody has seen that this is a good thing.”

David agrees. “It’s kind of given me a second wind in my ministry,” he said. “It’s presented some new challenges in working with a different set of people and a different accompanist and music library, but learning the new choir, the personalities, and the comfort levels with music and worship styles has given me a second wind.” He added, “I’ve found that whatever is best for the churches on the whole—in the long run—is best for me and my family as well. So it’s been a good move.”

During the first year while David acclimated to the shared position, both churches were actively involved in a search process to find a candidate who felt called to the second shared position—a minister to families. First Baptist has a growing number of families with young children, and Chatham Heights has more families with middle- and high-school students. Search teams from both churches worked together to advertise the position, evaluate résumés, and conduct interviews with potential candidates. After several months, Caroline Tucker emerged in the process as “the perfect fit,” according to leaders in both congregations.

“It’s taken a whole year of searching to find the right person,” Libby explained. Other candidates had raised many red flags with the kinds of questions that revealed their hesitation about how this new approach to staffing might—or might not—be a good idea. “And then a few months ago, we received this résumé from someone from Danville—right up the road. Someone who knows our area, who has just finished her MDiv at Wake Forest Divinity, and who has served in so many places that fit the same kind of theology and the same kinds of gifts and callings that we need in our churches.”

After weeks of interviews with both committees, leaders from the two churches made Caroline an offer and set up a call weekend where she’d come to both locations for meet-and-greet events, participate in worship leadership at both services, and be voted on by both congregations. That weekend happened in June 2023, and each church voted unanimously to call Caroline as their minister to families.

Marsha is excited about Caroline joining both staffs in this new role. “It’s going to open up a huge door for both churches, because they already work so well together.” 

“When we talked to her on Zoom,” recalled Mike,” it was wonderful, but it was even better when we met her face to face. Her smile is a beaming kind of smile, and she shows enthusiasm and excitement about her calling. We saw how her calling fit perfectly with what we thought God was wanting us to find.”

Caroline Tucker (right) chats with a church member at Chatham Heights.

“I’m so excited to be a part of two churches,” Caroline said. “Ministry and church has always been a part of my life,” she explained,“and my home church is also still very much my family. I’m excited to get to know both these congregations.”

The new concept brings with it some questions and challenges. “My first concern when I heard about this position was, “If the churches have different theologies, how would I navigate that? And do they get along with each other and like one another?” Caroline recalled. “But as soon as I logged onto my first Zoom interview with them, I could tell that they’re just one big family. They love each other and want to support one another in their ministry.”

Caroline continued, “A challenge could be the diversity in ages and the diversity of the people in both churches, but I also see that as such a positive thing. It’s an opportunity for growth in both places and an opportunity for a different perspective.”

David, when asked if there was any advice he’d offer Caroline as she begins her shared ministry. position, laughingly said, “I’d tell her that the half hour between services to travel the two miles between churches isn’t as long as it looks on paper.” He said he’d advise her to “do your planning well and have everything set up as much as you can ahead of time, because Sunday mornings can get quick between services.” 

Both congregations are looking ahead together toward a bright future of new opportunities that these shared positions will bring about. “The vast majority of what I hear when we talk about these positions is excitement,” said Libby. “People say ‘we’ve never thought about doing it that way.’ Who knew that you could reimburse half a salary to another church and share the position? Who knew that pastors could work so well together?” she recounted.“It works because we’re committed not to a church growth program for one church, but a church growth program for both churches—for the Church generally—the Big C Church. It’s Kingdom vision.”

“Yes, we’ve tried to instill this in our churches and I think that’s what they’ve caught—Kingdom vision—that panoramic of ‘more than me,’” Mike explained. “You never know what you’re going to get when you decide to put self aside and put Christ’s Kingdom first.”

“Now, more folks are coming forward with more ideas on ways we can join forces,” Audrey surmised. “Like, what do you think about doing this? And it’s been a great thing—for the community and for our churches. I think we’ve all grown from it.”

Both Chatham Heights Baptist Church and First Baptist Church of Martinsville are BGAV-participating congregations.