Small Church Sees a Big Future
When Matt and Melanie Baumgartner felt led to move from youth ministry in the largest Assemblies of God district to a senior pastorate role nestled in the smallest district in the Assemblies of God, they stepped out in faith on a word God gave them about a big plan for a small church.
Matt L. Baumgartner, 40, and his wife, Melanie, had spent 17 years in youth ministry North Texas when they began to feel a season of change stirring in their spirit. Although they didn’t feel that they had to stay in Texas, they never dreamed that God would take them to Wyoming.
In 2017, after praying about their transition, a friend tagged them in a Facebook post, highlighting the open position for a senior pastor at a struggling church in Laramie, Wyoming. As they started praying and talking together as a couple, they felt like this possibility was one that they were supposed to explore.
“Laramie is a college town and when we went to visit, we could see that the town had a ton of potential,” says Baumgartner.
As the couple spent a weekend at New Life Church in Laramie, they felt God speak to them that what He wasn’t finished with what He had started in the congregation nearly 90 years ago.
“When we arrived, the reality was that the church was dying and it had been declining for decades,” recalls Baumgartner . “There were about 15 regular attenders when we arrived, and the church had very little money in the bank.”
Although they Baumgartner s knew the revitalization would likely be a long, hard process, they sensed that this was where God wanted them. So, when the church congregation voted them in, the Baumgartner s accepted the position.
Marlynn Frailey was one of the few weekly attendees at the time, along with her husband, who was serving as the treasurer.
She recalls, “the church definitely had some past hurt and there was some initial resistance to bringing in a new pastor. But there were also quite a few of us who could see that they were a really good fit.”
Right away, the Baumgartner s wanted to re-connect the church with the community. While the town of Laramie has over 30,000 people, New Life had become disconnected. Within the first few years, the church started doing outreaches and getting involved with the local university. That’s when they started to see the early favor of God.
“We immediately saw expansion and it wasn’t long before we experienced major growth,” Frailey states.
In their little building, just a few miles outside of the city, the church started bursting at the seams. Soon, Baumgartner and his staff had to add a second and sometimes a third service. To avoid the risk of burnout with so many services, Baumgartner began praying that God would show him how to proceed in the midst of such growth.
“We had met at the local fairgrounds to do some outreach events so, in 2019, we asked if we could meet there regularly for our church services,” says Baumgartner .
However, the fairgrounds was reluctant to the idea at first. Yet with persistence and prayer, God opened the door for New Life Church to use the fairground facility on a weekly basis. There was also a generous offer made for New Life to begin meeting at the fairgrounds for an affordable rate.
It was clear that God was moving miraculously, through the details with the fairgrounds, making it clear that this was his direction.
The blessings didn’t stop there. When the church transitioned from permanent to portable in 2020, with its temporary location being at the fairgrounds, God provided renters for their building and, in 2021, the renters bought the church property for full asking price.
This new, portable venture meant that the church had to set up and tear down each week. Members rallied to serve in great ways to help with set up and tear down, bringing a sense of purpose and camaraderie to the congregation.
“On a Sunday at 7:30am we will often have more people helping with set up than we had total in the church just a few years ago,” says Baumgartner.
As the church began to dream about a permanent home, the cost of labor and materials left the church in a challenging situation. The board and elders decided to sell a small piece of property that the church owned in an effort to begin fundraising for a permanent building.
“We saw God, yet again, providing a way for New Life,” says Baumgartner . “We sold the property in a very short time for over three times its value. All of a sudden, we could seriously explore building.”
Within 3 months, the New Life Church found a 32-acre piece of property which was offered to them at half the valued cost, allowing for continued growth and expansion well into the future.
“Throughout all of this transition, New Life continues to grow. It’s part of that bigger plan God told us he had for the church” says Baumgartner .