Prince Avenue sees laity grow in witnessing
HANNIBAL—Laity matter. That is what distinguishes Prince Avenue Baptist Church in its passion for the Oakwood community.
“We don’t want our church to be a ‘come and see’ church,” said Prince Avenue Layman Tom Baltrusaitis. “We want our church to be a ‘go and tell’ church.”
The pastor, Jeff Brown, has a heart for evangelism that has been used by God to expand the congregation from about 80 in worship to 150-175. That heart has now been passed on to Baltrusaitis and seven other people on an outreach committee that is marvelously seeing conversions.
“We have a God who can use creativity in outreach, and that’s what we’ve done,” said Baltrusaitis, who serves as a deacon and a Sunday School teacher and previously served on the search committee that secured Brown in 2000. Baltrusaitis, former owner and current manager of Main Street Eye Clinic, spoke excitedly about a move of the Holy Spirit in evangelism.
“I just knew that he was the man God had called,” Baltrusaitis said.
“Jeff always had that heart for missions and outreach. Every time I’d go to Jeff with an idea, he’d say, ‘Yeah, let’s go for it.’ He’s always been willing to do that.”
Brown, 36, is driven by a belief that the church should reflect its community. He also believes that less is more, which is the “very helpful” principle that is taught in Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples, by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger. Because Brown has dared to do the Calculus, he has come up with a Bible-based formula for success that leans heavily on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The goal of his instruction is for the flock to have what he calls a Spirit-filled life.
“For a Baptist, that’s awesome, because the Holy Spirit testifies of Christ, and so when the Holy Spirit begins to move, He reveals Christ to the people clearly,” Brown said.
“I realized if God really is going to bless us, we couldn’t handle the blessing,” he said. “We (didn’t) have enough people trained. We (didn’t) have enough people that know how to counsel and help and guide.”
The church, which has experienced slow and steady growth, started small groups in 2002. In November of 2003, a significant prayer meeting was held for 12 hours in what was billed as a day of prayer and listening. It is now clear that the power of prayer in the laity is the promise of Prince Avenue learning how to make disciples.
“We haven’t had a big onslaught of people, so I’ve been able to work with them, meet with the husbands, talk with them—this is what we exist to do,” Brown said.
Brown is slowly working himself into a position where he can survey the landscape of discipleship and jump in wherever he is needed.
“I can help them to grow deeper,” he said. “I can disciple the new members.” Levels of discipleship can now be categorized.
“Love God, Level 1, love each other, Level 2, and love the lost, Level 3,” Brown said. “Two great commandments, one Great Commission. That’s it.”
The staff is now able to measure spiritual growth in terms of statements like “Pursuing His Presence, Advancing His Kingdom, Believing His Promises, Choosing to be Holy,” and “We will seek His Kingdom while denying our own and seek His righteousness while abandoning our own.”
Levels, slogans and mottos are all nice, but Brown said Prince Avenue is doing more than just producing words on pieces of paper. Indeed, the congregation is quite serious about using its tools. For example, there are 180 people on Level 1 and 110 people on Level 2. A citywide outreach event over the summer included 76 volunteer workers; among the ways the church reached out were through Vacation Bible School, disc golf, a big-screen showing of a popular movie, and handing out 2,400 bottles of free water.
It is also estimated that close to 40 percent of the church members now do outreach. The local daily newspaper, the Hannibal Courier-Post, has given them great coverage, choosing to cover, rather than ignore, happenings like the 380 people who showed up at an improvised outdoor theater in a park near the church for the free showing of the inspirational movie, “Facing the Giants.”
The Oakwood community lies within greater Hannibal, and the churches around town have been watching.
“One pastor said, ‘You’ve really raised the bar for all the churches in Hannibal with your outreach,’” Baltrusaitis said.
He added that it was an honor to work with such a zealous group of church members from Prince Avenue on the outreach committee.
“These people have the burden for the lost,” he said. “I mean, you have to have that.”