First Baptist Church — Sheridan, Arkansas

When a coastal Texas pastor who loves to scuba dive moves to central Arkansas, transitions abound. Pastor Wesley Ashabranner became Associate and Student Pastor of First Baptist Church in Sheridan, Arkansas in May 2019. Shortly after graduating from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Ashabranner relocated and began his ministry. He tells of a string of mishaps that filled his first several months in his new hometown. After such an eventful start, the calmness brought on by quarantine gave peace and refreshment. Pastor Ashabranner also used this time to focus his ministry efforts toward contacting parishioners by phone and with personal visits. Some of these visits, slated for thirty minutes, lasted up to six hours as people were longing to connect with others.

The growing youth group Ashabranner leads meets in person for Sunday morning Bible study. The youth also meet Wednesday evening for midweek services, where he is the teacher. He loves interacting with his teenagers and watching them grow. Ashabranner stated his vision for the ministry was to equip parents to reach and teach their kids. When he arrived at FBC Sheridan, he persuaded one youth parent to join the youth ministry as a volunteer. She now leads the youth ladies’ group on Sunday night. Recently another mother called him to express her excitement over her son reading the Bible. “The students are growing!” he remarked. Ashabranner tried to use the Zoom format to connect with his youth, but that method was not effective for him. He chose, instead, personal visits and weekly calls to the parents.  

Pastor Ashabranner expresses thanks for his church members. “They are extremely open and welcoming,” he beams. The church members minister to the community through the church daycare, a food pantry, aid to unwed mothers, and a prison ministry. Members reach out to those who aren’t connected to the local church family and seek to meet their needs. Ashabranner explains the small town of Sheridan struggles with drug use in the woods surrounding the community. Ministry opportunities present themselves frequently for this church. One of the recent online teaching opportunities offered by the pastors calls the congregants to interact with the hurting world with the hope of the gospel.  

Pastor Ashabranner leads the audio/visual team along with three dedicated volunteers. The church is in the process of switching from analog equipment to digital. Integrating analog and digital media into a single live streaming product has proven to be a challenge. Ashabranner hopes they will continue to learn more and use new technology to refine their streaming processes. “Technology has vital importance as we move our church forward,” he said. After winning a recent Bose Church giveaway, Ashabranner received two pairs of Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 UC and is excitedly awaiting their arrival while his family offers to care for the second one of the pairs.

A technological shift in the church brought on by COVID inspired the pastors to make changes. FBC Sheridan started live streaming their services. Ashabranner commented on the importance of making the services available to the members who are more susceptible to illness. The audio/visual team uses Facebook Live for these broadcasts. The pastors also offer pre-recorded lessons on varying topics through YouTube. “I have learned a lot more [about technology] than I ever thought I would,” said Ashabranner. During this time, the FBC Sheridan staff agreed to rearrange their Sunday morning schedule. Their corporate worship service is first with Sunday school to follow. The church uses a sermon-driven curriculum to discuss the teaching they received in the previous hour. Ashabranner hopes the new schedule will encourage people who attend the worship service to stay and join a small group during the Sunday school hour.