By Kayla Rinker
JOPLIN—What do McDonald’s and Forest Park Baptist Church have in common? OK, besides the fact that the people who go there are “lovin’ it.”
Forest Park, like McDonald’s, now operates in more than one location in Joplin. Forest Park Baptist Church North, located at north Main Street here, is the church’s second satellite church. Its first satellite church, Forest Park in Carthage, opened in August 2007. The original church is located at 7th and Rangeline in Joplin.
“Here in Joplin we have four or five McDonald’s, my bank has three locations and we also have three (Walmart) Supercenters within close proximity,” said John Swadley, lead pastor at Forest Park. “Likewise, Forest Park is one church in multiple locations.”
During its weekend launch services in September, Forest Park North welcomed 768 people in four services (two on Saturday and two on Sunday), including more than 500 first-time visitors and six confirmed salvations.
“North provides a wonderful venue to reach out to a lot more people in Joplin … people who wouldn’t feel comfortable going to our Rangeline location,” Swadley said.
He said the original Forest Park campus is very large which automatically makes it uncomfortable to many people in the Joplin community.
“There are many families who go there who love a large church, are used to a large church … that’s how they do church,” Swadley said. “But for every one of those families there are probably about 10 families who think Forest Park is too big and are more at home in a smaller church setting.”
He said organizers intentionally designed the North location to have a maximum seating of 200 people.
“It’s a smaller, family environment where everybody is going to know each other, something that just doesn’t happen in a large church atmosphere,” he said.
Mark Dinwiddie is the campus pastor at Forest Park North. Though each Forest Park location hears the same sermon message given by Swadley (North and Carthage receive it via pre-recorded video), the lead pastor said Dinwiddie’s role at North is a crucial one.
“Mark is the minister to more than 500 people,” Swadley said. “He works on pastoral care, as well as recruiting and training workers for ministries. Though we are truly one church in three locations, North decides and plans the ministries that best meet the needs and adhere to the uniqueness of the people who go there. Also, because I am doing the sermon, our campus pastors don’t have to spend 20 hours a week on developing a message. They are able to use their time doing other things.”
Its video sermon is not the only contemporary aspect of Forest Park North. The church is also modern both visually and in its worship style.
“Generally speaking at Rangeline we are a little more Chris Tomlin and at North we are a little more David Crowder,” Swadley said. “Also, Rangeline has more of a traditional looking sanctuary and the new campus looks like a cafe out front and has things like popcorn and nachos. We designed it with a different feel because many of the people we want to reach out to have negative memories of a ‘churchy’ church and we hope they may see North and say, ‘Yeah, I can give this church a try.’”
Swadley said so far Forest Park’s multi-site approach has been highly effective.
“We are truly thankful how God is using the multi-site churches,” he said. “We would love to launch a new campus every two years if the Lord continues to supply the resources and He continues to bless this ministry.”