By Bob Smietana
For 20 years, the members of Grace Baptist Church in McMinnville, Oregon, scrimped and saved in hopes of getting a place of their own.
Every month, church members faithfully gave to a building fund as part of their offerings. A building, they thought, would help their little church grow and further its mission.
In the meantime, the mostly older congregation prayed about the future and met in the activities room of a local senior center.
Those prayers were answered this past year—but not in the way the congregation of 20 people had expected.
“We had plans to buy a building or build a place of our own,” says James Phillips, a longtime deacon at Grace Baptist.
“We finally came to the conclusion that, as such as small group, we could not do that. So we decided to go in another direction.”
Earlier this year, Grace Baptist gave $110,000 to help fund church plants in the Northwest Baptist Convention.
With other matching funds, it’s enough to help start more than a dozen churches, says Randy Adams, executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention.
Grace Baptist also donated $50,000 from its building fund to provide grants to foster parents.
Both gifts will allow the small church to have a big impact, says Adams.
“We use the word ‘repurpose’ a lot here in the Northwest,” he says. “They repurposed their dream.”
Giving up on having their own building took time. Church members started thinking about it a few years ago, says pastor Rich Bryson.
“The question came up, ‘What should we do with this money?’” says Bryson, a bivocational pastor who also works as a special education teacher.
“I felt it was wrong to hold onto this money without giving it to the Lord’s work.”
Church members agreed and began to look at other options for the building fund.
One of the first things they did was make sure it was legal to use the funds for other ministry projects, says Bryson. Once that hurdle was past, church members knew they wanted the money to help children.
Helping foster parents would work. Launching new churches could help children as well, since many appeal to younger families.
Starting new churches could also allow Grace Baptist to reach people who might never come to one of its services.
Grace Baptist’s contribution helped the Northwest Baptist Convention reach a growing, diverse part of the country.
Currently, Baptist churches in this area hold services in about 25 languages, and half their church plants hold services in a language besides English.
Bryson says the congregation of Grace Baptist is glad to be part of starting new churches.
“It’s expanding the work of the Lord,” he says. “We’re not out on the front lines, but we are able to support those who are.”
Phillips says partnering with the Northwest Baptist Convention has given the church a shot in the arm—and it shows that even small churches can do significant ministry.
The church still has work to do where it is. Members meet in the activities room at the Hillside Manor, a local retirement community, and draw some of the residents to their services.
“You might not believe this, but we have just eight of our regular members in attendance every Sunday,” says Phillips. “Then we have about eight or nine people from Hillside Manor. So most weeks there are only about 20 of us.”
They’ll keep reaching out to their neighbors. And they’ll pray for new churches in this part of the country.
“We feel like we are moving in the right direction,” says Phillips.
Bryson hopes Grace Baptist can serve as an example to other congregations. Members looked at their situation, prayed, took their time—and then reached a hard decision.
Giving the building funds away means the church will likely never have a place of its own for worship—but will help other churches thrive.
“Maybe this will inspire other churches to do the same thing,” he says.
BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer for Facts & Trends.