ABOUT THIS SERIES: Vermont is a unique mission field, but North Carolina Baptists are helping increase the gospel influence in this New England state.
Williston is a town of about 9,000 people in northeastern Vermont that functions mostly like suburbs for the larger city of Burlington, the most populous city in the state.
BSC photo by Mike Creswell
Todd West, right, is lead planter on a new church plant in Williston, Vt., near Burlington. At left is Hayden Swanger, 19, who will be worship leader. Swanger is a native of Haywood County, N.C., currently studying in the online program of Fruitland Baptist Bible College. They stand in a rented building which will house the new church in Williston.
But with a population numbering only about 43,000, Burlington is the nation’s smallest city to be a state’s biggest city. This is near the shores of Lake Champlain which separates New York and Vermont. Montreal, just north of the Canadian border, is only a two-hour drive away.
Williston is one of Vermont’s fastest-growing areas, where one can find the newest shopping centers and restaurants.
But Canton, N.C., native Todd West, who now lives in Williston, points out that the restaurants don’t include a Chick-fil-A or Cracker Barrel, and it’s hard to find grits or corn meal in the grocery stores.
West is quick to say he is not complaining, just listing cultural differences.
He moved here with his wife, Amy, their four kids and the family dog in June 2017 with the goal of starting a new church. After a month of crowded hotel room living, they located a house.
West grew up in Canton and still has family there and in surrounding Haywood County. He graduated from Fruitland Baptist Bible College in 1998, studied briefly at North Greenville University before graduating with two degrees from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
More recently, West has served as pastor of a church in Carnesville, Ga. But it has been reunion time with the other western North Carolina folks who are also serving in Vermont. He attended high school with Tim Owens, for example. Owens accepted Christ as Savior in West’s room. Now Mission City Church which Owens leads is helping West’s church plant through training and tech support.
The Wests are supported through the North American Mission Board. He and a growing number of team members are busy converting a vision and a website into a living church, Crosspoint Church.
Hayden Swanger, 19, will be Crosspoint’s worship leader. A native of Haywood County in western North Carolina, Swanger met West in Georgia. He is working on a Fruitland degree online, and he has received further training from Mission City Church.
“After we got moved into our house, we just went out trying to meet people,” West said. He started making friends with the local police and fire departments, a chaplaincy ministry he pursued back in Georgia. He said local people do notice his accent but so far the reception has generally been friendly and receptive.
They have been refurbishing a rented set of rooms on Commerce Street, very near Williston’s major shopping area, which will house the new church.
Introductory meetings have already grown to 30 people attending. West hopes they will have many more people on board by the time the church officially launches, hopefully in March 2018.
“So far it has gone really well, and God has given us favor here,” West said.
The challenge for a new church here is huge. Surrounding Chittenden County has an estimated 95,000 unchurched people. “The Burlington area is the most irreligious place in the country,” West said.
People have told West that reaching people for Christ here will be very difficult, but West isn’t so sure of that.
He suspects it may be harder in the South to convince a religious person they need Jesus than a person here who knows nothing about Jesus.
“In the South everybody knows Jesus, or at least they will tell you they do, even if they haven’t been inside a church for years,” West said. “Up here they don’t know Jesus, and they will tell you they don’t. We have people here who don’t know what a church looks like at all. That’s good in a sense, but it’s also a huge responsibility. We have to define what that church DNA looks like in a sense. Doctrinally, we’re making footprints for them to follow.”
West is looking beyond this start-up phase to future growth. He would like to have a 400-member church going before they begin starting other churches around the county.
“I don’t want Crosspoint to be just another church that’s hot for a while and then fizzles,” West said. “I want it to be something that outlasts me, that outlasts Hayden, our worship leader and outlives my kids.”
He anticipates having volunteer teams to come join in the church-planting venture.
One team has already come from Mississippi, and one from Maryland is scheduled. It’s early days for Crosspoint Church, but to Todd West the future looks good.