DEPERE, Wis. (BP)–It was Dave Wedekind’s Macedonian call. The minister of missions at Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, listened intently one Sunday as Dennis Hansen, director of missions for the Bay Lakes Baptist Association in Wisconsin, challenged the Birchman congregation to “cross over … and help!”
“It was a clear call from God,” said Wedekind, who with his wife, Jeanne, had surrendered to the ministry only a short time before. “We knew God was leading us north.”
To DePere, Wis., to be precise, where the Wedekinds helped plant Calvary Baptist Church in 2001, and where today they use LifeWay resources to reach out to a population of mostly northern European descent, steeped in religious tradition but still a mission field.
In fact, the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention, just 50 years old, is still a pioneer mission area with barely 150 Southern Baptist churches. In Minnesota there are 1,411 people for every Southern Baptist, the highest ratio in the country, and staggering when compared to the 6-1 ratio in Alabama. “This is not missions for the faint of heart,” said Bay Lakes’ Hansen.
The Wedekinds and 15 others left another Southern Baptist church in Green Bay to plant Calvary Baptist in June 2001. They began meeting in the home of member Iris Buckner, where they would stay for nine months. It was unique as church plants go, according to Hansen, because Calvary immediately offered a full slate of services — Sunday School, discipleship training and worship — and because Calvary had no sponsors. But it had a congregation in which nearly every member had church-planting experience — including chairman of deacons Robert Phillips, who helped start the first Southern Baptist church in northeastern Wisconsin nearly 50 years ago.
Support eventually came from a variety of sources, most notably Highland Crest Baptist Church in Green Bay, which became Calvary’s sponsor and whose pastor, Jim Downs, provided mentoring and support. He and Wedekind continue to meet once a month. “Dave has a strong sense of call to be here,” Downs said. “And he has a committed wife. Both of them are spiritually mature, and they’re self-starters. They know what needs to be done, and they do it.”
Financial support also comes from the Wedekinds’ former church, Birchman Baptist in Fort Worth, and from First Baptist Church of Lake Jackson, Texas, through a partnership program with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which supports dozens of churches in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention and the North American Mission Board also provide funding and training. “Calvary is blessed with a broad base of financial and spiritual support,” Hansen said. “That’s key in a pioneer mission area like this.”
Born in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, respectively, Dave and Jeanne Wedekind understand the cultural challenges that face Southern Baptists in Wisconsin — a strong Catholic base, skepticism of anything “southern,” and a stubborn insistence that being a Christian is based on what you do, not what you believe. As a result, Southern Baptist churches in northeastern Wisconsin average just 60 members — and that’s up from 20 members a decade ago.
People don’t flock to Southern Baptist churches here, but the Wedekinds know God is still at work. “God’s call to us is to win the lost and disciple them,” Jeanne Wedekind said. “It’s not so much getting them into your church, but going out and meeting them where they live.” This is where the Wedekinds thrive and Calvary’s people follow their lead. Specifically, the members of Calvary use:
— FAITH opinion polls. FAITH training from LifeWay Christian Resources is “a wonderful way to share Christ with our community, and the opinion surveys associated with FAITH give us a good opportunity to introduce ourselves to the community,” Jeanne Wedekind said.
— Volunteer opportunities. Jeanne Wedekind pitches in at a local hospital, and her husband serves as chaplain for the DePere police and fire departments.
— Backyard Bible Clubs. LifeWay’s Backyard Bible Club curriculum is simple and affordable. Calvary’s clubs have resulted in 17 decisions for Christ in two years — equal to one decision for every charter member of the church.
— Community involvement. Last year, Dave Wedekind went to the Green Bay Planning Commission and asked if there were people in the community his church could help. Home renovation and fix-up projects resulted. The Wedekinds posted signs as volunteer crews from Texas came to help: “This is a partnership between Calvary Baptist Church and Birchman Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas,” raising the awareness of Calvary’s outreach.
— Advertising. The Wedekinds placed a large ad in the Yellow Pages — a big expenditure for this small community church. And the church partnered with Gospel Publishing to produce a bimonthly evangelistic newsletter to 3,500 homes in the church’s neighborhood. The newsletters feature information about Calvary as well as easy-to-read articles about faith in Christ.
“We place a real emphasis on everybody doing their part,” Wedekind said. “We’re not a big congregation, but we understand that every life touches other lives in a variety of ways each day.”
Calvary also took a step of faith in 2002 when it purchased a building in downtown DePere. The one-time grocery store and meat market was being used by another church, which closed its doors. Calvary’s small membership was able to put down $35,000 — nearly all of it from its own church members. Birchman Baptist then provided additional funds for remodeling and sent work crews to DePere.
Despite its small number, the church thinks big on missions, pledging 6 percent of its budget to the Bay Lakes Baptist Association and 11 percent to the Cooperative Program. “Look what God has done for us,” Wedekind said. “We have to keep investing where God is working, and we can’t let ourselves get comfortable.”
Looking toward the next year, Calvary wants to help start four other churches in northeastern Wisconsin.
But there is still work to do today. Right now, Calvary’s members are in discussions with a startup congregation of Hmong believers and working with Hansen to enable the Southeast Asian believers to meet in their facilities. The effort fits their mission-minded vision.
“Our goal for this building,” Jeanne Wedekind said, “is for it to be used to God’s glory every day of the week.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: MACEDONIAN CALL, AT WORK IN WISCONSIN and TALKING IT THROUGH.