River of Life Baptist Church in Cokeville, Wyoming was a small, but vibrant church doing solid Kingdom ministry in a community of 550 people, that is predominately influenced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church had an average attendance of 15 to 25 people over the course of its existence and touched many lives through their faithful Gospel witness.
In 2005 their pastor resigned and the church struggled to find a new pastor who would lead them to fulfill their Kingdom purpose. Without pastoral leadership, over a period of several years, the membership dwindled to the point that in the fall of 2014, the church closed and locked the doors of the building. A Gospel light was extinguished.
The real heartbreak of this story is that the community of Cokeville, Wyoming was now without a Gospel witness. River of Life Baptist Church had been the only church in the community and once it closed its doors, the only spiritual influence for 550 people was the Mormon Church.
Thankfully, when the church ended its ministry, it deeded their building and parsonage to the Wyoming Southern Baptist Convention, hoping and praying that there would someday be a new beginning in Cokeville, Wyoming. Their hearts prayer has recently been answered.
God does work in mysterious ways. In the spring of 2014, Al and Kathy Bella moved to Kemmerer, Wyoming, to begin Living Water Community Church. They have seen God bless in amazing ways. In a little over two years they have grown to an average attendance of 40 which makes them the largest evangelical church in the community. They have also seen 20 conversions and 12 baptisms.
What is very exciting about this new church plant is that they see beyond the spiritual needs in their community and have begun efforts to plant a new church in Cokeville, Wyoming. Steve Johnson, an Elder at Living Water Community Church has sensed God’s call to travel the 45 miles to Cokeville and plant Grace Community Church. That Gospel light has begun to flicker again!
This summer Living Water Community Church has sponsored several prayer walking opportunities and evangelistic ministry outreach events. Through their summer activities they have discovered several residents that are searching for answers outside of the LDS Church and have expressed a desire to become a part of this new body of believers.
We’ve learned some valuable lessons about planting and RePlanting in rural Wyoming.
First, there is no town so small that it doesn’t need a faithful Church sharing the Gospel, ministering in the name of Jesus, and loving people into the Kingdom of God. There are still 65 rural communities around Wyoming without an evangelical church. It is possible, in these communities, to be born, live, and die without a body of faithful believers present to share the hope of Jesus Christ. Pray that God will call and empower men from our Wyoming churches to meet this huge need.
Second, God is calling out and raising up men from our Wyoming churches to step into leadership roles as pastors, planters and replanters in many of our rural Wyoming communities. They will require faithful sending churches that will walk with them in the process of church planting and replanting. They will also need faithful multiplying pastors who will help mentor, train and coach them as they follow God into this important leadership role. Could your church accept that important role?
Third, we’ve learned that God is faithful in the big places and in the small places. When we are faithful to fulfill the Great Commission, making disciples who make disciples, Jesus promises that He will build His church (Matthew 16:18). That is a promise that we can stand on and in faith actively pursue.
Is planting and RePlanting important? The answer is simple… Yes! It has the potential to impact lives for the Kingdom in big places and in small places. Even in places like Cokeville, Wyoming.
Please be praying for Steve Johnson, church planter, Grace Community Church, Cokeville, Wyoming.
Don Whalen Jr. grew up and came to know Jesus in the greater Chicagoland area of Illinois. He has served as pastor of churches in Illinois, Michigan and Missouri, but has served in Wyoming for the last 28 years as a pastor, church planter, Area Director of Missions, State Evangelism Director and presently serves as the Wyoming Southern Baptist Convention State Director of Missions and Church Planting Strategist.