When 400 people gathered for a Southeast Christian Church Livestream Watch Party in Bullitt County last November, the wind of the Holy Spirit seemed to be blowing. About 30% of the crowd had no known ties to Southeast.
A few months later, Southeast announced that it would launch a Bullitt County Campus in 2020.
The Bullitt County Campus will begin holding weekend services at 9:30 and 11:15 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 4, at Eastside Middle School, 6925 Highway 44 East in Mount Washington.
In advance of the launch, some 500 people attended a gathering at the Bullitt County Fairgrounds.
Bullitt County Campus Pastor Heath Barth spoke from the back of a 22-foot flatbed trailer.
“This is the community I grew up in,” he said. “It’s where my family lives, where my wife teaches. One of the most exciting things is to look up and see people I know showing up at one of our events. My prayer is that one day people will look back and say, ‘I had an encounter with Jesus because of Southeast’s presence here.’”
According to recent survey data, 92% of Bullitt County’s 82,000 residents do not have a church home. Bullitt County is among the fastest growing counties in Kentucky.
Word of the new campus has spread through social media and by word of mouth.
Informal gatherings have already built memorable moments, such as the first campus baptism in a galvanized watering trough. The campus’ initial Easter Sunday launch date was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“God was at work throughout COVID-19,” Barth said. “The pandemic never stopped the wind of the Holy Spirit.”
Social distancing and masks will be required during services, but people in Bullitt County are ready to gather together.
Madison and Christy Ryle have been Southeast members for 20 years. Madison is a physician in Bullitt County; Christy is an educator, now a stay-at-home mom for their three children.
“There are many here who need to hear the truth of the Gospel,” Madison Ryle said. “I was amazed at the number of young families who showed up at the watch party last November.”
He believes many Bullitt County residents are hungry for community.
“Many are going through life on an island,” he said. “I think many want a village.”
Christy Ryle said it felt like plans for the campus moved quickly until everything came to a sudden stop in March.
“That’s when you just have to realize we’re not in control of anything,” she said. “Even through the pandemic, we’ve been building community through the virtual format for our groups.”
She said the main thing people in the community need to know is that everyone is welcome to attend.
“They don’t have to have everything together. We’re all messy people,” she said.
Ed and Brenda Bentley heard rumors of a new Southeast campus in Bullitt County for 10 years. Longtime members of Southeast, they never complained about the 30-minute drive to services at the Blankenbaker Campus. Now that the Bullitt Campus is opening, they are inviting friends and neighbors.
“I cannot believe this is really here and how the families of every age have community out here,” Brenda Bentley said. “We are meeting so many people who love Jesus. When we saw that first crowd come in, we had no idea of the impact it was all across the area. It’s unimaginable.”
Ed Bentley said it became clear at the first meeting that God was doing something special.
“We planned to park about 100 cars in the field, but so many showed up, they were parked everywhere,” he said. “We can’t estimate what the Lord is going to do or how He will use each of us for His glory. It’s so exciting to meet ‘kids’ 30 to 40 years old who are coming out.”
Barth said the response is God’s doing.
“Honestly, we did nothing big,” he said. “There were no lights, no inflatables, no cameras, just simple gatherings. People are hungry for connection. They are looking for hope. Our goal is to make Jesus known.”