DUBUQUE, Iowa (BP)–When most Iowans think of Dubuque, they probably consider the picturesque vistas seen from high-rising bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. In a city with towering cathedrals and centuries of religious tradition, New Life Church has set its sights on providing a place for unchurched Dubuque residents.
Pastor Rex Rains and his family began planning for the new congregation in 2005. Beginning with his wife Laura and their children, Kyle, Janna, Chelsea and Nathan, Rains set out to start a Baptist church in the heart of traditional, historic Dubuque offering an innovative, fresh approach to worship, Bible study and discipleship.
New Life Church officially was launched with 24 attendees on Jan. 22, 2006, joining three other Southern Baptist congregations in the city.
A subsequent media blitz with mail-outs and other components pushed attendance to more than 100 people at Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School.
All churches experience highs and lows in attendance, and New Life is no exception. In March 2006, a spell of bad weather contributed to a significant drop in attendance, but a year later, it had rebounded to 85.
This March, New Life welcomed 12 new members; nine are candidates for baptism. The congregation moved to its latest location Jan. 28 — the first floor of a renovated church building, in the former fellowship hall; a men’s clothing store occupies the second floor.
In April, New Life hosted an open house; 117 people attended and five new Dubuque-area couples expressed interest in the church, Rains reported.
New Life plans to start a Saturday night service this year. The entire family has kept things going by leading worship, running the sound system and directing the nursery.
Most church members are new believers, which was the goal of the new church from the beginning, Rains said.
“We set out to reach the lost and give them a place to worship,” he said. “We want to show them what new life in Christ is all about.”
Rains moved to Dubuque after eight years of ministry in Freeport, Ill. Sensing the direction of the Holy Spirit, Rains said he contacted Northeast Iowa Southern Baptist Association and the Baptist Convention of Iowa for support and guidance in starting the new work. In July 2005, the Rains family met with fellow newcomers to the city for an informational meeting about starting a Bible study group. Eighteen people attended the first meeting and began weekly get-togethers.
Rains said he hopes to see the congregation continue to grow in number and spirit to one day occupy an entire building.
“If God keeps blessing the way He has, one day we will have our own building,” the pastor said. “Until then we will trust the Lord and not move ahead of our finances.”
Rains said he has never felt more fulfilled in the ministry. “There is just no comparison. I would rather be involved in this frontline ministry of seeing people come to know Christ and planting their lives in a new church than I would in any traditional church setting.”
Steve Murdock is the Baptist Convention of Iowa’s missions team leader.