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Indiana church building Kingdom relationships ‘like Jesus did’

Sugar Creek Baptist Church builds relationships with children through Awana, VBS and a mentorship program in the local elementary school.

WEST TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (BP) – Sugar Creek Baptist Church reaches out to area residents and others with a need for food, recreation, mental health and more.

“We just want to continue to show what a genuine church looks like,” Pastor Tom Savage told Baptist Press. “We’re not perfect but we want to be the hands and feet of Jesus as He leads us to reach people at their point of need.”

The congregation of about 200 under Savage’s leadership since 2015 has become debt free, started new ministries while staying strong with long-established ones, and maintained its commitment to partner with other Southern Baptists.

“The chief purpose of this church is to glorify God,” Savage said. “Everything we do is either for up-reach, in-reach or outreach. The ministries of Sugar Creek Baptist Church are all aligned with at least one of these biblical mandates, which enables us to fulfill the commission our Lord has given us, to ‘make disciples of all nations.’

“We’re not busy just to be busy but that’s where the Lord has taken us,” the pastor continued. “West Terre Haute is a very close community, with a lot of loyalty to the community and a lot of love in the community.”

Undergirded with the pastor’s expository preaching, encouraging leadership, and the church’s prime location on U.S. Highway 40, Sugar Creek Baptist has grown steadily on the west side of the Wabash River.

For 22 years or more, members have been mentoring students weekly at Sugar Creek Consolidated Elementary School through Kids Hope USA, a national parachurch ministry. It’s a ministry suggested by the then-superintendent of schools in which teachers and the principal suggest students who could benefit from having another adult in their lives.

There is a covered Blessing Box on the church property, but “far enough away people don’t feel they’re being watched,” the pastor said. 

In operation for about the last two years, the Blessing Box provides food any time there is a need, utilizing the honor system, so people take what they need and leave what’s remaining for others with needs. It’s monitored and replenished as needed by members, and continually restocked with donations from the congregation as well as members of the community.

“There are a lot of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ here,” Savage said. “Seventy percent of the homes in town are rental properties.” About 1,800 people live in West Terre Haute. Another 4,000 live in the surrounding rural area.

“The church had a food pantry years ago, but it wasn’t always open,” Savage said. “We saw this as a way people could get food as they need it. This is more ‘come when you want to.’ We’re sitting on Hwy. 40 and get quite a bit of transient people. That’s part of the blessing of the Blessing Box. It’s helping people at their point of need.”

Last year, the church began developing its 3-acre property across the road from the church into a community recreation area. Originally purchased for a new worship center, this is where the Blessing Box and outdoor grills are, as well as a jungle gym play area, soccer field, walking track, pickleball court and a horseshoe pit.

For at least 30 years, Sugar Creek Baptist has hosted the Awana ministry for children as a vehicle for memorizing Scripture while learning about God’s love and care for them.

“Once a month we do a dinner and will feed 75 to 125 people on a Sunday night,” the pastor said. “All the food is free, provided by our people. We’ve been doing this about four years; it involves maybe 20-25 of our adults for cooking, serving, and talking with our guests, and about 15 youth who come in after to clean up.”

Ten Sugar Creek Baptist members are training to lead a mental health ministry for the community. One has a Ph.D. in counseling; two others are board-certified mental health coaches. Each of the 10 has a specific interest area of mental health, including addiction, depression, abuse, grief and more. The 10 “are seeking the wisdom they need to compassionately minister to and coach people as would Jesus,” the pastor said.

“We’ve not officially launched this ministry, but we’re already doing the ministry,” Savage said. “We’ll get a call from a principal, through word of mouth, and people come knocking on our door.

“We saw a lot of things surface during and after Covid,” the pastor continued. “We just see these needs out there, and a lot of things we’ve discerned, and many times affirmed. Many people go to a church for help either because of the cost or they don’t want to be on record as having a mental health need. We saw the need and saw we needed to be better equipped.”

With its focus so much on its local community, Sugar Creek Baptist also gives through the Cooperative Program – the way Southern Baptists work together in North America and throughout the world – to spread the Gospel outside of Indiana, the pastor said. The church allocates 11 percent of undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program and its local Baptist association.

Pastor Tom Savage

“We see that as our tithe to missions,” Savage said. “We know how important it is to be supportive of missions, knowing we all are called to carry out the Great Commission. We can do more together than we can by ourselves, pooling our resources and spiritual gifts together for the glory of God.”

Savage was an International Mission Board trustee from 2000 to 2004. He has also served numerous roles with the West Central Baptist Association and State Convention of Baptists in Indiana. Sugar Creek Church planted a nearby church in the mid-1990s.

“We have a slogan: Building Kingdom relationships for the glory of God,” the pastor said. “We’re seeking to build relationships with them just like Jesus did. We didn’t set out a master plan to do all these things but there’s a central connecting point: building Kingdom relationships. We’ve got to go to them, reach out to them, just like Jesus did.”

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