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Ohio church believes in ‘a big God for big dreams’

EDITORS’ NOTE: Baptist Press will release a feature story on each church on the itinerary of the national bus tour of Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch.

WEST CHESTER, Ohio (BP)–Liberty Heights Baptist Church in West Chester, Ohio, believes “the lost are worth the cost,” senior pastor Terry Fields says.

Having baptized more than 1,000 people in the last eight years as one of the fastest-growing Southern Baptist churches in the Midwest, Liberty Heights is in the process of expanding its reach by relocating to a 94-acre site north of Cincinnati with a half-mile frontage on Interstate 75, one of the busiest highways in the United States.

Liberty Heights was stop No. 19 on SBC President Bobby Welch’s national bus tour to generate a sense of urgency for evangelism among Southern Baptists. The tour is a kickoff for “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign which has the goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.

“We believe strongly in three purposes: worship, evangelism and discipleship,” Fields said. “We try to keep it simple. And we’re working on a process-driven mentality that takes people where they are and then challenges them to move closer to God. We make it a high priority to engage people in dynamic worship with relevant Bible preaching and then move them toward a commitment to deeper Bible study and service to others.”

God can do great things in a church when the pastor and people join hands and work together, the pastor said.

“Liberty Heights is a great example of what can happen when a church says ‘the lost are worth the cost,’ that doesn’t look at obstacles but looks for opportunities,” Fields said. “I am so proud of our people because they’ve been willing to believe a big God for big dreams, and think big. They have embraced the idea that the message never changes but methods do.”

Liberty Heights called Fields, then only 30 years old, as pastor in 1996. In addition to deciding to relocate for greater visibility, the church has changed its name to embrace a regional vision. In December, they will move into a new 108,000 square-foot building alongside the interstate, where experts have told church leaders that within a year of the move, more than 1 million people in the region will know where Liberty Heights is located.

Development in the area around the new church site is projected to more than quadruple in the next 20 years, Fields said. Most of the residential construction will be single-family homes for families with teens and pre-teens — an age group that is a particular strength of Liberty Height’s local ministry.

“We love students, and we love families, and we’ve made a major commitment to reaching them,” Fields said. “God has allowed us to lead our state in youth baptisms every year since I’ve been here. If 85 percent of people who come to Christ do so by the age of 18, we decided to target students above everyone else.

“Most churches want teenagers to come, but they expect them to look like adults, act like adults, think like adults and enjoy the same music as adults. But we’ve reached out to students on their terms by creating the right kind of environment where they’ll feel at home and welcome,” the pastor said. “About five years ago we really took off. We leased a store-front building down the street, hired the right staff, recruited some of our best lay leaders and energized our church toward reaching young people.”

Today, Liberty Heights’ student ministry, named ELEVATE, offers three services a week to as many as 500 students. At the new facility, ELEVATE will enlarge to 20,000 square feet. A staff of six supports the youth program.

“We have more staff for students than we had for the entire church when I came here in 1996,” Fields said.

In addition to local ministries, Liberty Heights has committed to “help plant a new church every year in Ohio until Jesus comes,” the pastor said. And in the last year, he added, Liberty Heights has added a global dimension to its missions consciousness.

“God arrested my attention after we sent 104 students and adult leaders to Argentina last year,” Fields said. “We saw 1,000 people come to Christ and it just lit our fire for global outreach.”

This spring, Liberty Heights hosted a five-day Global Missions Celebration that included interaction between church members and 30 missionaries. On top of regular giving to the Cooperative Program and the relocation campaign, members promised to give $200,000 toward local, national and international missions.

“The key is we made missions personal,” Fields said. “This emphasis has generated more excitement than anything we’ve ever done.”

Liberty Heights wants to be a flagship church for Southern Baptists outside the Bible belt, the pastor said.

“We want to be an encouragement to other churches,” Fields said. “In these last nine years, we’ve added close to 1,500 new members, mostly through believer’s baptism. We have the chance to go where few churches have gone before in Ohio.

“A lot of great things have happened but we’re just getting started,” the pastor continued. “We’re sailing in uncharted waters, trying to become trailblazers and pacesetters. We’re trying to break down barriers and manmade limitations. The best is yet to come for Liberty Heights Church.”