Columbia’s Grace Church gains a foothold
COLUMBIA – While the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) has put up record numbers of church plants the last three years, the health of those new works typically remains fragile at the foothold stage.
Kevin Larson, pastor of Grace Church of Columbia, explained what it has been like since their church was born April 16. Numbers have averaged around 30, with a high attendance of 39 one Sunday in the Tiger Hotel. But while a church plant like Grace that is meeting regularly may appear to be an established church, it is very much aware of its dependency on others.
“It’s like we’re eight years old or something, in a kid’s life,” Larson said. “You can walk and feed yourself and different things, but if the parents go away, you’re going to die. Yeah, we’re making progress, but we’re still leaning on the support of the churches.”
Grace’s mother church, Hallsville Baptist, has helped the new congregation become a reality in downtown Columbia. Pastor Rodney Albert strengthened the bond between them by inviting the church plant to lead the Sunday night service June 25 at Hallsville.
“They’re providing significant financial support,” Larson said. “They’ve helped us with different events, but the main thing is just kind of meeting with Rodney and being encouraged by him.
“When I look at what we’ve got, and the steps we’re taking, I’m really pleased. We have a membership that’s really committed and we have leaders that are stepping forward.”
One of those leaders is Luke Daugherty, a 2004 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Daugherty, 24, leads worship in a manner where Grace avoids being labeled “contemporary,” “traditional” or “blended.” The church is choosing to take on more of an indigenous approach to its musical presentation, which Larson and Daugherty agree best reflects Columbia. Content is more of a topic of discussion than style.
“We try to stay kind of historically connected with the church, so we have hymns in there alongside some of the modern choruses that we think have quality depth to them,” Daugherty said. “There’s definitely a mix of modern and ancient, and old hymns set to new tunes. I think a lot of those more modern kind of choruses have a lot more power when you juxtapose them with a hymn that has a lot of theology and truth in it.”
Larson is excited that Daugherty is among a group of three men who have either preached sermons or will preach sermons soon. For Larson, who serves as teaching elder, the desired outcome would be for one of these men to be ordained as a fellow elder.
The Tiger Hotel, which is located at Eighth Street and Cherry in the heart of downtown, has been a huge answer to prayer in the church’s infancy. When some questions came up about Grace’s long-term future at the Tiger, Larson met with hotel owners to go over the existing contract and promote a better working relationship. Many of Larson’s prayer partners grew closer to him during that time, and the founding pastor said his faith in God has grown deeper through the trial, which seemed to come to a positive resolution between the two parties early in July.
“It was really hard, because we were starting to gain momentum, and it’s right in the area where we want to meet,” Larson said. “I’m trying to trust God that He’s going to work it out or put us where we need to be, but I’m also trying to interact with them in a way that’s winsome and promotes the Gospel. So basically the way I approached it was we want this to be seen by you as being a blessing for us to be there as well as us to see it as a blessing to be there.”
Larson, like Daugherty, is a Missouri graduate who is trying to be in tune with college-town life in and around the primary university in Missouri. Daugherty reads it as folk and high art, with a slight aversion to pop culture. Part of Larson’s long-range plan for Grace is for church members to make inroads into the Columbia arts community.
His dream for a year from now is for the church to be moving toward being self-sufficient, with “ordained leaders that are serving and work out the vision, and that we start to see more of the fruit of what we’re trying to do downtown—having more of a foothold in just the people down there and the culture down there.”