Norris came to Sylacauga six years ago and led the church’s youth program for four years. He left to serve as senior pastor of Sonrise Baptist Church in Mobile, and he returned to Sylacauga last month with a new sense of purpose.
After overseeing considerable church growth in Mobile for two years, including the merging of two other churches with Sonrise, Norris was ready for a change.
“I was interviewing for a job as associate pastor of discipleship in Pine Lake, Miss., and they asked me when I saw the most fruit in my ministry. My answer was student ministry, and I knew I had to get back to it,” Norris said. “I knew First Baptist had not found anyone, so I decided to get in touch and see what would happen.”
Norris submitted his resume to his former church, and “within three days we had a comeback weekend planned.”
His first Sunday back was Dec. 1.
Norris credited a handful of adults at First Baptist who kept the student ministry running like clockwork for two years without a student minister on the staff: Robbie Langley, Bradley Logan, Nancy and Tripp Dickson, Janet Peterson and Amy Lewis.
“Great things are happening here. We’re about to baptize our 10th student since I returned. We’ve seen an increase in the number of young people getting involved. We haven’t offered anything different. My best advice is to get out of the way and let God do His thing.”
More than 80 students are regularly attending Wednesday night services – an increase of about 30 percent – and Sunday morning attendance is also climbing, but more slowly, Norris said. “We’re working on getting our young people to embrace Sunday worship with people of all ages in the church. It’s the Sabbath. It’s when we come together to worship as a community,” he said.
A group of 54 students went to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., last weekend, when First Baptist was one of 330 churches represented at the Scott Dawson Evangelical Association’s Winter Retreat.
Norris said he’s excited to do some upgrades in the youth suite and to help build up the team of adults who work with the church youth. “The general positive energy of the church is helping. God’s doing stuff; that’s all I can say.
“Church-wise, coming back here is even better than before,” Norris said. He said that though he, his wife, Christina, and their two sons have ties to Tuscaloosa, Monroeville and Mobile, they consider Sylacauga their hometown.
“We shot video of the boys when we told them we were coming back. They just went nuts,” he said. William is now in fifth grade and Jackson is in second.
“I’m concerned about our town. I have a burden for Sylacauga. We have one of the largest churches in the county. How can we as a church help our city? We want the town to do well.”
He hopes the church’s Christian Life Center will be part of the answer.
“We’re working on rebuilding a viable recreation ministry for the community. We want people to see the CLC as a tool to help the community and expand our ministry, not a problem to be managed.”
First Baptist got a new senior pastor, Dr. Rick Patrick, during Norris’ absence.
“He’s polished, professional, personal and pastoral,” Norris said. “The ministry is intentional and organized and there’s a clearly defined strategy for reaching people and encouraging what we want to happen in their lives. I know how the student ministry is part of the overall ministry.
“I’m excited about the future. Things are looking up,” Norris said.
Contact Bill Kimber at email@example.com.