Fruitland church celebrates growth in its first five years

Monday, August 30, 2004

On the second Sunday in September 1999, a small group of people marked the birth of Fruitland Community Church with a service in an elementary school gymnasium.

A congregation of 50 core members has grown to more than 250, a gymnasium has been replaced with a church building and a church plant has itself become a church planter.

Sunday's service celebrated the church's fifth birthday.

"We've grown faster than we expected, not only grown numerically but also as a family," Pastor Mike Parry said after the service.

The church family grew by three more when Gene and Candi Murphy, with 13-year-old son Joseph, were baptized. The husband and wife of more than 13 years also renewed their vows following the groom's surprise marriage proposal, which was previously approved by Parry.

Eight weeks ago, on the verge of ending their marriage, the couple attended Fruitland Community Church for the first time and left the service committed "to change all the wrong things that we were doing and start doing all the right things," Gene Murphy said. While in marriage counseling, he planned to repropose to his wife on her 33rd birthday, which was Sunday.

Strengthened relationships are frequent high points at Fruitland Community Church, Parry said.

Three videos shown Sunday reflected on the church's progress and connections. The first video documented the first six months at the elementary school, showing how the core members worked each Sunday and prayed over a vacant lot off U.S. 61 that is now the church's home.

Each week members set up and tore down the sound equipment, the stage and the seating, Parry said.

"It was hard work, but it did build unity," he said.

Core member Brian Strickland said the "miracles" leading up to occupying the building were his personal highlight. During the summer of 2001, the church's walls were up within two days, and 13 groups finished a majority of the work within eight weeks. Strickland's wife, Cathy, learned she pregnant two weeks after the couple pledged to the church $15,000 that they initially planned to use toward adopting a child after trying to have a child of their own for five years.

The church's recent history also includes an experience likened to a birth.

"It's been rewarding and deeply satisfying to birth a church ourselves," Parry said. Fruitland Community Church and Red Star Baptist Church planted the Cape County Cowboy Church at the Auction Barn in Fruitland in January. That church currently attracts more than 300 people to its Thursday services and about 100 people to its Sunday services.

Fruitland Community Church itself began as a church plant by Lynwood Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau. For several years, members of Lynwood expressed a desire to start a church in Fruitland to meet the needs of a fast-growing community, said Parry, who lives in Cape Girardeau.

"We know of one lady who had prayed up there for [a church] at least 17 years before our launch," he said.

The difference between a church plant and a church split, Parry said, is the difference between connection and disconnection. Including buying and donating the 10-acre lot, Lynwood continued to support Fruitland Community Church until the church plant became independent.

"To this day, we have a very fond opinion of Lynwood," Parry said.

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