|Today's From the States features items from:
Baptist & Reflector (Tennessee)
Arkansas Baptist News
Baptist Message (Louisiana)
FBC, Morristown, starts congregation
to reach folks it is not reaching
By Connie Bushey
MORRISTOWN, Tenn. (Baptist & Reflector) -- A new congregation in this Tennessee town is unusual in several ways.
It is the Biker Church of Morristown. Motorcycles of members often are parked in front of its building which, in contrast, formerly was a florist shop. The church's building is located next door to First Baptist Church in Morristown, which started it.
Though the Biker Church has only been meeting on Thursday nights for six weeks, it draws about 40 people each week and Preacher Ray (as he is known) has seen four people make professions of faith and 49 rededicate their lives.
The church draws some people in the motorcycle culture but also many others "who would never think about walking into the First Baptist Church of Morristown," said preacher Ray Slater.
At the Biker Church here and at the Biker Church in Newport which Slater also leads, "there is no dress code, no rules," he explained.
"So many people are hungry for the Word of God but they just don't feel like they could be a part of a religious service at a church," said Slater, who has led the Newport church, which he founded, for six years.
He explained that back in 2001 while operating a tattoo shop in Pigeon Forge he heard a voice telling him to go to church. He contacted a church and was told by a minister that the church couldn't help people like him and the church didn't have anything for people like him. The minister did refer Slater to a church for people "like him" where Slater met Jesus and was called to the ministry.
Before he became a Christian Slater took and sold drugs, was a biker and was incarcerated. "I was just a mean person," he explained.
He and many of the people who come to the Biker Church can understand why people remember the bad things they have done, he continued. But it is still difficult. Those in the Biker Church, he explained, know not to judge or condemn but instead to nurture folks.
Slater said he is so thankful to Dean Haun, pastor, First Baptist, for asking him to start the Biker Church here and for First Baptist, who sponsors it.
"Just to be a part of it and seeing it unfold, is nothing beyond miraculous," said Slater.
Haun, added Slater, has become his mentor and is "an awesome, awesome guy." Though Haun has a "sophisticated, large congregation," he "has a heart to get outside the church and evangelize," stated Slater.
He has never been associated with an organized church group before but it is working out well, he added.
"I'm just a Jesus person that loves the real Jesus."
Haun said it might seem unusual to start a new congregation which meets next door to the sponsoring church, but God gave him the idea as First developed several ministries in the downtown area which were helping people learn about the gospel. Yet many of those people weren't coming to First. Then he met Slater and the idea developed.
In the past several years First Baptist has started a dental clinic housed in a former medical office and a thrift store in the same building. Already existing was a meal ministry started about 15 years ago by First Baptist members.
The dental clinic is called First Love on Main, the thrift store is called Lilies Rebloomed and the meal ministry is called Daily Bread.
"We needed a congregation for all of these folks that we are reaching," Haun stated. Haun noted that they would be welcomed at First, but they still might not feel comfortable there.
Slater already was aware of the needs of folks as a regular volunteer at Daily Bread and a member of the board of directors of First Love on Main.
Haun, who also is president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, added that the success of the Biker Church affirms Harvest Plants, an emphasis of the TBC which encourages churches to start small groups or new congregations to reach folks not currently being reached by the church.
Haun noted, "What the TBC is proposing (through Harvest Plants) will work. I would encourage churches to try it. It will work."
This article originally appeared in the Baptist & Reflector (http://tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Connie Bushey is news editor of the Baptist & Reflector.
The Church at Argenta
returns 'church' to city
By Brett Cooper
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Arkansas Baptist News) -- An abandoned church symbolizes what happened in Argenta. The North Little Rock neighborhood suffered the same fate as so many other urban areas, falling into steep decline decades ago. Stores closed, crime increased and many people fled to the suburbs. So did the churches.
"The old First Baptist Church building became a bar and strip club that served as a front for most of the criminal activity in Argenta," said Michael Carpenter, who is helping to bring better days to the community.
But Argenta rebounded, and it is now a neighborhood success story. Residents organized and began the process of rebuilding much of what had fallen into ruin.
New shops started appearing, and run-down homes began to see new life.
Crime decreased. New development commenced.
"Walking around Argenta today, one will find an economically and racially diverse neighborhood with children playing Four Square in the street, young mothers pushing strollers, people taking an evening walk with their dogs and old men sitting on their front porch, watching and listening. Main Street is peppered with offices, bars, specialty stores, restaurants and art galleries," Carpenter said.
The churches, however, have been slow to return to the community. That is where the Church at Argenta enters the picture.
"In no small way, Argenta feels like home," said Michael Gallup. "I also love that it is a work in progress, and we get to be a part of her story. We, the church, have a very real opportunity to shape the identity of this budding community."
Carpenter and Gallup share pastoral duties at the Church at Argenta. Carpenter serves as teaching pastor and Gallup as pastor. They are joined on the church's leadership team by Cliff Hutchison, Casey Turner, Jennifer Reeder, Amanda Carpenter and James Paul. Other members of the church's core group include David Stanley and Brian Pappalardo. All but Paul are graduates of Williams Baptist College in Walnut Ridge.
"I believe that it is essential to live in the community and neighborhood of your church. It is a part of the missional mindset. You do life with these people," said Turner, who serves on the church's children's ministry team.
The congregation currently meets at Carpenter's house on Sunday evenings, where they share a fellowship meal followed by a time of worship and Bible study.
They are moving toward the formal start of the Church at Argenta in early 2013.
The church will be based in a coffeehouse it plans to operate in the heart of the neighborhood. "Mugs Cafe," as it will be known, is another part of the story, but for now, the core group is getting to know Argenta and its people (read related story at right).
"I can walk to the Argenta Market, which is a block from my house, and see familiar faces. Seeing these familiar faces establishes relationships. We know our neighbors by their names; we know their stories," Turner said.
Hutchison, the church's worship pastor, agrees that it is essential to live in the community they are attempting to reach.
"I think I would find it too hard to root my life in a place and simply drive away at the end of the day. Not to mention, I would miss out on endless meaningful conversations that often happen as I walk the neighborhood going about my everyday business," he said.
Reeder, a children's ministry team member, at first lived 15 minutes from the church.
"I felt like I was missing out on a lot of the natural interaction that occurs with the people in the neighborhood. Now that I live in Argenta, I am better able to become a familiar face, which makes it easier to talk to people," she said.
Most of the leadership team serve as volunteers, working at "day jobs" to support themselves and their ministry in Argenta.
"It has been really difficult sometimes when I just want to go home after spending all day with children," Turner said. "At first, it was really challenging, but I have figured out how to have time for me and my ministry."
Hutchison added, "My job here in the neighborhood plays a major role in our ministry. I enjoy being present in the community during the day, meeting people in the workplace, as a fellow worker. And it pays the bills!"
Residing so close to one's ministry can be challenging, as Gallup and his wife Michala have discovered in moving with their two small children to Argenta.
"We can't live compartmentalized lives anymore. Ministry doesn't happen in some nice tidy box. The kingdom of God is like yeast that permeates every bit of the dough," Gallup said. "Ministry is life, and our life is ministry."
Carpenter and his wife, Amanda, also have two young children. They bought a house in Argenta this year and are putting down roots in the neighborhood that many others have shunned.
"Fear of urban neighborhoods, fear of the 'other' and the love of convenience have driven the Church's perception of neighborhoods like Argenta. Not surprisingly, this perception is largely negative," Carpenter observed.
"We have moved our homes and congregations to the fringes of our historic neighborhoods in the city to suburban enclaves. Moreover, we have learned to speak of these neighborhoods as places for rescue missions, rather than places to live, work and play."
Carpenter, who had worked as a church planter in Tennessee, was initially contacted by the Arkansas Baptist State Convention about starting a new work in Argenta. The effort has earned the backing of the North Pulaski Baptist Association and several churches around the state.
The commitment of the church's leadership to their new home is reflected in the simple name they have chosen for their congregation - "Church at Argenta." Gallup said it follows the lead of early New Testament bodies, such as the church at Ephesus and the church at Thessalonica.
"The church was local and identified by the place the people lived, where they worked and played. So we want to be the Church, the gathered people of God, at Argenta, the place we live," Gallup said. "We are the Church wherever we are."
Café with a mission
The church at Argenta, located in North Little Rock, is a model for starting new congregations and for cooperation, said David McClung, coordinator of church plants for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
"The partnerships that have developed around the Church at Argenta have been phenomenal," said McClung.
"The thing I have loved most about the folks at Church at Argenta is that they understand that they are a part of the Church as a whole," he added. "They are not in competition with other churches. They are not trying to 'do church the right way' as if everyone else is doing it wrong. They see themselves as missionaries to the community of Argenta and an extension of the ministries of their partner churches and denominational partners."
It is through those partnerships that the new church is developing Mugs Cafe, a coffeehouse and eating establishment that will also be the hub of its ministry. Michael Carpenter, who serves as teaching pastor of the Church at Argenta, believes that establishing a community gathering place is an excellent way to develop relationships with the people of Argenta.
"By building a coffeehouse, we will be able to create a place where connections will happen week in and week out. We can only imagine how many people will walk into Mugs Cafe to get a cup of coffee and end up finding a church and ultimately a saving relationship with Jesus," he said. Continued...