ST. CLOUD, Minn. (BP) — With just a handful of members after years of struggle, Victory Baptist Church could have continued meeting as usual, barely making use of their building and facilities.
But the congregation in St. Cloud, Minn., chose to do something a bit more courageous.
In September of 2012, Victory Baptist disbanded and handed their church over to the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention.
“We promised to do our best to see churches planted there,” said Bob Ray, a North American Mission Board and MWBC church planting catalyst. “Our idea was not just one congregation but a church planting center. We promised to do our best to see evangelical churches planted there and use the resources to aid church planting.”
Less than two years later, the building that once housed Victory Baptist Church now hosts two different thriving churches. Both already give to the Cooperative Program.
Shortly after the MWBC came into possession of the building, Ray began to explore a variety of options to use it for church planting efforts. Resources — particularly potential meeting locations for new churches — come highly valued among Minnesota Southern Baptists. Ray, whose church planting catalyst responsibilities cover a total of 45 counties in the state, says there are only four Minnesota Southern Baptist churches west of Interstate 35 (not counting Minneapolis-St.Paul).
Ray heard about Park Fellowship, a new church plant that had been meeting in a nearby mall and was looking for a more permanent location. Though the church plant wasn’t Southern Baptist at the time, it was certainly like-minded. Conservative theologically with a passion for evangelism, the church fit well within the MWBC’s fellowship.
Dan Mrakovich, Park Fellowship’s pastor, says the church sees itself as a place for those who don’t fit in other churches. The church’s tagline is: “A church for the rest of us.”
“We have people coming to our church who say when they went to other churches they felt like they were invisible,” Mrakovich said.
An example of this focus has been the church’s monthly worship service designed specifically for adults with developmental disabilities. Mrakovich notes that this is a segment of the population to whom many churches aren’t ministering.
Park Fellowship applied to be a part of the Pioneer-Western Baptist Association and was accepted in October. Even before it was accepted into the association, it began giving to MWBC through the Cooperative Program. Park Fellowship has also used the association’s block party trailer to help them with community outreach events.
Ray wasn’t satisfied with seeing just one new church meeting in the former building of Victory Baptist Church. From the beginning his hope had always been to see multiple new churches use the building.
A thriving Hispanic MWBC congregation in Austin, Minn., (about 160 miles away) was looking to start a new Spanish-speaking congregation in the St. Cloud area. They contacted Ray about the building.
“Some of the church’s members found work in the St. Cloud area and couldn’t find a Baptist church to attend there,” Ray said. “They began reaching out to their neighbors in the places they were meeting and started a Bible study.”
Ray said when the Austin pastor realized the building was available he thought it would be a great location to start a church for its St. Cloud members and those neighbors they were reaching. The Hispanic Baptist Mission of St. Cloud has also been contributing to the Cooperative Program.
Ray admits, having worked with Victory Baptist Church for years before its closing, that suggesting the church close wasn’t easy. But he says he wanted the church to see that just because it closed doesn’t mean all the congregation had done for the sake of the Gospel in St. Cloud was in vain. Their resources could help further the Gospel in the community.
“Now where we once had one dying church, we now have two churches that are growing and reaching their community with the Gospel,” Ray said.