Innovation in an unlikely place

Mike and Jane Lyon, Antioch Baptist Church and “the Brotherhood” show why innovation isn’t only the domain of urbanites.

Too often, we think of innovative church strategies as the sole province of booming urban churches with hip young pastors who seem not to need sleep.

But the story of a Baptist church in rural Virginia belies that notion.

Soon after moving to Red Oak, VA, where his wife Jane took a post as pastor at Antioch Baptist, Mike Lyon met a group of hardnosed men who assembled everyday at Weston’s Country Store.

When Mike began inviting them to church, this crowd made polite promises, but never turned up on Sunday: whether because they couldn’t meet the apparent dress code or because they simply lost the habit decades earlier, these men had learned to avoid steeples like the plague. After weeks of false assurances, Mike finally confronted the men about their evasiveness, and one wryly suggested that they just do church at the Country Store.

So that’s exactly what Mike did: the next Sunday morning, he arrived at the store with a bag of biscuits and suggested that they have a Bible study. Before long, these men became a tight-knit band of disciples calling themselves “the Brotherhood,” and looking roughly like the cast of Easy Rider staging The Life of Christ. In time, this Bible study became a vital part of the Antioch Baptist community, as many of the men came forward for baptism and membership, bringing their families and friends as well.

The success of the Brotherhood proves that the most traditional of institutions can become “incubators of innovation,” when relationships become the context for Christian leaders to reshape organizations, trusting that it’s the Spirit’s hands molding new structures from the old.

The Spirit blows beyond the city streets and never more spectacularly than in the world’s overlooked corners.