As the pastors of Cloverport Wesleyan Church (CWC in Cloverport, Kentucky) and Kingswood Wesleyan Church (KWC in Harned, Kentucky) neared retirement, the churches' congregants faced uncertainty. Like many rural churches that are small in attendance numbers, the future was unknown for the committed few.
Rev. Darren Gillespie entered the picture as a potential pastor after Rev. Aaron Sherman, district superintendent of the Kentucky-Tennessee District, presented the idea to him. Gillespie, who had transferred into The Wesleyan Church from another denomination, sensed God was calling him to a shared pastoral role.
But could the two churches join mission efforts and be better together? The 22 miles separating the two congregations posed a challenge. However, they were united in mission: to have a transforming presence in their respective ZIP codes.
Given the tight budgets and limited resources of each church, a shared pastor approach made sense. Gillespie stepped up to the challenge, committing to shepherd both congregations.
“The win is that each congregation gets to keep its personality but share its ministry,” said Gillespie. “Given this was the first shared-pastor model for these churches and the district, they took the risk.” Little did each church know they would gain much more than a pastor; they would gain each other.
And the churches have embraced each other and both their shared and unique ministry opportunities.
Gillespie encouraged the two congregations to think about the “watering holes” in their communities — the places people gather to find life. While visiting one of the local congregants, Gillespie learned about a housing complex where people engaged in community.
While it’s a “specific ministry” of CWC, congregants from both churches serve together at an outreach event at the complex. According to Gillespie, “these apartments signify a community within a community.”
Twice a month, a lunch and worship service are held at the complex, presenting organic opportunities for ministry and conversations to take place. This summer, a resident of the complex was baptized on his birthday.
Besides the apartment outreach, CWC and KWC also jointly began and continue to fund a radio show that reaches the surrounding area. “Onward and Upward: the radio ministry of Cloverport and Kingswood Wesleyan churches” airs weekly on an already-established station. Listeners hear the message of Jesus every Sunday afternoon.
Steeped in their own traditions, each church has sacrificed preferences so the other will thrive. CWC changed to an earlier service time, so Gillespie could then drive to KWC to preach at their service. Between the two churches, there are four weekly services (two in person and two drive in). Both churches are flexible in Gillespie “sharing time” for needs that arise throughout the week. From the beginning, Gillespie did his best to lay the groundwork for congregants to understand that this is a shared pastoral role.
“Both churches remain very concerned with how one church’s decision may affect the other,” said Gillespie. “They look out for each other.”
The spirit of both CWC and KWC has shown through, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for those who are searching in their faith. Many who attend the drive-in services are not regular attendees. Some local residents can hear the drive-in service from their front porches. Gillespie said he preaches outside “with a bullhorn and a big mouth.”
Gillespie also told the story of a family that invited another family to church. The husband/dad of that invited family has since placed his faith in Jesus.
“It has been exciting to see God work and move in Cloverport and Kingswood and their surrounding areas,” said Sherman. “These churches were willing to take a risk and change some traditional ways of doing ministry in order to more effectively reach their communities and thrive.
“Pastor Darren and his wife, Paula, have led well, and the churches and communities are reaping major blessings for taking steps of faith. I believe the current rejuvenation and growth experienced by these two churches are the beginning of the multiplied impact they are going to have in their region in the years ahead.”
While this shared model is unique in his district, Gillespie believes it will become more common because “we are better together.”
The two churches continue to seek more “watering holes” in western Kentucky so more people can meet Jesus. The people of CWC and KWC know they are building a lasting legacy — together. Their pastor is proud of them and knows they share something special that comes from God.
“This is a work of the Lord,” said Gillespie.
“Only he can do this.”