Not many churches can boast that they’ve more than tripled in attendance in a year’s time, but the only United Methodist Church in Panola County can.

Rev. Bill Bledsoe, pastor at St. Andrew’s UMC in Carthage, said God is at work in his congregation.

When he was appointed there last year, the church had lost its pastor and at least four members to disaffiliation. There were just a handful of members left, then one of those members passed away.

“We were few but that was ok, because God can use a remnant,” Bledsoe said.

The church got down to four original members, which are still there today, and this “remnant” got busy making plans, praying, and giving of their time and gifts to turn things around.

Bledsoe said he, too, made a commitment – to have faith that God would grow the church – and that’s when transformation began to occur.

“We worked on the inside and the outside of the building, and we worked on the inside and the outside of the Temple of the Holy Spirit, which is us,” he said.

Renovations to the church facilities included a new front door, a new wheelchair ramp in the back of the building and improvements to the fellowship hall.

The congregation also began to get out into the community to reach new members.

Bledsoe joined the local ministerial alliance, began making radio broadcasts, joined the chamber of commerce, started live-streaming messages on Facebook and ran advertisements in the newspaper.

“We just kept moving forward in faith. We began to grow and it gave a spark to the church,” he said.

One member volunteered to start a Sunday School class. Others gave life to new groups for the men and women. The church went from no piano players to two piano players. Bledsoe began a jail ministry.

“It’s not any one thing that’s working. We pray for God to send people and we open our doors for what God sends,” he said. “We say ‘Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors’ and we have to add action to this.”

The church recently hosted a wedding to non-members and has added unchurched and non-Methodists to its attendance numbers. The church gained 12 new members and has another six who attend regularly and “are not members – yet,” Bledsoe said.

He said the congregation has been gracious in giving the new folks time to learn things like the Apostle’s Creed and where to find hymns in the hymnal. “We just love them and love Jesus and give the glory to God” he said.