Published on September 18, 2023 by Sofia Paglioni  
White Flowers on a Bush

After 135 years in Bessemer, Alabama, Bethel Baptist Church has planted deep roots in its community with the help of 75 currently active members. Calvin Bell has been the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church for over 23 years and is passionate about spreading the Gospel to other local communities and churches.

In 2013, Bell was contacted by Samford University’s Center for Congregational Resources (CCR) and learned how the center supports pastors and their congregations. Bell saw an opportunity for growth in his church, specifically with their current technology.

Before they were contacted by the center, Bethel Baptist Church regularly streamed their services on Facebook with a cell phone. However, like other churches, COVID-19 forced Bethel Baptist Church to quickly adapt to the new, technology-dependent world.

With the grant from the CCR’s Lily Endowment Congregational Resourcing Initiative, Bethel Baptist Church was able to upgrade their systems and connect digitally with those who were most vulnerable during the pandemic, such as the homebound and elderly.

This shift also created a strong bond amongst the congregation because older members now leaned on younger members to assist them with their technological needs.

More people were attending services online and their streams quickly became an evangelistic resource for Bethel Baptist Church. Pastor Bell said, “Sometimes, 1,000 people would be watching the livestream from all over the United States.”

Once Pastor Bell saw how well the technology upgrades was serving his congregation, he started connecting with other churches to assess their needs and opportunities for growth. Pastor Bell said, “We worked with other churches who wanted to stream but they had a smaller budget. I have worked with over 100 churches across denominational lines with the help of the center.”

After helping other churches, Pastor Bell began to see how his congregation had become disconnected over the years. Bethel Baptist Church participated in and received a grant from the center’s Life is Calling initiative to continue connecting with younger church members while also including the rest of the congregation. The church began hosting a weekly game night, which both older and younger members participated in.

The Center for Congregational Resources has left a lasting impact on the church and members are more connected now than ever. “We are not the same church we were a year ago,” Pastor Bell commented. Bethel Baptist church is training other churches throughout west Alabama and are providing connections and resources to communities who want to thrive too. “We have to rethink the way we do ministry,” Pastor Bell said, “and that changed our church and other churches for the better.”

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.