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In Connecticut, Green Valley Crossing grows committed Christ-followers

Pastor Riley Prather (right) helped baptize Matthew Boies, his wife and his two sons on the same day. (Submitted photo)

PUTNAM, Conn. (BP) – Green Valley Crossing “has seen around a 20 percent increase in attendance since the first of the year, the vast majority of them being spiritually disconnected with no relationship with Christ,” says Pastor Riley Prather. “If this doesn’t slow down, we’ll baptize 20-plus this year.”

Prather planted the Southern Baptist church in 2013 in the northeast corner of Connecticut, near the state lines of Massachusetts to the north and Rhode Island to the east.

Pastor Riley Prather preaching from John 3:16.

“We are absolutely committed to Southern Baptist ministry here in New England,” the pastor continued. “I want to raise a new generation of Gospel-centered, biblically faithful Christians and, Lord willing, join the hundreds of other faithful BCNE churches in seeing a new New England birthed through revival and awakening.”

Ministry in New England is not easy, but then again, it’s not hard when the congregation lives Christ-centered lives, Prather said.

Green Valley Crossing was and is being built on real spiritual encounters with Jesus and equipping people to share Jesus intentionally in their daily lives, which involves making friends, building relationships and living life as a committed Christ-follower.

“I was told in New England it takes almost a year of building relationships before you can have significant Gospel conversations,” the Oklahoma-born pastor told Baptist Press. “Receptivity to the Gospel is not lower here; it’s just slower. So our first question was, ‘How do we make the Gospel fit where we live, rather than where we’re from?’”

With the five-year support of their home church – First Baptist Minco, Okla., – undergirding them, and NAMB church planter assessment behind them, Prather and his wife Kassie arrived in Putnam, Conn., in the summer of 2012, where there was no Southern Baptist church in the entire county.

The couple had brought a youth mission team to Connecticut the year before, and “I found out God was at work in New England, and I sensed that He was inviting us to join Him. I could not shake the feeling we were supposed to be here,” said the pastor of the church celebrating its 10th anniversary this August.

New Englanders like the idea of going “down to the river” to be baptized, Pastor Riley Prather said.

“We have stone walls all over New England,” Prather said. “They come from farmers in the early days, who would move the stones they unearthed as they plowed the land. It’s the same with church planting. You unearth the ‘rocks’ that are in the way, and for New England, that means people have to trust you first, and that takes time.

“It took me a long time, almost a year, before I got my neighbor to wave back at me. Once she waved, [I said to myself,] ‘All right; I’m in! I’ve got a relationship with her now.’ New England is predicated on relationships.”

One way Green Valley Crossing is building relationships currently is through a four-church softball league, where every team has to have at least two non-Christians on it. The Southern Baptist church is planning to launch a recovery ministry where attendees can hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, counteracting the influence of local AA and NA groups who prescribe a generic higher power.

But for the most part, Green Valley Crossing joins arms with other charitable groups rather than doing “their own thing,” and this relationship-building cooperation helps people see the church as part of the community.

“In New England, there is not a general acceptance of the Bible,” Prather said. “But, we still faithfully teach and preach the Bible to people, even if they’re skeptical of everything we’re doing. 

“… We had to think through evangelism,” the pastor continued. “The methodology of how we reach people had to be connected to the people here. Evangelism here is a lot about relationships. We call it incarnational rather than attractional.”

“Here there’s a skepticism of ‘bait and switch,’ in part because of abuses in the Catholic church,” Prather said. “Faithful Gospel-saturated living is what we’re seeing work right now. We’ve had six adults saved in the last three months. Those people have not been saved by any event or strategy. They’ve been saved because our members are faithfully living the Gospel and opening their mouths to share.

“Our people see things happening in people’s lives and say, ‘Jesus really is the answer. You’ve tried this or that.’ Then they say, ‘Hey, just come to church with me on Sunday,’” the pastor continued. “There’s nothing I’m doing that’s any different except casting a big vision for people to encounter Jesus and live for Him daily.”  

The congregation of Green Valley Crossing has grown to more than 140. Worship takes place at 10 a.m. Sunday in a former warehouse the church purchased and is currently renovating. Equipping classes Sunday evenings are akin to 20th century Training Union classes, with emphasis on discipleship training, doctrine, evangelism and Baptist heritage. Eighteen members are going through Henry Blackaby’s time-tested Experiencing God; another dozen are in evangelism training, among the classes available.

Life groups for friendship, encouragement, accountability and Scripture study take place throughout the week.   

“There is an intentionality of evangelism in our church, and I believe it’s because we told our church that their friends, family and neighbors are so important to us that we would make Kingdom financial investments to reach them,” the pastor said. “It’s been incredible to watch God at work.

“If we as Christians will go, will live in Him, for Him, through Him – He is why we live – people are going to see Jesus,” Prather continued. “Our people are our strategy because they truly believe people can encounter Jesus through them. We’re seeing that over and over again.” 

In addition to Green Valley Crossing’s support of missions through the Cooperative Program, and of church planting in eastern Connecticut, the church allocates 2.5 percent of undesignated giving to local evangelistic efforts.

“We made a strategic effort this year to pour gas on local evangelistic efforts, and it’s working,” Prather said. “Through the first quarter, we have already baptized one and have six awaiting baptism.” New Englanders like the idea of going “down to the river” to be baptized, the pastor explained.

“We recently had a woman in her 30s give her life to Christ,” Prather said. “When I asked her if she was ready to receive Jesus she said to me, ‘If I don’t, none of the last few months makes sense to me. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for.’

“People think New England is cold and dead,” the pastor continued. “It is spiritually dark. There’s a lot of work to do. But I’ve seen what God can do when His people are living faithful, Gospel-saturated lives. I can assure you. We are very much alive!”

Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.