BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – With a heart for immigrants, Pastor Matt Betts has planted a church in Bowling Green that is helping newcomers to America transition to new lives that he hopes will include serving Christ.
Betts believes the early success of Journey Church, which held its inaugural service last month with 197 people present, speaks to the need for a multi-cultural congregation in this university town that has become a magnet for immigrants from countries around the world.
“There were eight different languages spoken at that first service,” he said. “It was awesome to see all these people groups come together.”
Journey Church is being sponsored by Woodburn Baptist Church in Bowling Green, where Betts had served as youth pastor until the new congregation was launched Sept. 17. Partnering with Woodburn on the church plant are the Warren Association of Baptists, the Kentucky Baptist Convention, and Hillvue Heights Church in Bowling Green.
“This is a great example of a successful partnership,” said Todd Gray, head of the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s evangelism and church planting team. "We're praying that what we're seeing in the first weeks of this new congregation is only a glimpse of the great things to come."
Betts said Woodburn has been selfless in supporting the new congregation, giving up not only its youth pastor but also some of its strongest leaders to serve at Journey while also committing $40,000 a year to help with costs.
Journey Church is meeting in the Warren Association of Baptists' International Ministry Center, which also is home to two other congregations – Nueva Vida Hispanic Church and Zo Baptist Church, a Burmese congregation.
“Journey Church is effectively making inroads in the community by offering English as a second language and going door-to-door to find out how the church can most effectively meet the spiritual needs of those in the community,” said John Mark Toby, director of missions for the Warren Association of Baptists. “Bowling Green has been growing with an open door for many different people groups from around the world who are coming here. Our uttermost parts that Jesus commanded us to go to are now coming to us in our Jerusalem.”
Betts said the core group that came together with the vision for a multi-cultural congregation in Bowling Green has worked and prayed tirelessly to make it happen.
“It has been great to see my team pour into the lives of the people, whether it is babysitting kids so that moms can go to English as a second language classes, whether it’s providing shoes for children, or having gospel conversations with neighbors,” Betts said.
Betts said he’s seeing signs that the new church is poised for continued growth.
“We are having many from the community come who have never been to church before or who haven’t been in a long time,” he said. “We continue to build relationships and pray that fruit will come of those.”
Gray said Journey Church is the latest of a long list of new churches being planted across Kentucky. At any given time, Gray and his team are working with 50 to 55 church planters to get new congregations up and going. Besides training, KBC provides $20,000 over three years to help with some of the costs.
Tyler Ayers, one of the charter members of Journey Church, said he, like so many others, has been impressed by the many languages spoken in the congregation. Screens in the sanctuary routinely display scripture in English, Spanish, Urdu, Farsi and Swahili.
“We really want the culture of the church to accurately reflect the racial and socio-economic culture of the neighborhoods that surround us,” Ayers said.
However, Ayers said pulling together people from such varied cultures and backgrounds will likely present some challenges that will have to be overcome.
“We’ll have to have God’s love and grace to continue moving forward in unity,” he said. “It’s going to be so difficult that we will have to have God’s help.”