By Jerry Pierce
By September of last year, attendance at Forestburg Baptist Church in Texas had dwindled by more than half in a few months, offerings had plummeted and the small church staff had agreed among themselves on a 30 percent pay cut by year’s end.
Pastor Bill Kimbley will testify: Humble desperation bears fruit in God’s economy.
Apparently, the Lord was paying mind all along to the church’s ramped-up prayers, its newfound outward focus, and a pastor who fasted by sleeping in a tent for 37 days in the sweltering summer leading up to September 2012’s tent revival on an empty lot across the street from the church.
The church that runs 70-80 on Sundays baptized 48 people during the revival, and the finances surged up in the last part of last year and this year. Forestburg Baptist not only has new life, it has a house full of spiritual newborns to grow. Kimbley is awestruck by God’s work in Forestburg, a town of 300 about 75 miles north of Fort Worth.
The change, Kimbley said, began as the church looked inward and discovered that they weren’t looking outward to the needs around them. Months of prayer were bearing fruit in the hearts of their people. A retired Air Force intelligence specialist saved at age 29, Kimbley was ordained by his Baptist church in Germany while on active duty and knew God was calling him and his wife Kate to ministry. He earned a master’s degree from Liberty University and planned a move to Texas to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.
The Kimbleys and their five children came to Forestburg Baptist in 2009. By April 2011, a segment of members unhappy with Kimbley’s leadership left the church. In three months, Sunday attendance fell from 120 to about 50 people. And by last fall, things looked bleak. Kimbley admitted asking God, “Lord, did we make a mistake in coming here?”
If September 2011 was the depth of the valley, then the following month marked the beginning of the climb back. Attendance was noticeably rising, partly the fruit of a new benevolence ministry called Isaiah’s Closet; prayers began being answered and offerings for October, November and December of last year set church records, as several members had oil-related royalty checks come in.
“We ended the year $57,000 in the black,” Kimbley marveled. “It was tremendous. It was truly a gift from God.” Prayer for revival had become a “big deal” in the church. “In fact, they were praying for that before the split occurred,” Kimbley recalled. “I started praying with other pastors, we started cottage prayer meetings. We really realized that God was going to have to move or we were going to go down really hard.”
Kimbley said that amid a church split, one can get bitter or get humble. The church members who stayed chose the latter. And a few of those who left came back. “No hard feelings,” Kimbley said. “We decided we wanted to love everyone and anyone. And we got outwardly focused.” Leading up to last winter’s Red River Celebration featuring evangelist Will Graham in nearby Gainesville, Texas, about 50 people from the church and a few others from Forestburg took personal evangelism training.
That crusade, combined with Wednesday night prayer meetings for the unsaved, created a sense of anticipation. Church members got bolder in sharing Jesus and praying for God to move. And Kimbley did something he’d never done: He preached a revival at another church on the invitation of a friend.
In fact, prior to that he’d only attended one revival service — ever. He returned home ready to cast a vision for Forestburg Baptist to host its own revival meeting. The more he prayed, the more he sensed God wanted a tent revival.
Then came the weird part, he said. He believed God wanted him to spend 30 nights leading up to the revival in a camping tent across the street from the church where the revival tent would stand. “In hindsight, I needed prayer for revival for everything in that tent — me. Nothing like sleeping in a tent for spiritual focus. And I think part of it was that God wanted our church to know the seriousness of what we were asking Him to do.”
He strung some extension cords out to his tent for a fan and a light to read by, and he camped out for 30 days, plus seven more during the meeting, which ran Sept. 16-22. He helped most nights at home with the kids before heading across the field to his tent around nightfall. The revival was originally planned for Sept. 16-19, but it was extended, thanks in part to Southside Baptist Church in Lufkin, who sacrificed their use of the SBTC-owned tent that weekend so the revival could continue.
In turn, Forestburg was able to raise enough funds in two hours via Facebook to rent another tent for Southside. During his tent dwelling, Kimbley prayer-walked through the town in the evenings leading up to the revival, which bore immediate fruit — one young woman was converted during a conversation Kimbley had with her and her boyfriend as he walked and prayed. Another man Kimbley had prayed for at a convenience store during a prayer walk was saved and baptized at the revival.
The church rented bounce houses for the kids and each night they fed the community a meal. People showed up, by Forestburg standards, in droves — 240 the first night and about 130 each night during the week, including the entire junior high football team and coaches following their Thursday afternoon game. Over seven days, 48 new believers were baptized outside the tent in a trough, and more than that made professions of faith.
“God took complete families who had no connection to a church and God brought the whole family to Christ,” Kimbley said, adding that “Kingdom love” was evident as people responded in faith. But the initial draw was the meals and the bounce houses. “What it did was open up the hearts of the people to the Gospel,” Kimbley noted, adding that many of them wouldn’t have come into the church building. “You realize how many people feel condemned just walking into a church?”
Kimbley said plans are to eventually expand Isaiah’s Closet to include a medical clinic and other services. Montague County has a high rate of social ills, he said, and many people he encounters simply need to know that someone loves them. Forestburg’s outward focus goes beyond its own town.
For two years straight, the church has raised enough money to send about 10 people to work one week with missionaries in Nicaragua — about $20,000 for last summer’s trip. “Our mission here is to make Jesus famous,” Kimbley said. “You can only make Jesus famous when you are loving God and loving others as He commanded.”
Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist Texan (texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention, where this article first appeared.