Population growth impacts Baptist churches
By Bob Baysinger
September 9, 2003
And they are creating unique ways to reach out
JEFFERSON CITY – Population growth spurts in two Missouri counties is having a major impact on several Missouri Baptist churches.
Lincoln and Christian Counties, according to the state Office of Administration, have experienced significant population growth the last two years. Ryan Burson, Missouri’s state demographer, said Christian County (8.9 percent) and Lincoln County (8.6 percent) are the two fastest growing areas of the state.
Christian County’s population count jumped from 54,285 to 59,117 between 2000 and 2002. Lincoln County’s count increased from 38,944 to 42,280. The growth rate in these two counties, Burson said, is more than three times faster than the growth rate nationwide.
In Missouri, the population increased by 77,368 people to a total of 5,674,055 as of July 1, 2002.
The Missouri Baptist church in Christian County apparently taking prime advantage of the growth appears to be The Bridge, a year-old church that is meeting in a converted sports bar and is negotiating to buy an abandoned grocery story in Nixa.
"Our church is growing like crazy," said Richard Baker, pastor. "We’re averaging a little over 130 on weekends. We moved chairs into an old sports bar and that’s where we’re still meeting."
The Bridge has applied for a loan from the North American Mission Board to purchase the nearby store building. "The church has voted to purchase the building," Baker said. "Things are looking pretty good right now."
The Bridge hasn’t spent a lot of money on advertising to attract new people moving into the area. In fact, not one penny has been spent on advertising.
"It’s pretty much word of mouth," Baker said. "We do random acts of kindness, patterned after Green Valley at St. Joseph. We’ve used popcorn, chili seasoning, light bulbs and snow cones in our random acts. We’ve had a little over 10,500 personal touches the last 10 months using random acts of kindness."
Baker preached a message recently on multiplying talents. He handed out a $10 bill to every adult in the church and $5 to every child. Baker handed out a total of $1,000 and challenged his people to go out and multiply the money.
"They brought in $6,900 for the building fund on Aug. 3," Baker said. "Kids sold cinnamon rolls; they had car washes, sold drawings, paintings and even made stained glass. We try to get our people on the streets and go where God has already been at work."
Baker said the one big thing he has learned trying to reach the growing population in Christian County is that "the harvest is ripe, but there are more people willing to hear the Gospel than there are people who are willing to tell."
In Lincoln County, First Baptist Church, Troy, is busting at the seams. The church is trying to sell its facility located in the heart of Troy and will be building a new facility on a 75-acre site when the sale is completed. The new worship center will seat approximately 1,000.
"We’re running three services and two Sunday Schools on Sunday mornings," explains Reggie Rhea, Troy pastor. "We’re kind of maxed out, and our eight acres is not very conducive to adding on. That’s why we’ve purchased 75 acres on the south end of town where they’re expecting a lot of growth during the next several years. It’s the corridor between here and Wentzville. They’re saying the growth along that corridor will be phenomenal."
More people moving into the area have obviously contributed to the growth at Rhea’s church, but there are other factors, too.
"We have a very wonderful, loving, friendly bunch of folks," he said. "They really want to reach the community."
Rhea describes the Troy church’s FAITH ministry as "strong." And the church also is putting its imagination to work in an effort to attract some of the newcomers to the community. For example, the church sponsored a car show on its grounds the Saturday before Labor Day.
"It was our second year for the car show," Rhea said. "The purpose of the show is basically to minister to people who put cars in the show. During the end of the day, we share the Gospel and talk to them about our church. Our first year, we had 1,000 people come through looking at the cars and five people accepted Christ that day."
Rhea pastored Hazelwood Baptist Church in St. Louis for 16 years before moving to Troy two years ago.
Other Missouri counties with significant population gains were:
Boone, Callaway, Warren, St. Charles, Jefferson, Mississippi, Miller, Pulaski, Phelps, Texas, Stone, Lawrence, Barton, Cass, Johnson, Clay, Platte and Clinton. These 18 counties registered population gains from 2.5 percent to 7.5 percent.