William and Teresa Johnson’s 6,000-mile, 16-state honeymoon trip about 10 years ago included a stop in Montana on a Sunday. When they couldn’t find a church to attend, William jokingly told Teresa that if they ran out of things to do, they could always come to Montana and start a church.
Now they’re North American missionaries, planting a church about 25 miles from where their honeymoon trip took them.
“God must have a sense of humor,” William Johnson said.
The Johnsons grew up in McDowell County in western North Carolina. William was raised in Marion; Teresa in Old Fort. They consider Burkemont Baptist Church in Morganton their home church.
The couple attended Wake Crossroads Baptist Church in Raleigh while William attended Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary from 2002-2004. They now live in Manhattan, Mont., with their two sons, Quinton, 7, and Corban, 4.
The Johnsons moved to Montana in October 2004, living and working in the community 17 months before holding their first public worship for the new church.
“It was very important to not just say, ‘Come and go to church,’ but to serve as Christ did,” William said. “That just opened doors to show genuine love.”
The strategy told locals they are important and that the Johnsons were there to stay.
William said he has tried to live by some great advice from Bill Brown, a former professor at Southeastern, who told him to focus on being pastor of the community, not just of the church.
“A lot of people refer me as pastor even though they’ve never come to the church,” he said.
The church held its first service in March 2006. The congregation first met in a senior center, then in an aerobics studio at an athletic club and is now meeting in a 6,000-square-foot building that once housed a trailer sales business.
The church was to vote May 3 on a lease to purchase option on the building, which has a 4,000-square-foot, high-ceiling room in the back and four rooms for offices in the front.
Average attendance is about 85, but more than 100 have come several times.
The Johnsons also lead a worship service at an assisted living facility each Sunday.
Small groups meet during the week, with some gathering at the church building and others in homes.
Backyard Bible clubs, Bible studies and community projects help the Johnsons and other members connect with area residents. They have painted the fire hall and local houses, cleaned yards and redesigned the community gazebo.
“We’ve done a lot of little things to build relationships,” Johnson said.
An outdoor ministry has helped reach men not in church or those who go to church but aren’t very involved, Johnson said.
The group meets monthly to hunt, fish or hold a rally.
Men attending the rallies watch videos, hang out, and have a 10- to 15-minute spiritual challenge usually related to the outdoors, he said.
“We hunt all day and fish or whatever, but we have Bible studies at night,” he said. “Everything has a purpose.”
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