DOBSON — For a rural church that began 115 years ago, in 1898, in a one-room school house in the winter and under an arbor during warm months, Salem Baptist Church in Dobson has come a long way — from recent membership levels that reached an all-time high with 900, to resources that increased 300 percent and the rate of giving up 600 percent in the past 10 years.
Now, the church is embarking on a new mission — the possibility of opening a pre-K through grade 12 Christian school, defined by the church’s website as an academy that “emphasizes excellence in academia and a biblical worldview,” as well as new opportunities for children and teens to participate in sports with the introduction of Upward Sports this fall.
Christian academy in the works
With an idea that church members and ministers began discussing three years ago, Dr. Bobby Lewis, pastor of Salem Baptist Church, said the church is now ready to enter planning stages for what could become a K-12 school in the future, as well as a full-day or half-day preschool program.
“Hopefully we will start with a Christian preschool and from there we can build our academy, which would start with kindergarten and then grow with one grade added per year, if we find there is a need in our community and desire for this type of school.”
The need for the school in the community will be partially determined from the results of a public survey posted on the church’s website at www.salembaptistdobson.com, which is available for anyone in the area to complete in order for the church to determine the need for an additional Christian school in the area.
Lewis said the church would like feedback from the community through emails or by filling out the online survey, and said he welcomed “any other ideas they can enlighten us with.”
Lewis said he met with Christian school principals and headmasters from all across North Carolina in order to prepare for the possibility of opening a school in the church.
The Christian academy will be fully accredited and Lewis said he wants the students to be able to compete with students from anywhere in the world in order to get into the best colleges and universities.
“The goal here is to offer all of the academic classes a child would receive going through regular public school. For instance, in a science class right now a child gets a Darwinian perspective, but we would also offer them a creation or biblical perspective on the origins of life. We want the students to be aware that there are evolutionary teachings, but we want other options for them.”
Among church members at Salem Baptist are “many dozens of educators,” according to Lewis, and he said those who want to help could be utilized even more with the addition of an educational facility.
This is not a move to critique public schools, said Lewis. Both Lewis and his wife have public school backgrounds as educators.
Instead, Salem Baptist wanted to offer a Christian alternative because “there is only so much [school systems and teachers] can do with public funds,” said Lewis, who pointed out that the church is not trying to compete with area schools or home school families. “If families feel that home school or public school is best for their child, we want them to continue with that. We just want to give another option. Homeschool children who may need a math class they can’t get at home could potentially come to our Christian academy and take the class.”
For the initial launch, which may happen in the fall with preschool classes, they will use their existing facilities which are practically brand new. There are also plans in the works for future additions to the church, said Lewis.
“We want to offer the best of academics, as well as training in Christian studies and the scriptures, so people have another option. By offering a Christian school to our community, we are sending the message that we are called to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and spirit.”
Upward Sports program
Lewis said that in addition to the school, Salem Baptist Church is starting a sports ministry in the fall — Upward Sports. They will begin with basketball in the gym and branch out with the addition of more sports — possibilities are cheerleading, soccer, baseball and tag football, among others.
According to Lewis, many kids already are involved with “association sports through leagues or schools” and they would like to offer the sports, but with the addition of a “Christian foundation” that includes devotionals during practice and games, and will give kids of all abilities time to play.
“Lots of kids love to play sports, but when they get on the team, they may not be able to play as much as they want. With Upward Sports, every child plays, every child has an equal opportunity. The goal is not about how many games you win, it is how we develop good sportsmanship and a Christ-like attitude on the field, which will translate to school and even the workplace.”
Community outreach and a “holistic mind set”
The church is involved on many levels in not only the community, but the nation and the world.
The members participated in building a church on the Amazon River, a large facility in India, mission work in South Africa and the Dominican Republic, and they have a church member in Costa Rica right now.
Lewis said they also have plans to send a group of members to Greece and have given away a quarter of a million dollars to missions outside of the church, with more than half of the money that remained local, supporting the area children’s homes, the Gideon’s, Habitat for Humanity, retirement homes and the food pantry in Dobson, among others.
Salem Baptist Church services are available for free, live on its website or by tuning in to Time Warner Cable every Sunday at 2 p.m. on channel 65. Services also are available at any time, through on demand at channel 1083.
Membership at Salem Baptist Church has increased to 900 members, and for a rural church in a town of 1,500 people, Lewis said those numbers are remarkable.
According to Lewis, the average drive time for the church members is 20 to 25 minutes, with members who have attended from King, Pinnacle, Mount Airy, Boonville and Hillsville and Galax in Virginia, which helped to define Salem Baptist as a regional church and allowed them to offer multiple ministries.
Ministries at the church include a Mom’s ministry; a couples ministry offering counseling and regular date nights, complete with child care by church members; a senior ministry that offers exercise classes and social options in addition to Bible studies; youth and children’s ministries; and a new ministry called CrossLife that targets college-age students through their 20s.
“We want to have a holistic mind set…we want to reach the community through as many avenues as possible, not simply grow our church. We want to reach people who may not be involved in church, but also reach those who are involved in other churches. We’ve been blessed with a tremendous number of resources given by the Lord and we are looking at what we can do to reach our community. God has brought so many blessings into our life and we want to share.”
Reach Jessica Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1933.