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5 years after nearly selling building, Utah church grows

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (BP)–Five years ago members of First Baptist Church in West Valley City, Utah, considered closing the building. They decided to keep it open despite being five months behind on the payments, and a month later, the pastor left.

Today about 200 people participate in Sunday morning worship, and 29 were baptized in the 2003-04 church year. In the last three years the church has started two new ministries -– one is for bikers; the other, for those more comfortable in a contemporary setting.

First Baptist in West Valley City was Stop No. 48 on Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch’s bus tour of Southern Baptist churches across the nation, underscoring the cause of evangelism in kicking off “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign which has the goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.

“Our theme last year was Each One, Reach One,” said Jim Harding, pastor for the last four years and executive director of the Utah/Idaho Southern Baptist Convention before that. “A number have taken that to heart. They’ve witnessed to and won a neighbor or coworker and walked down the aisle with them.”

The church uses its website used for outreach.

“There is a couple who came out of Mormonism this summer,” Harding said. “They’re in their late 40s, lifelong Mormons. Through the years, the more they got away from the controlled literature they were given, they began to see things and understand things that raised some questions about what they’d been taught and believed.

“They told me, ‘The one thing we knew was that we believed in the Bible, and we believed the Baptists believe the Bible.’ They found our website, made email contact, asking questions. Finally they gave their name and asked for a home visit.”

They were two of the 28 baptized this year at First West Valley City.

Area teens check the website –- www.fbcwvc.org –- to read about the church’s vibrant youth program.

“We’ve got an excellent youth program,” Harding said. “We’re probably 12th in terms of membership in our [state] convention, but usually we’re third or fourth in numbers at the state youth convention.”

Every other summer, members from the church travel to LifeWay Christian Resources’ Glorieta Conference Center for training in New Mexico.

“It’s inspirational. It’s practical. It’s just a good resource for us,” Harding said. “We go. We get trained. We get motivated and come back and make a difference.

“The summers we don’t go to Glorieta, the church takes a missions trip. This past summer we went to central Oregon and a couple of years before that, we went to west-central Idaho. I believe the best way to learn missions is to do missions.”

First Baptist has experienced steady growth in the four years since he was called as pastor, and this year has been a particularly good year, Harding said. It’s been a record year for baptisms, for involvement and for commitment, he added.

The church recently voted to add a second staff member, and the 18 percent budget increase to do so startled some.

“But when we looked back over the last four years, we saw the budget has increased somewhere between 15 and 27 percent every year over the previous year,” Harding said. “We prayed about this year’s large increase and agreed that God was leading us in this direction. The day after we voted, we got a check in the mail for $15,000 from a family who doesn’t attend or even live here. So we took a step of faith on Sunday, and God sent us a check the next day.”

Similar steps of faith resulted in the Road to Freedom Biker Mission, which started a little over a year ago, and SouthPoint contemporary church, which started a little over two years ago.

“We need a second Sunday school, and that’s one of the reasons we’re looking to bring in a second staff person,” Harding said. “We’re maxed out on space. A second Sunday school is the next step for us.”

The church’s strategy to meet its community’s needs is to provide blended worship and varied programs, the pastor said. “Faith and Families” is the theme for the next three months.

September’s focus was on parenting; October’s is on marriage. November’s focus will be on singles, money matters and the church as a family.

“We’re using this as a huge outreach, with a major thrust in newspapers, television and handbills,” Harding said. “What we’re saying is that we’re going to address people’s most pressing issues and concerns with practical, applicable and relevant answers.”

First Baptist, West Valley City is a church with a vision for kingdom growth, the pastor said.

“The story here at First Baptist of West Valley City, Utah, is one of God at work,” Harding said. “The Lord took a church that was in the throes of death and made it come alive not only to begin impacting this community once again, but to birth two new works. I can hardly wait to see what lies ahead. Praise the Lord -– this is an awesome ride.”