The Billings Gazette recently began a new section, Faith & Values that features a different local church each week. Three of our Western Conference churches were asked to share about their mission and ministry, as well as future plans.
Columbus Evangelical Church focuses on knowing God, loving others
Asked about Columbus Evangelical Church’s mission statement, the Rev. Jay Forseth, speaking about God, sums it up in four words: “To know Him better.”
The church does that in two ways, he says, by reaching up and knowing God and by reaching out and loving others. The congregation takes seriously Jesus’ command to “Go make disciples,” instead of simply making converts, Forseth says.
“Our church is a hospital for the sick — no perfect people attend here,” he says. “We are full of hypocrites who are saved by grace through faith. God works in spite of our shortcomings.”
Here’s what else Forseth has to say about the church that can be found at 2 E. First Ave. N. in Columbus:
General information about the church: Lead pastor the Rev. Jay Forseth (starting 13th year here). Three full-time pastors. Three part-time support staff. Three hundred-plus souls in average weekly attendance. Two services on Sunday mornings and Cowboy Church once a month on Sunday evenings.
Contact information is on the website at www.columbuse.net; telephone 322-5804; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pastor Jay Forseth with his wife, Lisa, son, Josiah and daughter, Sarah.
How you fit in your community: Stillwater County has 21 total churches; Columbus has nine. We do not claim to be the only church. We are a part of the body of Christ, together with these other churches and pastors. We hope to be daily in prayer, daily in God’s Word and weekly with God’s people.
Columbus Evangelical’s Ministry Fair.
Your mission to your community: Somebody cares in Columbus! Our members care about our community. You will see us volunteering in a wide variety of ways. Our church hosts hunter’s education classes, Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, Bootcamp Exercise sessions, Upward Youth Sports, AWANA, after-school programs and youth groups for all ages. We support local ministries such as Special K Ranch, Project Hope and Stillwater Youth Center. This football season we will host a tailgate party for free to community. Six hundred people attended last time.
What we’d like others to know about our church: This month we celebrate our 90th birthday. We see our church as a community center, and therefore we do not charge outside groups to use the facility. In one month, dozens of groups use the building, including Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, Biz to Biz, home school associations, firefighters’ banquets, Mothers of Preschoolers, etc.
Columbus Evangelical’s annual Vacation Bible School.
Biggest success: We are thankful that God has brought us all age groups. Our biggest “success” is watching Jesus transform individual hearts and minds. Seeing God grow people spiritually is inspiring. We have “family within the family” small groups, Bible studies and Sunday school where people grow in their relationship with God.
Biggest challenge: The biggest challenge facing our community right now is the layoff of many employees at the Stillwater Mine.
Recent advice you have been given: We are trying to follow a pastor friend’s advice to be “fishers of men” and not be cleaners of fish. Cleaning is God’s deal.
Favorite or future sermons: Upcoming sermon series include FAMILY 101, using the “one another” Scriptures, and then we will preach on the RED LETTERS OF JESUS. Can’t go wrong with those!
Favorite Scriptures: Favorite Scriptures lately include being his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), and denying ourselves, taking up our crosses daily, and following Jesus (Luke 9:23).
Anything else you would like to say: Apart from Christ we have done nothing that will last.
From fireworks to feeding the hungry, Harvest Church makes its mark
When asked about the biggest success Harvest Church has seen in the past year, the Rev. Vern Streeter tied it to the congregation’s willingness to serve others.
“This year we started a community center next to the Montana Rescue Mission; served thousands at Celebrate Freedom; and gave medical care to over 1,000 people in Ethiopia,” Streeter said. “We filled the food pantry at Tumbleweed and we gave away about 20 cars — mostly to single moms.”
Here’s what else Streeter had to say about the multisite church whose headquarters are at 1235 W. Wicks Lane in the Billings Heights:
Church’s mission in the community and how the church is involved in the community: When we started Harvest Church 15 years ago, we had a conviction that church should matter to the community. Sometimes church folks can get a little inward, and so we have tried to be intentionally outward. We started the church by serving in neighborhoods, developing a neat relationship with Skyview High School, and then began looking for ways to relevantly serve.
Some things we do to serve the community: Car Care to give or repair cars to those in need; a partnership with the Montana Rescue Mission; we support Community Leadership and Development Inc, and Tumbleweed; we built a water park (Oasis); Celebrate Freedom is a family friendly party and fireworks display every July 4th; we built a gymnasium and a climbing wall at the Heights campus simply so people could enjoy and be blessed; we spend one weekend a year mobilizing the whole church to serve the city.
Harvest Church hosts Celebrate Freedom, a family friendly party and fireworks display, every July 4th.
Jesus said He came not to be served but to serve … in following him we should do the same, so we try. As a church, we have tax-exempt status, so we are trying to be worth more to the city than the lost tax revenue. We often say that we want to
be so relevant and so tangible that even the most ardent critic of Christianity would be bummed if we ceased to exist. (Judging by the comments we receive after we are featured in a Gazette article, we still have a ways to go!)
Give a brief history of the church: A Heights church named Hawthorne Evangelical was dwindling, but wanted to reach/serve the community, so they did a “death with dignity.” They sold the facility, bought land next to Skyview and put money in the bank for a new church. Shortly thereafter, in 1990, I started as a youth pastor at Faith E. Ten years later Faith E. honored the heart of the godly people of Hawthorne and “gave birth” to Harvest Church. We met in Skyview and other rental facilities in the Heights for four years, at which point we moved into our current facility. We planted a church in Bozeman and one in Helena and then received a request to open a satellite campus, which we did in Lockwood, then Plentywood, then Cody Wyo., and then Butte. Last year we started an online campus that meets five times a week at live.harvestchurch.tv
The biggest challenge your congregation faces: “Regular church attendance” in America is now about 1.5 weekends per month. We are becoming an increasingly un-churched/de-churched culture. This saddens me because of how awesome God is, and how much worship, friendship, and Bible learning is integral to a successful life … not to mention eternal life. Weekend worship should be the highlight of our week. We embrace the challenge to lead a church that actually matters in people’s lives such that they prioritize Christ in a way that makes a difference in their lives and in the world.
Give one piece of advice that has helped you, as a pastor, succeed, and one pitfall to avoid: Advice: From the Rev. Stan Simmons, “Vern, our responsibility as senior pastors is to lead, preach, and pray.” Simple, profound and grounding
Pitfall: Trying to please everybody — because at the end of my life, I will be held accountable for what God wanted me to do with my life, not what others wanted. From our former superintendent, Derry Long: “Vern, you are not responsible for the pain your obedience causes other people.”
Pastor Vern and Ramie Streeter
Plans your congregation has for the next five years: Continue improving ministry to teenagers — and I’m excited about the progress we are making. We are willing to start a new campus, if God so directs. We will continue to innovate ways to help people out of poverty. We need to pay off some debt and then get to work on building a sanctuary/worship center.
Title and subject of a favorite recent sermon: In a series called “Dumb Things Christians Say” a sermon on “God Will Never Give You More Than You Can Handle.” (Because, yes He will.)
Favorite hymn/worship song: It’s still “Amazing Grace” because “wretch” describes me pretty well. And yet God still loved me and saved me. God’s unearned kindness is truly amazing.
Favorite scripture: Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Because there is so much suffering in the world, I cling to this verse such that without it I’m not sure I’d be a Christian. I trust that God makes beauty out of ashes.
Contact information: harvestchurch.tv; email@example.com; facebook.com/HarvestChurchHeights; facebook.com/HarvestChurchLockwood.
Name of denomination: We are a part of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church.
Size of congregation: 2,400 in weekly attendance. Another 2,000 online.
Service days and times: Heights — Saturday at 5 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.; Lockwood — Sunday 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.; Plentywood — Sunday 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.; Cody — Sunday 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.; Butte — Sunday 11 a.m.; Online — Tuesday at 7p.m.; Thursday at 7 p.m.; Sunday at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., and 7 p.m.
Other regular gatherings/meetings: Crux (Student Ministry) Wednesday evenings.
Number of staff members: 31 full-time; 34 part-time; and hundreds of awesome volunteers.
One question we didn’t ask that you’d like to answer: “Is Harvest Church anti-gay?” No. Harvest Church is not anti-anybody.
Faith E focuses energies on community outreach
Faith Evangelical Church’s biggest success in the past year had to do with getting members to turn their attention outside the church.
Couch to 5K volunteers painting Living Water Church.
The campaign was called “Couch to 5K,” said the Rev. Steve Strutz, longtime pastor of the West End church that’s frequently called Faith E.
“We challenged people to get off of the proverbial ‘couch’ and get out and serve the community,” Strutz said. Over several months, our church was able to give well above the 5K — 5,000-hour goal — in service to the community outside of our church walls.”
During that time, congregation also built a large playground on its property, at 3145 Sweet Water Drive, for the community to use. The playground is in constant use by kids, brought to the playground by their appreciative parents
Faith E’s Community Playground
Here’s what else Strutz has to say about Faith E Church:
Church’s mission in the community and how the church is involved in the community: We desire to cooperate and partner with the community in meeting needs. Our church facility and grounds are used constantly by the community in a
variety of ways. Our people have a developing heart that expresses itself in so many ways to meeting needs in the community.
The church’s mission: Faith Evangelical Church purposes to lead people to make an extraordinary impact with Jesus.
Give a brief history of the church: Faith E began in 1968. A handful of folks from the Evangelical United Brethren Church on Fourth Street West and Broadwater Avenue did not go along with the merger taking place with the Methodist Church denomination, so a new church was started called Faith Evangelical Church. The church met at the YWCA to begin with; it landed at 29th Street West and Broadwater Avenue for about 35 years; and then was relocated about nine years ago to 32nd Street West and Central Avenue.
Our Church has planted three churches over the course of our history in Billings, Hope Evangelical Church (West End), Harvest Church (Heights), and Living Water Church (South Side).
The biggest challenge you or your congregation faces: How to stay on Christ’s mission as individuals and as a church. It has to do with that mission (Matthew 28:19-20) of making disciples who then turn around and make disciples who then turn around and make disciples, etc. etc.
One piece of advice that has helped you, as a pastor, succeed, and one pitfall to avoid: Advice: Live your life with Jesus. Jesus says in John 15:5b, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Pitfall: Trying to be someone other than who God made you to be.
Plans your congregation has over the next five years: The questions we want to continue to answer as we move forward are how can we, in a greater way, work together with the other churches and community in Billings to meet needs; how can we multiply our church or a ministry; and, how can we raise up disciples who make disciples who make disciples.
The title and subject of a favorite recent sermon: Two series we recently did were, “Desperate: A developing faith in a world out of control (based on Habakkuk),” and “Courageous: A relentless faith in a world out of control (based on the book of Daniel).”
Favorite hymn/worship song: Hymn: “Be thou my vision”; Worship Song: “10,000 Reasons/Bless the Lord,” by Matt Redman.
Favorite Scripture: Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Contact information: Faith E Church, 406-656-8747; website, faithe.org; Email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Name of denomination: The Evangelical Church.
Affiliations within the state or nation: We belong to the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church, which includes about 30 Churches in the region of North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana.
Size of congregation (members and weekly attendance): About 350 members and 800-plus in weekly attendance.
Service days and times: Worship Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 8:30 and 11 a.m.
Other regular gatherings/meetings: Bible in life each Sunday at 9:45 a.m.
Multitude of age- and need-elated ministries throughout the week, including Divorce Care, Grief Share, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
Number of staff members (ministers, laity, full-time staff): About 20 staff made up of full-time and part-time employees. That number includes several full-time pastors.
Pastor Steve and Janice Strutz