Home Christian News Gospel Emphasis, Community Connections Lead in Rural Church’s Growth

Gospel Emphasis, Community Connections Lead in Rural Church’s Growth

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Photo courtesy of Baptist Press

SIMPSON, La. (BP) – Sitting 35 miles west of Alexandria, the village of Simpson doesn’t have much. Not on the surface, anyway.

There’s a blinking light and a Dollar General, a small convenience store and school for students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Many of the area’s residents drive anywhere from 10-40 miles to work at Fort Polk, in the oil fields, with the state police or as teachers.

The rural setting – both the U.S. Census and locals use the “village” description – can be a challenge for churches. But the area’s focus on a sense of community has factored into growth at Simpson Baptist Church, which in turn is led by a focus on prayer and preaching God’s Word.

When Pete Keough began as senior pastor at Simpson on April 1, 2021, his first worship service witnessed a higher-than-normal attendance due to its being Easter Sunday. Average attendance began to climb, however, from 58 to approximately 200 now. Wednesday Bible study/prayer meetings see 30-40 adults and just as many students. On July 3 the church had five baptisms, joining the well over a dozen in the last year.

“It’s been about God’s grace,” Keough said of those figures. “Trust God completely and He will do it.”

A 32-year career in the Army culminated in Keough’s role as a senior chaplain for the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii. That career took him to serve local churches and military chapels throughout the country as well as overseas in Germany, Iraq and Afghanistan. Ministering within a local context and the importance of becoming a part of the community became apparent to Keough.

He had witnessed it in Simpson. While stationed at Fort Polk about 21 miles away, he preached at the church numerous times.

“I really got to know the congregation,” he said. “When I retired and they were looking for a pastor, I ended up coming here.”

The church had always had an active outreach program. That continued alongside Keough’s expositional preaching style. A recently begun study in the Book of James follows an 11-month dive into Ephesians.

It’s typical for such a jump in attendance to be credited to the new pastor, and Keough’s leadership has been a factor, certainly. But in his bivocational role he remains working full-time as an Army contractor at Fort Polk even though he is officially retired.

That places a significant load on deacon leadership and part-time staff. All have answered the call, Keough said.