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Alaska church with prosperous past seeks to reach thousands

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (BP)–About 63,000 people live within three miles of Muldoon Road Baptist Church in Anchorage, Alaska, many of them military.

That’s both a challenge and an opportunity, said Jim Thrash, pastor since January 2003.

Muldoon Road was stop No. 55 Oct. 6 for SBC President Bobby Welch, who is making a bus tour of Southern Baptist churches across North America. In kicking off “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign, Welch is urging heightened evangelistic efforts to “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.

“We’re within a stone’s throw of the gates of two major military installations — Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson Army Base — and we’re located on one of the busiest five-lane streets in Anchorage,” Thrash said. “We’re exceptionally positioned for rapid and sustained growth.”

It helps that he has 20 years of military experience, including combat in Vietnam as an Air Force pilot, the pastor said. It also helps that he has 40 years pastoral ministry experience, including restoring churches hurt by splits.

Splits and other internal dissensions have tarnished Muldoon Road’s illustrious history, Thrash said. The church was started in 1960 by Virgil A. Chron. Five building campaigns later, the 45,000 square foot facility was valued at $12 million. Chron also led Muldoon Road to start churches in Kobuk, King Salmon and Silver Lake at Chitna, as well as to financially support a church in Russia, across the Bering Strait.

During Chron’s 23-year tenure at Muldoon Road, nearly 2,000 people were baptized, many of them military personnel who were sent out as “missionaries” to their next duty station. During those early years, the military presence in Anchorage and military involvement in the church were much larger.

The church faltered during the 20 years that followed Chron’s retirement for medical reasons. “There were some mass departures and even a couple of out-and-out splits,” Thrash said. “For about four years before I was called, the church had no permanent pastor. [But] the church has weathered all those storms.”

Down from its high attendance of about 450, Muldoon Road now draws about 135 people for Sunday morning worship. About 100 participate in Sunday school. At least 27 people — some in the military — have been baptized since January.

“We’re slowly trying to rebuild a foundation of a sound church,” Thrash said. “We’ve got a brand new Sunday school director, have called a fulltime minister of music, and a husband/wife team leads our very active youth department.

“Recently we baptized a man and three of his sons,” the pastor continued. “They were all in the baptismal waters at the same time. That family is a result of the ministry of the husband/wife team and the youth.”

One challenge for the church is the lack of trained lay leadership, but that is being addressed with a variety of training, discipleship and outreach programs, Thrash said. He is planning to attend a conference in Phoenix in November to learn more about Stephen Ministries, a program to train and involve lay people in personal ministry.

A native Alaskan congregation used to meet in the church, but that work faded before it merged with another congregation. There’s also a need for a congregation to minister to deaf people in Anchorage, and those doors are beginning to open for Muldroon Road.

“There are plenty of people here,” Thrash said. “Alaska is probably one of the most unchurched areas of the country. The state has 590,000 people, and almost half of them are in Anchorage. We’ve got great facilities. We just need to get people trained to be able to use them.

“We’re a church with a great past and a struggling present, but the potential is still here,” he said. “We’ve got a great facility and a great location. With God’s help there’s no reason we can’t continue to grow and reach our community.”