News Articles

Mont. Baptists to strengthen churches

KALISPELL, Mont. (BP)–A new executive director, new strategy and newly revived newspaper were key highlights of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention’s Oct. 1-2 annual meeting at Easthaven Baptist Church in Kalispell.

“We are very glad to host the convention and excited to welcome our new executive director, Fred Hewett, to our family,” said Daniel Lambert, pastor at Easthaven, where about 600 people attend Sunday morning services, making it one of the two largest churches among 130 in the convention.

Hewett, who was called to lead Montana Baptists in February, previously was a regional consultant with the North American Mission Board. Jonah Compton*, the convention’s former executive director, now serves overseas with the International Mission Board.

“Making Disciples” was the theme and Matthew 28:19-20 the scriptural admonition for MTSBC sessions attended by 135 registered messengers, plus guests. Despite the distance — it’s a two-day drive from Alzada in the southeast to Kalispell in the northwest, for example — the annual meeting included messengers from each of the six associations in Montana.

Boots, blue jeans and more than a few “young guns” — pastors and vocational leaders under 40 — brought a uniquely western flavor to the annual meeting, which took place in a church built three years ago by 850 volunteers from across the nation.

“Welcome to the church God built,” Lambert said as he opened the annual meeting. Easthaven’s imposing log entrance, lodge-like leather seating around a central stone fireplace in the gathering place outside the worship center, and a massive stone wall at the back of the stage in the worship center reminded annual meeting attendees — many from churches with Sunday worship attendance of 50 or fewer — what God can do.

More highlights from the annual meeting:

— Montana’s disaster relief units plan to be proactive in ministry across the state, rather than just remain in a state of readiness for emergencies, DR coordinator Joe Pickard reported. The units could prepare meals at church volunteer construction sites, cut down timber to give away as a community outreach, provide showers for people on backcountry missions trips or help military families stay in touch with deployed personnel via the communications unit, which includes ham radio operator Carl Wood.

— Yellowstone Baptist College anticipates opening its new library by the end of the semester. The 8,000-square-foot facility is near the front of the campus on the west side of Billings.

— Mark Hasenyager, pastor of Outdoorsmen Church near Missoula, was named Montana’s “Church Planter of the Year.” About 100 people attend Wednesday and Thursday evening church services, using the weekends to build relationships with the unchurched. Outdoorsmen Church is sponsoring Apex Church.

— Messengers elected Mark Andrews as executive director for the Montana Baptist Foundation and installed Lori Mathis as executive director for Montana Southern Baptist Women.

Peripheral activities included a daylong pastors’ conference before the annual meeting, a pastors’ wives luncheon hosted by Tennessee Baptist Women in concert with women from Una (Tenn.) Baptist Church (pronounced You-na), whose 35-member choir performed during the meeting; and a demonstration of digital resources related to the new Baptist Hymnal from LifeWay Christian Resources’.

In unveiling a new Great Commission Strategy for Montana Baptists, convention leaders anticipate about a dozen churches being started in 2009 in the state -– but that is only one aspect of its new strategy.”

“State conventions don’t start churches,” Hewett pointed out during his report. “Associations don’t start churches. Christians start churches.”

The state convention’s task, therefore, is to help churches become ever stronger, so their members are better equipped to both start churches and be sent out on mission assignments, explained Mark Langley, MTSBC team leader for strengthening churches.

In addition to strengthening churches alongside the starting churches thrust with Steve Fowler as team leader, “sending churches” is the third part of Montana’s strategy, led by Pam Smith, the convention’s team leader for sending churches.

The three-faceted Great Commission Strategy was developed over the last nine months by state and associational missionaries, pastors and local lay leaders and the MTSBC executive board.

“Our churches and leaders recognize that what we’ve been doing is not working,” Hewett had noted in an article in the October 2008 issue of The Montana Baptist.

“We are not reducing the spiritual lostness in the state,” Hewett wrote, noting that the Annual Church Profiles over the last 10 years indicated the state was “flatlined.”

“As we’ve looked at the ACPs and other key indicators, we recognize that our churches by and large are ineffective in reaching non-Christians in our communities and in discipling them,” Hewett continued. “We are prioritizing this dimension of our strategy.”

In his report to messengers, Langley explained how the “strengthening” strategy would work. Associational missionaries at the request of churches would help members determine their strengths and weaknesses during a period of about six months and help them write a “prescription” for maximizing their strengths and overcoming weaknesses.

Over the following 12 to 18 months, the associational missionary would work closely with the church as members begin to implement the prescription. It’s a process that starts with listening, observing, assessing, reporting, with the added components of resourcing and assisting, Langley said.

“The goal is for the people to be effectively reaching the people in their community,” he said. “Two churches already have signed up,” he added, referring to Valley View Baptist Church in Miles City and Crossroads Memorial Baptist Church in Great Falls.

Ken Kirby, pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Lockwood near Billings, said he was excited to take news of the new strategy back to his congregation.

“I believe this opportunity, this strategy for strengthening churches came at the right time,” the pastor told Baptist Press. “The people are expressing this desire to be a church going out in the community. This will be an encouragement for our people, to learn ‘this is how you achieve short-term and long-term goals and here are some resources to help.’

“I’m excited about it, and hope they catch the vision,” Kirby added.

“As we begin to move out into the world,” Hewett said in his report at the annual meeting, “we will discover a whole new excitement in our state. There’s something about going out that excites us. As we strengthen our churches, we will be able to start more churches and we will be able to send out more people to do missions in Montana, across North America and around the world.”

Other business during the state convention — election of officers, approving a 2009 budget and passing resolutions -– moved quickly.

Greg Peterson, cowboy and pastor of Zortman (Mont.) Baptist Church, and William Johnson, outdoorsman and pastor of Gallatin Valley Baptist Fellowship in Manhattan, were re-elected unopposed to a second two-year term as president and vice president, respectively.

The $1,542,111 budget — $33,000 more than last year’s $1,509,000 — passed unanimously with no questions or comments.

“It’s a budget built around our strategy,” Hewett explained. The new strategy’s strengthening churches component has $534,500 earmarked for its implementation, along with Baptist Collegiate Ministries and other evangelism-related budget items. Starting churches has $428,000 earmarked for Anglo and ethnic church planting and related training. Sending churches, which includes prayer, education and facilitating missions experiences, has $113,000 for that part of the new Great Commission Strategy.

“We had a record year in Cooperative Program giving,” Hewett said. “Our churches gave 5 percent more than last year, and the most they’ve ever given.” Montana’s 2009 budget includes an anticipated $499,310 in Cooperative Program gifts from the state’s churches. The convention forwards 22 percent of the CP dollars it receives to the Southern Baptist Convention for national and international missions and ministries; the remainder is budgeted for Montana outreach. The percentage remains unchanged from recent years.

The three resolutions expressed appreciation to Easthaven Baptist for hosting the annual meeting, to Grant Jackson for his oversight of the Montana Baptist Foundation during its first six years and in support of the new Great Commission Strategy.

During the meeting, a preview issue of the redesigned 12-page tabloid-size Montana Baptist newsjournal was introduced. It is to be a bimonthly newspaper starting in January. The Montana Baptist has not been printed for the last year, since founding editor Jim Edlin resigned and moved back to Texas.

Next year’s annual meeting will be Oct. 7-8, 2009 at Belgrade (Mont.) Baptist Church west of Bozeman.
*Name changed for security concerns.
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of The Montana Baptist and the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s Baptist Message newsjournal.