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Maine church makes gentle inroads to its community

BRUNSWICK, Maine (BP)–Military personnel once comprised the majority of members at Maine Street Baptist Church in Brunswick, Maine. Now, most of the 300 who attend Sunday services are “Mainers,” says pastor’s wife Marie Morell.

“We used to have a lot of military people who came and went,” Morell said. “About 10 years ago we noticed the congregation started changing from military to Mainers.

“Now we’re evenly spaced, age-wise, all the way through,” she said. “The retirees love our church and the younger ones too.

“There’s a kind of self-sufficiency here in Maine, and one of the things we’re doing is teaching people God-sufficiency,” Morell said. “We’ve got a good cross-section of different types of people in this church — medical people, teachers, military, business people — and each of them have their own mission field. We’ve seen that’s what happens. People bring their friends in.”

Maine Street is stop No. 11 on Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch’s national bus tour to kick off “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” — setting forth a goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” by SBC churches in one year.

The FAITH strategy of evangelism through Sunday School is new at Maine Street.

“A lot of the ways we do things are laid back,” Morell said. “We find where God is working and get on board. One of our mistakes was when we put up the first education building in 1988. We incurred a lot of debt, which put us in bondage for five years. My husband [Dale] made a commitment then that whatever we would build in the future would be debt-free.”

By giving money above their tithe, and by creative fundraising — such as selling prints of Marie Morell’s Christian paintings — Maine Street added an educational wing last year, with the assistance of construction volunteers from three Baptist associations in Missouri. To honor them, the new building is called the Missouri Wing.

Education — both doctrinal and discipleship studies — is an integral part of Maine Street’s ministry. On Sunday evenings, rather than worship services, the congregation utilizes such in-depth discipleship materials as “Experiencing God,” “40 Days of Purpose” and Beth Moore Bible studies.

“You need to have discipleship in church because people need to be taught after they get saved,” Morell said. “They need to be taught how to study the Scriptures.”

Baptists are a smaller group in Maine than Roman Catholics, Congregationalists or even Unitarians, yet there are many ways to reach Mainers with the Gospel, Morell said, noting that it starts by developing relationships.

Maine Street’s part-time education director, Cathy Todd, for example, was led to the Lord through the witness of her sister. When their mother, a staunch Catholic, was hospitalized for a lengthy period, the Morells visited her repeatedly. Her priest didn’t visit once.

“That made an impression,” Morell said. “She began coming to our church, and in time was saved and baptized.”

She also started going to Bible studies Pastor Morell has led for 18 years at the senior citizen center. When they stopped for the winter, she volunteered her home and went around her neighborhood to invite people to it. Three of her neighbors now also are members at Maine Street.

“Maine is a very liberal, unchurched state,” Morell said. “The people tend to be resistant — they’ve got better things to do with their time than to go to church, they think. So we’ve learned to do a combination of everything to draw them in. As my husband says, ‘Whatever it takes to know Him and make Him known.'”

A Tuesday evening Dare to Care program involves church members in writing contact cards to people in the community who have birthdays, anniversaries or who may be in the hospital or homebound. Divorce care groups are one of the ministries added at the church within the past. Members also are involved with the Red Cross and CareNet pregnancy services. For youth, Maine Street has an active youth ministry of about 40 teens and a solid AWANA program with about 25 youngsters.

The church would like have more of a presence on the campus of Bowdoin College, one of the nation’s lesser-known Ivy League schools, to counteract the college’s ultra-liberal perspective. About a dozen evangelical students from the school have made Maine Street, two blocks from the campus, their church home.

The church’s various missions initiatives over the years, such as sending care packages to missionaries in Malaysia, has had an impact within the Morell family: Their daughter, Stephanie –- “we came here when she was 3,” her mother said -– and her husband, Jason Cooper, plan to go into international missions.