A Tale of Two Churches
The following articles tell the story of how God joined two congregations— Redemption Church, a 2013 plant, and the historic South Shore Baptist Church, founded in 1959 — to become South Shore Church, in Crownsville, Maryland.
South Shore Baptist Church
By Justin Woods
South Shore Baptist Church had a history, a heritage. Started by Eastport Baptist Church, it was founded in 1959. The congregation flourished during the heyday of American churches in the post-war ’60s and ’70s, with strong Sunday School, discipleship, and outreach programs; the church grew, added a building, and served the community faithfully.
But around 2000, the church faced a difficult season, as many do. It rebounded for several years, but, in 2019, the congregation needed to make some decisions. When I began serving as the interim pastor in April 2018, the church wasn’t dead, but it was not healthy. The following Easter, we had 100 people gather, but average attendance had dwindled to 50 or 60 people and few were able to contribute much. The remnant wanted the church to thrive once more, so we began to prayerfully consider our options.
I also serve as a chaplain in the Air Force Reserve, so the decision on how to move forward became a high priority when I received orders to deploy in October. We had to find a permanent solution. We began having very frank conversations. The church could hire a chaplain, hire an outreach minister, or partner with another church to help fund a full-time pastor.
We began looking for church partners who would perhaps send a team and a pastor. But God didn’t open any doors; He began putting Redemption Church on my heart. I had been an associate pastor of Redemption and was friends with Jamie Caldwell. Redemption was healthy and poised to grow. However, the church was meeting in a school. SSBC, on the other hand, needed significant support but had property. Jamie and I spent time in prayer and discussion before we felt God’s leading to take steps forward. I talked to the SSBC leadership and Jamie discussed the decision with Redemption’s leadership. Both churches agreed to join together as one church.
I knew merging in this instance meant allowing Redemption to take the lead. That is not necessarily an easy decision for any church to make. But the SSBC congregation was humble enough to go down that road. Now, the church has been merged as South Shore Church for almost a year. We have been able to see God work in this unified body in a way that was not possible as two distinct congregations. It has been awesome and inspiring to watch Christians do whatever it takes to be faithful in the Kingdom of God.
Justin Woods is the director of Baptist Collegiate Ministry at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
By Dr. Jamie Caldwell
We planted Redemption Church in January 2013 with two other pastors, Justin Woods and Neal Phillips, along with our supportive wives and families. We also had a faithful and capable core of men and women including Diana, Craig, Toni, Keith, Buck, and so many more. It took us a few months to find our stride as a church, but eventually, we figured out who we were and who we wanted to be.
We wanted to be a church committed to doing just five things. We would worship together, live in community, see and meet needs, develop and deploy leaders, and make disciples. God responded to this commitment and gave us some really great opportunities over the course of seven years. We were able to send Joey Nickerson and several other members to plant Citizens Church in Annapolis; we helped members become missionaries with the International Mission Board; we supported pastors doing theological training in Brazil, and we got involved with church planting in Iceland.
Despite the fruitfulness of our early years as Redemption, our greatest opportunity was yet to come.
In 2019, God gave us our biggest opportunity to date. Justin called me in June 2019 just to talk about life and ministry. He had been serving as the interim pastor at South Shore Baptist Church (SSBC) for a little more than a year at the time. He was currently trying to lead this church to revitalize by merging with another church — preferably a church that had a pastor, but not property.
At first, I had no desire for Redemption to merge with SSBC. In fact, I had spent most of my recent conversations with Justin suggesting other churches and pastors that we thought might be equipped to walk through something so fraught and difficult. Thankfully, my wife, Abby, overheard the end of our conversation and challenged me to prayerfully consider whether or not this was an opportunity that we should pursue. Justin and I agreed to pray, and within days, we came to the conclusion that this was definitely a conversation that needed to continue with the leaders of both churches.
In July, the leadership of SSBC formally began this conversation with the leaders of Redemption. By August, I was the interim pastor of SSBC and the lead pastor of Redemption. By September, we were worshipping together as one church in two services because of space constraints. Finally, on October 9, 2019, we voted to become one new church — South Shore Church.
Redemption’s reaction to the merge was very similar to my own. Initially, we were anxious and afraid. We were afraid that our culture would get swallowed up by the other church; we were afraid
that SSBC’s people would be unhappy and extinguish the joy that marked our gatherings; we were even afraid that if we moved to their building we would lose our unique identity as a gathering. In other words, we were afraid of the unknown. But the unknown is exactly where God was calling us. The elders of Redemption responded to our church’s fear with patience, wisdom, and encouragement. Soon, excitement replaced anxiety.
The challenges that our church faces now are not all that different from the challenges that we faced before. We are still a church committed to doing five things, but now we are a church with more people and not quite enough space. We are still worshipping together, but for the time being, we have to do it in light of COVID-19 restrictions. We’re still living in community, but now our reach is broader in opportunity and age range. We’re still seeing needs and meeting needs, but now we have space for a successful food pantry. We’re still developing and deploying leaders, but now the demographics of our pastors, deacons, and residents range from men in their twenties to their sixties.
We’re still making disciples, but now we’re doing it in more places with more people. And I’m thankful for that.
Dr. Jamie Caldwell is the lead pastor of South Shore Church.