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Neb. church rises above challenges to meet needs of military

BELLEVUE, Neb. (BP)–West Bellevue Church in Bellevue, Neb., almost closed its doors one time. But now about 850 people — half in the military — participate in two Sunday morning worship services.

West Bellevue was stop No. 41 Sept. 29 on Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch’s bus tour of Southern Baptist churches across the nation, underscoring the cause of evangelism in kicking off “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign which has the goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.

“I take seriously Christ’s command not only to go to all nations, but also Christ’s teaching that ‘I was hungry and you gave me food,'” said Steve Holdaway, pastor for 11 years at the church that was started in 1986 as a mission of First Baptist Church of Bellevue. It wasn’t officially a church until six months before Holdaway was called to serve in 1993.

“We’re trying to take Christ’s command to go into all the world literally,” the pastor said. “Plus we want to be involved in something bigger than our church here. We want to have a global vision.”

Situations some might use to explain a lack of growth, West Bellevue uses to propel steady growth.

— The church didn’t build its first building until 1997. Until that time, it met in two locations in rented space. Before it moved into a $3 million worship center/multipurpose building last February, there were as many as five worship services. “Even now, we have 30 community groups that meet in homes because we don’t have room at the church,” Holdaway said.

— Bellevue, an Omaha suburb, is home to Offutt Air Force Base. About 50 percent of the congregation — including much of the leadership and many who tithe regularly — moves away every three years.

“In the last 11 years we have said goodbye to more than 400 people, conservatively speaking,” Holdaway said. “You’ve got to reach two to keep one. That’s the nature of our church.”

— It’s a diverse congregation. Military ranks range from the newest recruit to four generals and an admiral, and from Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force personnel at the present time. New members might be Southern Baptist, but more than half of them are not.

“It’s a great church in a growing community,” Holdaway said. “We’re trying to make everything count, to be practical, and to ‘do church’ purposefully with a friendly, loving spirit. We focus outside the walls.

“To reach new people for Christ we need to expand our whole network of community groups,” the pastor continued. “We know we will never have enough funds to build all the classrooms we need for all of our adult small groups. Therefore, we will continue to use homes and teach that this is a biblical model, not just a necessary model. We cannot be bound by a building if we are going to reach our community for Christ.”

West Bellevue’s global vision includes giving 10 percent of its undesignated offerings for the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ acclaimed method of global missions support and seminary education.

The church also supports missionaries in Bolivia, Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, the Omaha Baptist Center, the SBC’s World Hunger Fund and the Eastern Nebraska Baptist Association.

West Bellevue sponsors an Anglo cell church and a Sudanese church, both in Omaha.

“Omaha has one of the largest Sudanese populations in the United States,” Holdaway said. “One of the refugee families our church adopted last year happened to be a pastor and his family, trained in a Baptist seminary in Beirut, Lebanon. That one of the three families we adopted turned out to be a theologically trained pastor wanting to start a church? God is up to something.”

West Bellevue also sends its members out on short-term mission trips, to Argentina, Bolivia, China, Canada and Montana in recent years.

“We’ve seen God move though steady growth over the last 10 years,” Holdaway said. “He has stretched us, changed us and caused us to redefine our programs and agendas.

“It’s been an exciting journey and I, as pastor, have had to change and grow with the church,” he said. “We are excited about the future and what changes God will bring as He leads us to get outside our box and do creative, passionate ministry.”