Union Hill growing, meeting needs

Union Hill growing, meeting needs

By Lee Warren
Contributing Writer

HOLTS SUMMIT—Union Hill Baptist Church has been a part of the Holts Summit community for more than 150 years, dating back to 1843. From the very beginning, God has brought people to the church with a long-range vision, and at times, He’s tested it.

In 1948, when the church was hoisted up on jacks so a basement could be constructed, a strong wind blew the church off the jacks and the building sustained extensive damage. But the people of the church were undeterred and they dedicated the repaired building to the Lord the following year.

That same long range vision is still alive at Union Hill today. Frank Whitney, the pastor since late 2003, said that the church has some members currently in leadership positions who are in their 70s and they have never belonged to any other church.

“We most assuredly stand on the shoulders of many generations of godly men and women who believed that God had a purpose, not only for this church, but for their lives,” Whitney said. “That’s still where we are. We feel like we’re building the church for tomorrow for our grandchildren and our great grandchildren. We don’t have any preconceived idea of what God wants to do with Union Hill. We want him to do with it whatever he wants to do. We’re not trying to build a mega-church. We’re trying to build a church that will minister to the community of Holts Summit, Mo.”

The heart of that ministry goes beyond just sharing the Gospel with the lost.

“We want to complete the Great Commission—in that we want to not only go and tell the world, but then we want to do the other part of the Great Commission that Jesus called us to do and that is disciple and teach. We feel like when we do that, we make the potential for our outreach greater.”

Union Hill stepped up its Sunday School efforts after Whitney became the pastor because his experience told him that people leave if they don’t have a place to plug in. He worked in conjunction with L.P. Cook, the associate pastor at Union Hill, and Bruce Morrison, director of the Sunday School and Discipleship team of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), to come up with Sunday School material that is relevant to people’s lives and just as importantly, they worked to cultivate a spirit of love within those small groups. They knew that if people received teaching they could apply in real-life situations and if they were surrounded by encouraging believers, then the church would grow.

They were right.

When Whitney became the pastor, Union Hill had approximately 235 people attending worship each Sunday. Since embracing Whitney’s vision of a vibrant Sunday School ministry, they’ve seen the numbers in worship grow to about 330 in just over three years. And the church’s Sunday school numbers have increased from approximately 150 to 210. On one Sunday in February it hit 239.

Gene Foster, MBC human resources consultant, teaches a Sunday School class with new church members and new Christians. It began two years ago with 12 people.

“The class grew to 30,” said Foster, a Union Hill deacon. “Then we split it three ways. My class is now running 26. We’re going to split it again.”

So, why has the congregation been so willing to follow Whitney’s lead?

“These are good central-Missouri folks,” Whitney said. “And if you tell them what the plan is, and show them that this is the direction we want to go, and if they have confidence in you, they are going to put their shoulders to the wheel and go that way. That’s exactly what I found to be true. They listened to our vision and said, ‘Okay, pastor if that’s the direction you think we ought to go, we’re going to be obedient to the Lord and do our best to follow you.’ They have been a faithful people.

“And I think honestly, God’s hand is upon us. And that’s the only reason we’re growing. It’s not my great preaching or great leadership. We as a people have cried out to God and said, ‘We want to honor you in Holts Summit and, Lord, you’re going to have to help us and show us how to do that.’ That is the heart of the folks at Union Hill.”

Foster described how Whitney approaches his pastoral responsibilities.

“Bro. Frank does a great job of preaching, but even beyond that he’s a good pastor,” Foster said. “He loves on the people; he really cares about them; he’s out there with them all the time. He shepherds them.”

The steady growth of Union Hill may be attributed to several factors, Foster said, but “more than anything, it’s the vision of our pastor, and even more than that, it’s the hand of God.”