The previous Carl Junction United Methodist Church had rebuilt after being destroyed by a tornado in 2003 but was destroyed again by a fire in 2014. After the fire the church had continued to meet in a local funeral home but was challenged by finding a new vision for the future. After some conversation, the church voted to close and turn their resources over to Saint Paul’s UMC to start something new.
“It was a perfect partnership,” said Rev. Aaron Brown, senior pastor at Saint Paul’s. “We had experience with building projects, a clear vision and a leadership team in place. They had resources and a setting that was in need of an ongoing presence of a United Methodist Church.”
Rev. Ben Bainbridge, an associate pastor at Saint Paul’s, moved to Carl Junction in the summer of 2015 to work on starting a new campus. Bainbridge had a group of a few remaining members of the closed church and a launch team from Saint Paul’s. Initially another church was purchased in town. Then, a new church was rebuilt in the same location where the previous Carl Junction UMC had burned down.
“Because of the loss of two buildings at this location, reopening a church here was a big deal for this community,” Bainbridge said.
Although Carl Junction and Joplin are less than 10 miles apart, Bainbridge thought it was important to move to Carl Junction to be immersed in the community while he was starting a new location.
“When I’m out walking the dog people wave at me and say ‘Hello Pastor’,” Bainbridge said.
“I get asked to speak at community events. Those things don’t happen if you don’t live in the community.”
Saint Paul’s has some efficiencies of scale by having two locations and only one board and one budget. There are multiple worship services to handle, though. Saint Paul’s has three preachers each weekend, preaching their own variation on a similar sermon. Bainbridge preaches at Carl Junction. Brown and Rev. Geoffrey Posegate preach in Joplin. The main campus in Joplin has four worship services, two of which are going on at the same time. That means the church needs three complete worship bands, tech teams and hospitality teams.
Each week the pastors meet as a group to go over a rough draft of the sermon, usually working about three weeks ahead of the time that it will be preached. Brown is the primary sermon writer, but Bainbridge and Posegate write sermons also.
Discipleship is an important part of church life at Saint Paul. The Carl Junction campus has four home groups going, involving about 35 people, a high percentage of their average attendance of 170. The whole point of the home groups is for people to experience life together, and take care of each other. In January the church started discipleship classes.
“We are refiguring our discipleship system,” Bainbridge said. “What we have in place in Joplin is designed for a much larger church than this one.”
The church is working to develop a system, so a program or approach can be followed by other churches that are interested in launching a new campus.
“We’ve already been able to help a couple of other churches,” Bainbridge said.
“We have a larger percentage of young families here, but we also have some really active retirees,” Bainbridge said.
“This church is different than any other church in Carl Junction.”
Johnathan Comer started attending Saint Paul’s in Joplin about three years ago.
“Aaron is a fantastic preacher, and we fell in love with the church,” Comer said. He is now part of Saint Paul’s at Carl Junction. He and his wife Amber settled down in Carl Junction for the good school for their children. Many people have done the same.
“In our home group the kids outnumber the adults,” he said. He said he is very comfortable with people in his small group. It has made church a much deeper experience, rather than just something he would go to on Sunday morning and then go back home without thinking about it until next week.
“Being on the launch team was great,” Comer said. “It made me feel like I was part of something huge.”
Now that the church is established, he helps lead the youth group.
“I love every minute of working with the youth,” Comer said. “They are fun. They’ll keep you young.”
Comer has a 4-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter. He couldn’t be happier with the attitude they have toward being part of Saint Paul’s at Carl Junction.
“When we pull up to church, they get out of the car running to get into the building,” he said.
Correction, February 23: An earlier version of this article misstated the first name of a church member. He is Johnathan Comer, not Johnathon Comer, and his wife is Amber, not Amy.