Church celebrates 8th anniversary, finds way to boost attendance levels

By Abby Morris

Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   ABINGDON, Va. -- Today, a church that had its humble beginnings in Abingdon eight years ago, will celebrate its anniversary by seeing the results of a major letter writing campaign completed.
   The congregation of Highlands Fellowship Church sent out approximately 147,000 letters to residences in the southwest Virginia area and the Tri-Cities area of Tennessee inviting recipients to attend the Easter Sunday worship services at the church. "It took thousands of man hours to complete," said Highlands Fellowship pastor Jimmie Davidson. "We had over a thousand people working on this."
   Such a major campaign turned out to be more than Davidson had counted on, he said, adding that it took seven or eight days with volunteers working day and night to complete the letters. "I thought we could get this done in a couple of days, but boy was I wrong," he said. "We didn't quit, though."
   In order to get so many names and addresses, the church purchased a marketing list from a company called AccuData in Florida, Davidson said.
   Highlands Fellowship has done letter writing campaigns in the past as well as television advertising and even billboards. "We always do something to try to reach out and help people," Davidson said.
   When Highlands Fellowship was started by Davidson, only he and his family and a few other people attended the church. That first year, he decided to do a letter writing campaign at that time and sent letters out all over Abingdon and the surrounding community. "We had 156 people show up to our first public worship service on Easter Sunday eight years ago," Davidson said.
   From those humble beginnings, the church has now grown to having four weekend worship services, one on Saturday and three on Sunday. According to Davidson, the church averages about 2,000 people a weekend. "The response has been nothing but phenomenal," he said.
   Highlands Fellowship began as a dream for Davidson. "I really felt led by God to start a different kind of church," he said.
   The church offers a more relaxed atmosphere, he said, with casual dress attire and contemporary music. "The goal is to reach people the traditional church is not reaching," he said. "We still teach the Bible but we do it in a practical way.
   "Our personal conviction is that people are already beat down and discouraged so we try to give them hope instead of beat them down."
   Another of the ways that Highland Fellowship differs from other churches is the lack of a denomination in the name of the church. "We are actually a Southern Baptist church but we don't use the name because that can often be a hindrance for people coming," Davidson said. "People might see the name of a denomination and say 'Well, I'm not going there because I know what goes on there.'"
   "We remove all of those barriers that might hinder people from attending church."
   Since the church's inception, more than 700 people have been saved and baptized, Davidson said. "It's been nothing short of miraculous," he said. "Who would think that in Abingdon, Va., something like that would happen."
   For more information about Highlands Fellowship, call (276) 628-3297 or visit them online at www.highlandsfellowship.com.