Church Planting: 1871–2016

A History of the US Church Planting Projects: 1871–2016

Updated/Compiled by Matt Wireman, Brett Toney (Sept 2011)
Revised/Updated/Compiled: Kenny Stokes (Sept 2016)


In 1871, twenty-two Swedish believers of the First American Baptist Church in Minneapolis were granted a request by the elder board to branch out from the church and begin a new body of believers. This new church plant, First Swedish Baptist Church of Minneapolis, aimed to impact the influx of Swedish immigrants in the area with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This church, which later changed its name to Bethlehem Baptist Church, has—throughout its existence—been devoted to the development of biblically founded churches that are equipped to effectively reach their respective communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Chapter One (1871–1980)

1871 – Bethlehem was planted by the First American Baptist Church and originally named First Swedish Baptist.

1879 – The need to reach out to Norwegian and Danish immigrants brought about Bethlehem’s first church plant in the form of the First Norwegian-Danish Baptist Church, which became Powderhorn Park Baptist. Twenty-nine charter members were sent from Bethlehem to establish the church. Closing in 2006, Powderhorn gave its building to Bethlehem Ministry Initiatives, and is now the home of Jubilee Community Church and Jericho Road Ministries.

1888 – The growing need for work in Northeast Minneapolis led to the founding of Elim Baptist Church under Dr. Frank Peterson. Elim Baptist had their first service on February 21 as a result of people being willing “to throw themselves into another [church] for the spread of the Good News where they lived.” (Winston Sherwick, Bethlehem Baptist Centennial, p. 54, Free Church Press, 1971.)

1896 – The Seward Neighborhood was noted to have “practically no religious work going on.” (Sherwick, p. 51.) Seeing this obvious need for the Gospel, Bethlehem planted Bethel Baptist Church from the Sunday School and Industrial School outreach of the Bethlehem members in the neighborhood. The 146-member congregation was folded back into Bethlehem in 1961.

1941 – Partnering with sixteen other churches, Bethlehem sent some of its own congregation to the suburbs for the first time to form Spring Lake Park Baptist Church. (Unpublished Anniversary Paper from Elim Baptist Church, p. 8.) Presently, Spring Lake Park Baptist has become a campus of Eaglebrook Church.

1944 – Bethlehem sent 11 of its members to help form Saint Louis Park Baptist Church. This fellowship became Park Baptist that later merged with First Baptist of Hopkins to form Cross of Glory Baptist Church (Glory Online, October 8, 2004).

1948 – Edgewater Baptist, once known as Bethlehem Baptist Chapel (Sherwick, p. 57), received 106 Bethlehem members to create a firm foundation for the congregation.

1949 – Bethlehem voted to support Wayside Chapel with $400, given in $50 monthly increments, and helped organize the chapel. Bethlehem also sent member Rev. John Lundberg to pastor the body of believers. The chapel became known as Wooddale Baptist and met on the corner of 71st & Nicollet (Sherwick, p. 58). Presently, Wooddale Church is located on a large campus in Eden Prairie.

1952 – Rev. Winston Sherwick was sent, with other Bethlehem members, as an interim pastor to establish, organize, and guide Brooklyn Center Baptist as it began to gather for worship.

1963 – Bethlehem came alongside of Cedar Grove Baptist by making the down payment on the church’s parsonage and contributing funds for the ongoing ministry of the church.

1971 – In May, the Primera Iglesia Evangelica Bautista (First Evangelical Baptist Church) began to meet in Bethlehem’s chapel (now Room 203) free of charge and also rented office space for $25 per month. While meeting at Bethlehem, the church was under the leadership of laymen Antonio de Paris, Jaime Martinez, and Roberto Morales. Bob Swanson, a missionary to Mexico, returned to the States and aided the church by taking on preaching responsibilities until Rev. Dagoberto Aguilar was called in April 1973. When Aguilar returned to his home country of Costa Rica in 1977, Delmar IntVeld was called to shepherd the flock. The relationship between the Hispanic church and Bethlehem was essentially limited to use of shared space, which formally ended in 1987 when the First Evangelical Baptist Church decided to change locations since Bethlehem was growing so rapidly and needed more space.

This time for Bethlehem set a great launching point for further church planting. A summative statement on Bethlehem’s church planting efforts from its centennial publication still resonates true today: “One message at least that these churches bring to us is that churches that are born do grow to maturity. It is through local bodies of Christ like these that God gets much of the work of His whole Church done. Churches beget churches. And God’s people within churches travail triumphantly in the birth of persons into His family” (Sherwick, p. 60).

Chapter Two (1980–2002)

Bethlehem called a new, young, inexperienced man in 1980 who had never pastored a church before and did not have any extensive plans or programs with which to revitalize the fading congregation; he had only one vision for the church: “To magnify Jesus Christ by His Word so clearly that He draws people from [the demographically diverse surrounding area] to Himself and builds a church out of those kinds of people.” (John Piper, from an unpublished talk given at a Table Talk on October 30, 2008). John Piper proceeded to carry out this vision, by God’s grace, as he labored to transform the small, elderly, and theologically uninformed congregation into a vibrant, growing church that is passionate about theology and making much of God. This vision did not contain any church planting goals or strategies, but as the church grew both numerically and spiritually, the need and desire to plant likeminded churches became evident. Any efforts to plant churches stemmed from members seeing a need and rising to address it.

1988 – Growing out of the Bethlehem ministry to refugees from Southeast Asia (which had been led by Annette Carlson, Olga Mortensen, and Florence Martin), the Laotian Church of Peace was organized and established by Rev. Steven Cable. Cable had succeeded this position when his father-in-law, Rev. Phaitoon Hathamart, returned to Thailand. The church is currently pastored by Phouratsaphone Littana.

1989 – In the Spring of the year, the few leaders of Immanuel Baptist, a struggling independent Baptist church, came to Bethlehem looking for help. By August, Bethlehem had sent Brent & Kathy Nelson, along with a team of about a dozen Bethlehem members including Mike & Mary Jacobson, the Dingers, Fowlers, and Salzmans to help revitalize the church. Bethlehem was a crucial means of God’s grace to Immanuel, namely through its financial support and release of members to crossover; and also through its wisdom, encouragement, and camaraderie. After 17 faithful years, in October 2006, the Nelsons’ personal ministry came to a close at Immanuel. Seeking to proclaim and live out the Gospel among the unique and progressive Seward Neighborhood in Minneapolis, Immanuel Baptist Church continues to look to God with great hope and confidence.

1996 – After being an apprentice at Bethlehem for four years, Steve Treichler led a group of 13 believers to start Hope Community Church on the campus of the University of Minnesota, relying solely on God for provision, both financially and for the growth of the church. The church seeks to reach students at the university who are unfamiliar with the things of the Lord and to foster true Christian community while not forsaking truth. Hope Community is now located just 1 block west of the downtown campus of Bethlehem, on 7th Street & 11th Avenue. Presently, attendance at Hope is over 1,000 each weekend and the church has planted several other new churches around the Twin Cities.

1998 – On Easter Sunday, Bethlehem commissioned three cell groups, which had been meeting as Celebration Community Church, as an official church plant that sought to incarnationally and holistically reach the urban poor of the Phillips Neighborhood. Jim & Raquel Bloom led the ministry (joined by Jeff & Krista Noyed and Kevin & Robin Olson). The church planting fellowship “Rising” was developed through the ministry of Celebration and has grown and been strengthened.

2000 – Bethlehem partnered with Grace Church in Richfield to help revitalize the church. In February, Bethlehem set apart Rick Gamache to pastor the church, elder Randy Westlund, and about 70 others from Bethlehem to join the fellowship. The combined congregation had their first Sunday service in April 2000. The church was greatly strengthened in 2003 when it joined the Sovereign Grace Ministries church network. Subsequently, the church name was changed to Sovereign Grace Church. The congregation meets in Bloomington, MN, and is notably reformed in its doctrine and charismatic in its practice.

2000 – The elders of Bethlehem were presented with a proposal in May by Russ Gregg and Cecil Smith regarding their desire to plant a church, Sovereign Joy Fellowship. This vision was a result of God stirring in the hearts of those within their “Pilgrims” Sunday School class at Bethlehem since February 1996. The first service was held on July 1 in Bethlehem’s chapel, now Room 203. [Cecil Smith, A Proposal for a Cell Church Plant Sent Out from Bethlehem Baptist Church in AD 2000” (unpublished), May 1, 2000, pp. 7–8.] After several years, the fellowship discontinued meeting, resulting in several members joining a new sister church, Jubilee Community Church, in 2010.

By the beginning of the millennium, Bethlehem had grown significantly. This growth, coupled with a sense that Bethlehem’s church planting efforts in North America could improve, gave birth to the next more intentional chapter of church planting.

Chapter Three (2002–2016): Treasuring Christ Together

In 2002, the Bethlehem council of elders began to pray and plan for the growth that the church was experiencing. The resulting vision was titled “Treasuring Christ Together” (TCT), which aimed to develop three Bethlehem campuses, plant new churches, and provide financial aid for the global poor. The elders transitioned Pastor Kenny Stokes from Pastor for Urban Ministries to a new position, Pastor for Church Planting & Strategic Mobilization. His task was to oversee the planting of new churches, the establishment of a church planting network, and the oversite of multi-campus work. Strategic developments during this chapter that still serve Bethlehem today:

  • Church Planting Residency. The residency was established to equip called and qualified church planters by instilling in them the biblical convictions of Bethlehem’s mission and Elder Affirmation of Faith, and by providing opportunities to observe how those convictions are lived out in the manifold life of the local church.

  • Treasuring Christ Together Network. The stated goal of the TCT vision was not merely to plant new churches, but also to form a church planting network, that came to be called The Treasuring Christ Together Network (TCTN). In its beginning, Pastor Kenny Stokes functioned as the “lead planter” for the network. The first TCT Church Planting Network (TCTN) meeting took place in August 2007. Later in 2015, it was fitting for the TCTN to begin operating as a separate nonprofit corporation. Since that time, Sean Cordell has been serving as the executive director. The network has continued to meet locally and nationally with a strong sense of shared mission to plant new churches whose elders gladly embrace Bethlehem Elder Affirmation of Faith and 10 Dimensions of Church Life. The network continues to grow and recently granted membership to several new and existing churches drawn to Bethlehems mission, doctrine and vision or the church.

  • Master’s of Divinity: Church Planting & Revitalization Concentration. Established in 2015, the aim of this concentration at Bethlehem College & Seminary is to provide biblical foundations and practical training for those sensing God’s call to be pastors, particularly of new churches or churches needing revitalization. As a result of this concentration, and the partnership between the church and the seminary, Bethlehem anticipates an exponential increase in the number of graduates who become church planters and revitalization pastors.

Bethlehem’s prayer during this chapter was that God might be pleased to give grace to plant one church per year, alternating each year between a new church in the Twin Cities and one elsewhere in the United States. Below is a list of the churches established during the TCT chapter:

  • 2003 – Desiring God Community Church was initiated by a group of Bethlehem members moving to Charlotte, North Carolina, to continue working with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (which had be headquartered in Minneapolis). The group, along with the elders of Bethlehem, asked Coty Pinckney to join them in prayer about his involvement in planting a church in Charlotte. In Autumn 2002, Coty and his family were given confirmation of God’s call in his role to pastor the church. The first Sunday morning service was held on March 9, 2003, at the University City Hilton. The church presently meets in the Bethel Korean Church building in Charlotte.

  • 2004 – After serving as a St. Paul paramedic for 10 years, Dwayne Gibbs sensed the need for a new way for the people of St. Paul to be reached with the gospel. He and his wife, Mary, began to minister to at­-risk and high­-risk youth in the St. Paul area. This ministry developed into the Harvest Movement Youth Center with the aim to develop a church under which the youth center would function, Berean Missional. The church and Youth Center strive to be a redemptive force in the city and seek to continue to develop indigenous leadership through holistic evangelism and discipleship.

  • 2005 – Treasuring Christ Church first opened its doors for a public service on March 27 with 60 people in attendance. The church plant was led by graduates of The Bethlehem Institute Sean Cordell and Kent Capps. They were joined by Travis Williams and together planted the new church in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. After struggling with locations, the Lord provided for the purchase of their own building near downtown Raleigh. The church has a reputation in urban Raleigh as a church devoted to the worship of Christ, with a love for city, and a yearning to see racial harmony lived out in our world. In addition to serving as lead pastor, Sean Cordell is currently Executive Director of the Treasuring Christ Together Network.

  • 2006 – Gregg Heinsch, a pastor from the Stillwater–Hudson, Wisconsin, area; and Matthew Molesky, a TBI graduate, left for Florida to establish Celebration Community Church as part of the Vision USA Church Planting Network, now Vision360. Chris Lent, another TBI graduate, has also joined in the church’s efforts as they seek to make worship a way of life, respond to the Spirit of God, connect with the people of God, and join in the mission of God. The church had about 200 people in regular attendance in the Fall of 2008.

  • 2006 – Grace Community Church began holding weekly services on November 5 in an urban neighborhood of Memphis, Tennessee. The 80-person congregation, led by former TCT Church Planting Resident Jordan Thomas, is supporting two church plants in Nigeria and is actively involved in numerous in­ home Bible studies. Grace Community intentionally strives to be Christ­-centered by not busying themselves with many programs and activities and instead focusing on exalting Jesus; this emphasis comes from a desire to not only act like a follower of Christ, but to be a follower of Christ.

  • 2006 – In mid­-2005, three pastors from Bethlehem began to pray about planting in or near North Minneapolis. The aim was to plant an intentionally diverse, biblically faithful church that lives out the implications of the gospel and reaches the near neighborhoods. On March 5, 2006, All Nations Christian Fellowship held its first pre­launch service at Garden City school, in Brooklyn Center. In September, John Erickson took on the responsibility of preaching until May 2008, when Dr. Allan Joseph was called as the lead pastor. Presently, the church meets in its own building in Brooklyn Center.

  • 2007 – Several years before Glory of Christ Fellowship started regular worship services, Mike Perry and Greg Chaffin were leading a Bethlehem small group that desired to plant a church in the Elk River­/Rogers, Minnesota, area. After submitting a vision document to the Bethlehem elders, Charlie Handren was accepted into the church planting residency in order to lead the church plant. The church opened its doors in Autumn 2007 as Glory of Christ, and 100 attendees met in the Handke Family Center in Elk River. This body of believers is strongly devoted to see the gospel proclaimed among the nations.

  • 2009 – After completing the Church Planting Residency at Bethlehem in January, Tim & Abbey Cain moved to El Cajon, California, to plant Kaleo Church. The church mission statement reads, “Kaleo Church exists to be a Christ­-treasuring community formed by the gospel and sent into the world through the power of the Holy Spirit and for the glory of God.” Kaleo has become known, not only for Tim’s preaching and teaching, but also for its missional community and for its practical acts of love toward the poor.
  • 2010 – After nearly a year of preparation and planning, and with the blessing of the elders, John Erickson left All Nations Christian Fellowship (ANCF) to plant Jubilee Community Church in South Minneapolis. Joining John and his family in initiating this plant was Dan Porch and Kurt Swanson, along with several families from ANCF. Meeting at Bethlehem’s 16/33 Center, they aim to reach minority groups in the Phillips and Powderhorn neighborhoods.

  • 2010 – After completing a church planting residency at Bethlehem, Jason Vaden planted Urban Harvest Fellowship in North Little Rock, Arkansas. The vision for this church was born out of the burden to bring the power and presence of God, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, to bear upon one of the darkest areas of North Little Rock.

  • 2010 – Brett Louis, also a church planting resident, started Christ Redeemer Church, working to advance the kingdom of God on the east side of the Twin Cities when they began meeting in Woodbury in September. The church, led by Brett Louis and Thomas Rydland, currently meets at an Early Education center in Woodbury.

  • 2012 – Upon completion of his residency, Mike Bartlett moved his family in 2011 to begin planting Redemption City Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In partnership with Crossroads Church the core group began gathering in 2012, attracting 60 people who wanted to be a part of the church plant in the Eastown neighborhood. In January 2013, Redemption City moved to the campus of Aquinas College in Eastown where it still meets and aims to be a redemption movement in the heart of the city.

  • 2012 – New City of Nations Church (NCNC) exists to advance the reign of Christ among all peoples, through a redeemed community of all peoples. After 10 years on the Bethlehem pastoral staff as missions pastor, Erik Hyatt entered the church planting residency in order to be sent out as a church planter. The church began public worship in September. Today NCNC is a missional, multi­ethnic, and multiplying church.

  • 2013 – The Heights Church was renamed from Hayden Heights Baptist Church after going through a “Jumpstart” revitalization that began in 2011. Hayden Heights had been in existence for 89 years at the time their congregation agreed to work with church planter Weyland Leach, who was installed as pastor in July 2013.

  • 2014 – Cities Church began building Community Groups in Fall 2014 and now meets weekly for worship at Minnehaha Academy North. The mission of Cities Church, under the pastoral team of Jonathan Parnell, Joe Rigney, and David Mathis is to make disciples of all nations.

  • 2016 – After serving for seven years as the pastor for senior high students at Bethlehem, Kempton Turner sensed the Spirit’s stirring to return to his hometown of East St. Louis, Illinois. After a church planting residency at Bethlehem in 2014, the Turner family moved to the area to begin the work of building a core team to plant a new church, City of Joy Fellowship. The Journey Church in St. Louis was a significant partner and support for Turners personally and for the vision for the new church. The public launch was held on September 18, 2016, with more than 300 in attendance.

Chapter Four (2016­–Present): Fill These Cities: 25 x 25

At this writing, Bethlehem is just crossing the threshold of a new chapter of church planting. The vision for planting is embedded in a new all­-church vision, “Fill These Cities: 25 x25.” Pastor Jason Meyer explained the vision to the church in a sermon entitled, “The 25 x25 Story” on September 10, 2016, this way:

In January of 2015, I told the elders that I felt like I was finally able to peek above the clouds a little bit and start thinking about the next ten years instead of the next ten minutes. One of the first things I saw was that the next ten years could be the decade of church planting. Previously, a small, all­ church elder subcommittee worked with our pastor overseeing church planting to vet residents and recommended planters to the elders with a prayer goal of approving one planter per year.

In the first phase, Church Planting 1.0, God gave us grace to plant a church planting network of 14 churches, half of which are in the Twin Cities; the other half are in strategic places throughout the United States.

Church Planting 2.0 could be even more fruitful by using each of the three campuses to be like church planting spreading centers—like missile silos along the I­35 corridor to fill these cities with gospel­ preaching churches.

Here is what I mean. We are a church with three campuses and a seminary. The seminary now has a church­ planting track. If we had three Bethlehem Seminary graduates, past or present, accepted as church planting residents on each campus each year, by God’s grace we would be positioned for 3 church plants every year, one from each campus. What that means is that each campus would be able to help train, mentor, assess and send one church planting resident per year when running at full capacity.

In the next phase, Church Planting 2.0, we take the strategic value of church planting and make it a church-wide shared value, with implications on each campus. We intend that the congregational elders on each campus would be engaged in the church planting vision, engage in mentoring, assessing and endorsing pastoral residents for church planting and the revitalization of declining churches. That way, each campus would be a church planting spreading center.

We want the elders engaged in church planting at the grassroots level and ground floor planning and praying and dreaming and strategizing. They will look for potential planting and revitalization opportunities and strategize about where the Lord might be pleased to start a church plant. We intend for small groups and small group leaders to play a strategic role, joining together to form core groups for new churches in specific target areas. We aim to deploy leaders from among the elders, Bethlehem College & Seminary graduates, and even at times pastors in this vision. We also are proposing that Kenny Stokes would be the church planting pastor to lead the decade of church planting.

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