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Church Planting: 1871–2021

The Church Planting History of Bethlehem Baptist Church

Compiled/Revised/Updated Sept 2011, Sept 2016, Feb/Nov 2021, Jan 2022
(see a printable PDF of this document)

From Bethlehem’s beginning, God has moved in the hearts of her people to devote themselves to planting biblically rooted, gospel-centered churches that are equipped to reach their respective communities. 

In 1871, the elder board of First Baptist Church in Minneapolis (later renamed River City Church) granted the request of 22 Swedish members to plant a church. This new church, First Swedish Baptist Church, aimed to be a welcoming gospel presence for newly arriving Swedish immigrants. Later, First Swedish Baptist changed its name to Bethlehem Baptist Church.

God birthed Bethlehem through church planting and, by his grace, Bethlehem continues to be engaged in the ongoing work of church planting near and far. 

Bethlehem’s church planting efforts fall into four distinct eras: The Early Years (1871–1980), The New Vision (1980– 2002), Treasuring Christ Together (2002–2015), and “Fill These Cities: 25 x ’25” (2016–Present).

1. The Early Years, 1871–1980

In the first 100 years of Bethlehem’s history, God faithfully led the church body to regularly plant or revitalize churches in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

1871 — First Baptist Church (later renamed River City Church) planted First Swedish Baptist Church, which would become Bethlehem Baptist Church.

1879 — Bethlehem sent 29 members to plant First Norwegian-Danish Baptist Church among the growing Norwegian and Danish immigrant population. The church later became Powderhorn Park Baptist Church. When the church closed in 2006, it gave its building to Bethlehem. The building now houses another Bethlehem church plant, Jubilee Community Church, as well as Bethlehem’s Jericho Road Ministries.

1888 — A group of faithful women who formed a Sewing Society, along with many other Bethlehem members residing in Northeast Minneapolis, desired to see a church outreach formed in that part of the city for the spread of the Good News. Through their years of prayer and planning, and by the mercy of God, Elim Baptist Church was born, holding their first public service on February 21, 1888, under the leadership of Pastor Peter Ostrom.

1896 — Bethlehem sent members from the Sunday School and Industrial School outreach to plant Bethel Baptist Church in the Seward neighborhood, which had “practically no religious work going on” (Sherwick, p. 51).

1941 — Bethlehem, in partnership with 16 other churches, sent out members to plant Spring Lake Park Baptist Church in the suburbs of Minneapolis (unpublished Anniversary Paper from Elim Baptist Church, p. 8).

1944 — Bethlehem sent 11 members to help plant Saint Louis Park Baptist Church. This church would become Park Baptist and later merge with First Baptist of Hopkins to form Cross of Glory Baptist Church (The Cross of Glory website; available from [October 8, 2004]).

1948 — To aid in revitalizing the church, Bethlehem sent 106 members to Bethlehem Baptist Chapel, now known as Edgewater Baptist Church in South Minneapolis (Sherwick, p. 57).

1949 — Bethlehem voted to support Wayside Chapel with a financial gift totaling $400 over eight months. Bethlehem also sent member Rev. John Lundberg to lead the congregation. Wayside Chapel would later become Wooddale Baptist Church, meeting on the corner of 71st & Nicollet in Richfield for several years (Sherwick, p. 58). Today, Wooddale Church is located in Eden Prairie.

1952 — Bethlehem sent Winston Sherwick, along with other members, to plant and serve as interim pastor for Brooklyn Center Baptist Church.

1963 — Bethlehem aided Cedar Grove Baptist Church, in St. Paul, by making the down payment on their parsonage and contributing funds to ensure its ongoing ministry.

1971 — In May, Primera Iglesia Evangélica Bautista (First Evangelical Baptist Church) began meeting in Bethlehem’s chapel (now Room 203) free of charge and rented office space for $25 per month. Laymen Antonio de Paris, Jaime Martinez, and Roberto Morales led the church. Mexico missionary Bob Swanson took on the primary preaching responsibilities until the church called Rev. Dagoberto Aguilar in April 1973. Aguilar served in this role until he returned to his home country of Costa Rica in 1977. The church then called Delmar IntVeld as lead pastor. Primera Iglesia Evangélica Bautista continued to meet in the Bethlehem Baptist church building until formally changing locations in 1987 due to Bethlehem’s rapid growth and need for more space.

God used the experiences of The Early Years to shape and cement the church planting identity of Bethlehem. A statement from Bethlehem’s centennial publication regarding her church planting efforts still resonates 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).

2. The New Vision, 1980–2002

In 1980, after more than 100 years of God’s faithfulness through the ministries of Bethlehem Baptist, the church called a young, inexperienced man to lead the aging congregation. John Piper brought no pastoral experience or extensive plans or programs with him, but he did bring a vision: 

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. (Expressed in an unpublished talk given at a Table Talk event with The Bethlehem Institute on October 30, 2008.)

John Piper proceeded to carry out this vision as he labored to transform the small yet faithful congregation into a vibrant, growing church, passionate for the supremacy of God in all things, for the joy of all peoples. This vision did not contain specific church-planting goals or strategies, but as the church grew both numerically and spiritually, the need and desire to plant like-minded churches became evident. The leadership and members again saw a need for more gospel-centered churches, and they arose to address it with God’s leading through church planting in the Twin Cities.

1988 — Bethlehem’s ministry to refugees from Southeast Asia, headed by Annette Carlson, Olga Mortensen, and Florence Martin, led to the planting of the Laotian Church of Peace by Rev. Steven Cable. Steven’s father-in-law, Rev. Phaitoon Hathamart, led the plant. Phouratsaphone Littana went on to lead the Laotian Church of Peace.

1989 — Leaders of Immanuel Baptist Church, located in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis, requested revitalization help from Bethlehem. In response, Bethlehem sent Brent & Kathy Nelson, along with a dozen members. The group partnered with Immanuel over the next several years to help revitalize the struggling church.

1996 — Bethlehem sent four-year apprentice, Steve Treichler, and a team of 14 leaders to start Hope Community Church on the campus of the University of Minnesota. The plant eventually became associated with the Acts 29 Church Planting Network and relocated to the corner of 7th Street & 10th Ave in Minneapolis. By Fall 2008, Hope Community’s regular attendance had grown to 600 people. As of 2020, Hope Community has planted five churches in the Twin Cities, and Steve Treichler has continued collaborating with Bethlehem in its church planting efforts.

1998 — Bethlehem commissioned three small groups, which had been meeting as Celebration Community Church, as an official church plant among the urban poor in the Phillips neighborhood. Jim & Raquel Bloom led the ministry and were joined by Jeff & Krista Noyed and Kevin & Robin Olson. Celebration originally sought to replicate their small-group model throughout the neighborhood, but ultimately restructured from small groups into a house church plant. Eventually, Celebration Community Church gave birth to the church planting fellowship, “Rising.”

2000 — Bethlehem partnered with Grace Church in Richfield to revitalize the struggling congregation. In February, Bethlehem sent Rick Gamache to serve as lead pastor, Randy Westlund as an elder, and 70 members of Bethlehem to come alongside Bethlehem member and interim pastor Paul Dreblow. The newly combined congregation held their first service in April 2000. In 2003, the church joined the Sovereign Grace Ministries church network and became Sovereign Grace Church. As of 2020, the church continues as Cornerstone Community Church in Burnsville.

2000 — In May, Russ Gregg and Cecil Smith proposed to the Bethlehem elders their vision to plant Sovereign Joy Fellowship out of their “Pilgrims” Sunday School class, which had felt compelled to plant since February 1996. The elders approved, and Sovereign Joy Fellowship held its first service 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).

The New Vision era of Bethlehem was coming to a close with great thankfulness to God for his many graces upon the church. By the turn of the millennium, Bethlehem had grown tremendously and was striving to use church planting as one means of caring for the influx of attendees. However, Bethlehem was also learning how vital church planting is to a healthy, God-glorifying church. This growth inspired a thoughtful, intentional, and more strategic approach to church planting.

3. Treasuring Christ Together, 2002–2015

In 2002, the Bethlehem Council of Elders began to pray for God’s wisdom in leading the rapidly growing congregation. Subsequently, the elders introduced the “Treasuring Christ Together” vision, which aimed to develop three Bethlehem campuses in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis, Mounds View, Lakeville), plant new churches, and establish a “Global Diaconate” to provide financial aid to the global poor. The elders called on Pastor Kenny Stokes, then Pastor for Urban Ministries, to transition to a new position: Pastor for Church Planting & Strategic Mobilization. Throughout these years, Pastor Kenny’s position changed with the needs of Bethlehem, but he continued to oversee the planting of new churches. This work was carried out through the establishment of a church planting residency program, the birth of the Treasuring Christ Together Network (TCTN), and the establishment of the Church Planting concentration in the Master of Divinity program at Bethlehem College & Seminary. 

  • Church Planting Residency
    Bethlehem established the Church Planting Residency to equip church planters by instilling in them the biblical convictions of Bethlehem’s mission and Elder Affirmation of Faith. The residency also provides opportunities to observe how Bethlehem practices those convictions in the manifold life of the local church.

  • Treasuring Christ Together Network
    The TCT vision aimed to plant new churches and to form a church planting network, which became the “Treasuring Christ Together Network.” Pastor Kenny initially served as the “lead planter.” The first TCTN meeting took place in August 2007. By 2015, the TCTN became a separate nonprofit corporation under the leadership of Executive Director Sean Cordell and it continued to meet locally and nationally. The network maintains a shared mission to plant new churches whose elders gladly embrace the Bethlehem Elder Affirmation of Faith and the “10 Dimensions of Church Life.” The TCTN continues to grow through church plants and by granting membership to existing churches drawn to Bethlehem’s mission, doctrine, and vision for the local church. 

  • Master of Divinity: Church Planting & Revitalization Concentration
    In 2015, Bethlehem College & Seminary developed the Church Planting & Revitalization Concentration option within its Master of Divinity program. Through this partnership with the seminary, Bethlehem Baptist has seen an increase in the number of seminary graduates becoming church planting and church revitalizing pastors.

Bethlehem’s prayer during this season was that God might be pleased to give grace to plant one church per year. More specifically, Bethlehem desired that each new plant would alternate between a new church in the Twin Cities and a new church elsewhere in the United States. God has been faithful! The TCT vision has led to the planting of the following churches:

2003 — In 2002, a group of Bethlehem members moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, to work with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. These members and Bethlehem’s elders desired to plant a church in Charlotte, and they called Coty Pinckney to join them in prayer regarding his involvement as lead pastor. In Fall 2002, God confirmed Coty’s call as lead pastor. Desiring God Community Church held their first service on March 9, 2003, at the University City Hilton. The church meets in the Bethel Korean Church building in Charlotte.

2004 — After serving as a St. Paul paramedic for 10 years, Bethlehem member Dwayne Gibbs envisioned a new way to reach the people of St. Paul with the gospel. He and his wife, Mary, began to minister to at-risk youth in St. Paul. This ministry eventually developed into the Harvest Movement Youth Center. Dwayne planted Berean Missional Church, under which the youth center functioned.

2005 — Graduates of The Bethlehem Institute (TBI), Sean Cordell and Kent Capps, along with Travis Williams, planted Treasuring Christ Church in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. Treasuring Christ Church has a reputation in urban Raleigh as a church that loves the city, yearns for racial harmony, and is devoted to the worship of Christ. In addition to serving as lead pastor, Sean Cordell serves as the Executive Director of the Treasuring Christ Together Network.

2006 — TBI graduate Matthew Molesky joined with local pastor Gregg Heinsch to plant Celebration Community Church near Orlando, Florida, as part of the Vision USA Church Planting Network (now known as Vision360). TBI graduate Chris Lent later joined the church planting efforts. Celebration Community Church seeks 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’s regular attendance grew to 200 people by Fall 2008.

2006 — TCT Church Planting Resident Jordan Thomas, along with his wife, Tracy, and a team of two other couples planted Grace Church in an urban neighborhood of Memphis, Tennessee. Grace Church began holding weekly services on November 5, 2006. The congregation supports two church plants in Nigeria and helps lead numerous in-home Bible studies. Grace Church exists to glorify God by treasuring Jesus Christ and spreading his eternal joy.

2006 — In mid-2005, three Bethlehem pastors began to pray about planting in or near North Minneapolis. They desired to plant an intentionally diverse and biblically faithful church, living out the gospel and reaching the surrounding neighborhoods. On March 5, 2006, All Nations Christian Fellowship held its first service at Garden City school in Brooklyn Center. In September, John Erickson took over the preaching responsibilities until May 2008, when the members called Dr. Allan Joseph as the lead pastor. Presently, the church meets in its own building in Brooklyn Center.

2007 — In the early 2000’s, a Bethlehem small group led by Mike Perry and Greg Chaffin desired to plant a church in the Elk River/Rogers, Minnesota, area. In response to this vision, Bethlehem elders accepted Charlie Handren into the church planting residency in order to lead the church plant. In Autumn 2007, Glory of Christ Fellowship held its first service in the Handke Family Center in Elk River. There were 100 in attendance. Glory of Christ Fellowship devotes itself to seeing 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. 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 that seeks to love the poor through practical ministry.

2010 — After a year of preparation, John Erickson left All Nations Christian Fellowship (ANCF) with the blessing of the elders in order to plant Jubilee Community Church in South Minneapolis. Dan Porch, Kurt Swanson, and several families from ANCF joined John and his wife, Leslie, in the church plant. Jubilee Community Church currently meets in Bethlehem’s 16/33 Center where they aim to reach minority groups in the Phillips and Powderhorn neighborhoods.

2010 — Bethlehem church planting resident Jason Vaden planted Urban Harvest Fellowship in North Little Rock, Arkansas. The church desires 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 — Bethlehem church planting resident Brett Louis planted Christ Redeemer Church in Woodbury, Minnesota. The church meets at East Ridge High School and works to advance the kingdom of God on the east side of the Twin Cities.

2012 — Bethlehem church planting resident Mike Bartlett moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to plant Redemption City Church. In partnership with Crossroads Church in Grand Rapids, a core group of 60 formed to plant the new church. In January 2013, Redemption City moved to the campus of Aquinas College, where it aims to be a redemption movement in the heart of the city.

2012 — Bethlehem Pastor Erik Hyatt became a church planting resident in order to plant New City of Nations Church (NCNC) in St. Paul, Minnesota. The church began public worship in September 2012. Today, NCNC is a missional, multi-ethnic, and multiplying church that exists to “advance the reign of Christ among all peoples through a redeemed community of all peoples.”

2013 — Beginning in 2011, the 89-year-old Hayden Heights Baptist Church in St. Paul underwent a revitalization effort and was renamed The Heights Church. This effort culminated in the calling of Weyland Leach as the lead pastor in July 2013.

2014 — Bethlehem Seminary graduate Jonathan Parnell, along with Bethlehem elders Joe Rigney and David Mathis, worked together to plant Cities Church. They began by building Community Groups in Fall 2014. Cities Church currently meets in St. Paul and aims to make disciples of all nations.

2014 — Bethlehem pastor for senior high and church planting resident Kempton Turner was called by God to plant a new church in his hometown of East St. Louis, Illinois. In 2014, the Turner family moved to East St. Louis and began building a core team to plant City of Joy Fellowship. Through a local partnership with The Journey Church in St. Louis, the vision for City of Joy Fellowship was realized and the church held its first worship service on September 18, 2016.

4. ‘Fill These Cities: 25 x ’25,’ 2016–Present

By 2016, Pastor John Piper’s 33-year ministry as Bethlehem Baptist’s lead pastor had come to an end, and Pastor Jason Meyer had been installed in his place. Bethlehem embarked on a new era of church planting, embedded in an all-church vision, “Fill These Cities: 25 x ’25.” After many past graces in church planting and sustained strength in each of the three campus congregations, God led the elders to embrace a more ambitious prayer goal for church planting, with focused staffing and increased funding. On September 10, 2016, in a sermon entitled “The 25 x ’25 Story,” Pastor Jason Meyer explained the church planting component of the prayer goal:

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 …

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.

By God’s grace and in his strength, “Fill These Cities: 25 x ’25” has led to the planting of the following churches.

2016 — In May, Jonathon Woodyard graduated from Bethlehem Seminary and completed the Church Planting Residency at the South Campus of Bethlehem Baptist Church. On June 1, the South Campus elders approved Jonathon and his wife, Gina, to plant Northfield Community Church. Publicly launching in April 2017, Northfield Community Church desires to “know Christ and make him known within the context of Northfield, Minnesota, and ultimately the nations.”

2016 — In October, the Downtown Campus elders approved Bethlehem pastoral resident Paul Pryzbylowski and Bethlehem Seminary graduate Tyler Mykkanen to revitalize Word of Grace Baptist Church in South Minneapolis. Word of Grace approved the revitalization plan, which called Paul and Tyler as elders. Paul and his wife, Lauren, along with Tyler and his wife, Nicole, were immediately made members. Word of Grace set out “to glorify God by making disciples who love Jesus, one another, and the world.” Due to unforeseen challenges and after much prayer, counsel, and meeting with the congregation, Word of Grace, along with Bethlehem leadership and all involved, determined that God was leading them to close the church. On March 18, 2018, Word of Grace held its final Sunday service.

2017 — The Downtown Campus elders approved Bethlehem Seminary graduate and church planting resident Adam Pohlman and his wife, Molly, to plant Redemption City Church in Rochester, Minnesota. The church officially launched in April 2017. Redemption City Church strives to “Glorify God through the redemption of his creation in Christ.”

2017 — In October, Bethlehem Seminary graduate and North Campus church planting resident Ryan Eagy and his wife, Katie, were approved by the North Campus elders to plant Table Rock Church in Boise, Idaho. On April 21, 2018, twenty-six founding members affirmed both the church covenant and the founding elders Ryan Eagy and Luke Miller. By God’s grace, 140 people gathered at the Union Pacific Depot for worship on Sunday, April 22. Table Rock Church “exists to spread a passion for the glory of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.”

2018 — In 2015, Adamsville Community Baptist Church of Fort Edward, New York, called Bethlehem Seminary graduate Joel Aubrey as a pastoral resident. In November 2017, Adamsville Community Baptist Church sent Joel and his wife, Holly, to plant New Creation Church in Granville, New York. In 2018, Downtown Campus elders at Bethlehem Baptist Church approved New Creation Church. “New Creation Church is a community of Christians committed to loving Jesus, serving people, and telling the good news about Jesus both in Granville and around the world.”

2018 — In November 2018, Bethlehem Downtown elders officially partnered with Greg Mott and Maajiigin Ministries to plant Little Earth Fellowship in Minneapolis. Little Earth Fellowship seeks to reach, serve, and raise up church leaders in the Native American population. They are primarily focused on the urban corridor of South Minneapolis, especially within the Little Earth United Tribes Housing Development.

2019 — In January, South Campus elders endorsed Bethlehem Seminary graduate Michel Galeano and his wife, Gaby, to plant Gracia Sobre Gracia (Grace Upon Grace) in Weston, Florida. Gracia Sobre Gracia is a community of disciples who seek to see lives transformed by the gospel of Christ so that they make an impact among their family, church, and community. They also desire to treasure and proclaim the glory of God in Christ through his Spirit to the nations.

2019 — In Spring 2017, Bethlehem Seminary graduate Dan Shambro and his wife, Angela, were called to join a local group of believers in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to plant Ekklesia Church. The Downtown Campus elders approved Ekklesia Church in May 2019. “Ekklesia is a Christ-centered community on mission to love and serve God, one another, our neighbors, and the nations by making disciples of Jesus.”

2019 — Downtown Campus elders approved Bethlehem Seminary graduate JD Hettema and his wife, Lauren, to plant ECHO Church in Chino, California. ECHO is an acronym designating the church’s primary ministry focus on the communities of Eastvale (E), Chino Hills (CH), and Ontario (O), California. ECHO Church “exists to glorify God by gathering in worship, training to love and preach the gospel, and sending for the joy of all people.”

2020 — In 2018, Jubilee Community Church of Minneapolis, a daughter church of Bethlehem, sent out Dieudonne Tamfu and his wife, Dominique, to plant Église Baptiste Bethléem in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Simultaneously, Bethlehem College & Seminary commissioned Dr. Tamfu to start an extension site of the school. The Bethlehem Baptist Church North Campus elders formally endorsed the new church in 2020. Église Baptiste Bethléem exists to “spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things through a gospel-preaching and church-planting local church with church-based theological education in serious joy.”

2020 — In May, Bethlehem Seminary graduate and Downtown Campus church planting resident Andrew Sheard and his wife, Lida, along with fellow Bethlehem Seminary graduate Elliot DeLorme and his wife, Olivia, were approved by the Downtown Campus elders to plant in Henniker, New Hampshire. The couples moved to Hennker and have, in partnership with a local Acts 29 church, River of Grace in Concord, begun the work of core-group building and settling into the town. The new church mission statement will be: “... to mature and multiply followers of Jesus for the glory of God through the power of the Spirit unto eternal life, joy, and peace in his presence.”

2020 — In June, the Bethlehem North Campus elders approved Tom Boyer, a Bethlehem Seminary graduate and the North Campus church planting resident, to plant Emmaus Church in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. Tom and his wife, Emily, have been joined by several North Campus members, families, and small groups. Emmaus Church exists for the purpose of “seeing, savoring, and sharing Christ in all things.”

2021 — Marshall Posey, a North Campus church planting resident, along with his wife, Becky, were approved by the North Campus elders to plant Living Hope Church in the northwestern suburbs of the Twin Cities in May. The new church began meeting at Maple Grove Middle School. Living Hope Church is a community where people can see Jesus, engage in community, and live on mission.

2021 — In June, James & Betsy Lecheler were approved by the Downtown Campus elders to plant Center City Church in San Diego. James, the Downtown Campus church planting resident, partnered with GJoe Joseph, a Campus Outreach leader in the San Diego area, to plant this new church. Center City Churchs vision is to, by grace, be a family of God centered on knowing Christ and making him known.

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