Editor’s note: October is Cooperative Program Emphasis Month in the SBC.
HAMPSTEAD, N.H. – Pastor Kyle Lewis talked in a recent sermon about renting a Tesla.
The story begins with a car that didn’t work, his need to get to a Vermont pastors’ conference, and the car rental service’s offer of a Tesla.
“The sermon was about salvation, and how we don’t have to know every detail,” Lewis told Baptist Press. “We simply have to know to turn to Jesus and give Him control of your life.
“I was thoroughly confused about all the buttons on the Tesla, but I knew how to reverse, go forward, brake and steer. And that was enough to get me where I needed to go.”
Lewis has been the pastor of Island Pond Baptist Church since 2017. Since that time, the church has grown from 50 to 150 in Sunday morning worship.
“The mission of our church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ,” Lewis said. “We want to create a culture in our church where we’re serious about growing as disciples but also reaching others outside of the church. To do this, we want to show love to those who don’t know Jesus to earn the right to share in the hope of the Gospel with them.”
Talking about spiritual things is especially difficult in Hampstead, a town 45 minutes north of Boston, because New Hampshire and neighboring Massachusetts are the least religiously-inclined states in the nation, the pastor said, citing a Pew Research Center study.
“New Englanders are very independent, so the idea of attending a church is a challenge for a lot of people,” Lewis said. “In our community, it’s not that people are overtly hostile to Christianity. They just don’t care.”
“You have to find ways to get on their radar before you can begin to share about Jesus,” the pastor added.
Island Pond Baptist offers an expansive Kids’ Spring Festival and fall Trunk or Treat that go far beyond similar events. Both annual events include a rock-climbing wall, petting zoo, scavenger hunt in the sanctuary, food trucks, free cotton candy and much more. The many church volunteers who direct games and other activities make friends with children and their parents alike.
“These two particular outreaches aren’t strongly evangelistic,” Lewis said. “Our aim is to show the love of Jesus by having fun with our community. You have to find ways to connect with people before they’re willing to listen to you when you’re talking about Jesus.”
To gain a Gospel hearing, Island Pond Baptist also reaches out in other ways in its community, including an expansively decorated VBS and a Thanksgiving Community Dinner with, “Lots and lots of food,” the pastor said, for the 180 or more who can pack into the church’s fellowship hall.
“I have found these community events do not bear immediate results,” Lewis said. “A family may participate in a festival for a year or two. Then they might sign their kids up for our VBS. After that their oldest child may start attending youth group. Only then do some of the parents give the Sunday service a try.”
Much residential growth is happening within a 30-minute radius of Hampstead, which creates more opportunities for the church.
“We have some people coming from other churches when they move here, and that’s a blessing,” Lewis said. “However, our goal is to reach people in the community who don’t go to church.”
To help those in the church who started attending Island Pond Baptist with no prior experience to Christianity, Lewis self-published a book: Ignite Your Faith: Five steps to grow your faith right now. The book, released in January, “provides biblical and practical guidance that will help you grow to be more like Jesus,” writes Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin, in his endorsement on Amazon.
Lewis did not grow up in a Southern Baptist church. “The first thing I tell them [when talking about CP to the congregation] is they have me because of the Cooperative Program.” He was drawn to SEBTS for his seminary education because of its academics and missions focus. When he learned about the Cooperative Program’s tuition support for Southern Baptist students, he joined a church affiliated with the SBC. He later also earned a D.Min. degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“With the Cooperative Program, we’re giving to missions in New Hampshire, New England, and all over the world,” Lewis said. “The Cooperative Program is a powerful way of giving to invest your money in heavenly causes. That’s why a large portion of our mission dollars goes through the Cooperative Program.”
The Sarepta Baptist Association in Northeast Georgia partners with Island Pond Baptist, SBA Director of Missions Lex Bowen told Baptist Press.
“There were a couple of reasons that we selected Island Pond,” Bowen said. “One was because of Kyle. He had the vision and we just connected with him. He has a heart to reach people. Secondly, we wanted to help a church that might become strong enough that it would start other work in New Hampshire and at that point our individual churches might take on a new work to partner individually with the new work.”
In the salvation-specific sermon in which he talked about renting a Tesla, Lewis told the congregation, “When I got in the car, I had absolutely no idea what to do. I was thoroughly confused. The only things that were the same as a regular car were the steering wheel, brake, and acceleration pedal. But you know what? With those three things, I was able to get it moving. Over time I learned more about what all the buttons do, but I didn’t need all the buttons to get on the road.
“You don’t need to know every detail about salvation or Christianity. You can start with simply believing in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved! With that simple start you can get moving in your faith and grow from there.”
Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.