Most churches would consider closing their doors if their active membership dipped to six people, but Gardiner Baptist Church (GBC) is holding steady.
The debt-free church in the town of 875 people located near Yellowstone National Park’s north entrance is raising money for a two-story community building on its two acres to serve as a food pantry, thrift store and medical clinic, with emergency housing upstairs. Other ministries include supporting the local food bank, providing space to medical facilities in town and inviting community use of the church’s playground. The GBC House Band, with pastor Britton Gray as lead vocalist, also performs once a month in the basement of a local restaurant called the Two-Bit Saloon and Grill.
“We’re trying to connect with those who think they’re unworthy to go to church,” said Linda Gray, the pastor’s wife. “We’ve worked really hard at being a place for the down and out.”
Though GBC has an online presence, the church’s building and playground on the town’s main thoroughfare often are the first awareness visitors have that Southern Baptists minister year-round to local residents, hundreds of seasonal workers and multiple thousands who venture to Yellowstone each year through the north entrance.
Five to 10 people visit GBC each week during the summer months — more when a missions team is in town — so in 2017 the average Sunday worship attendance was 22. Members, missions teams and Yellowstone visitors help the church conduct block parties, outdoor concerts, Bible distribution, five-day kids’ camps and other outreach activities.
“One of the things Southern Baptists do really well is cooperate together in God’s kingdom work,” Britton Gray said. “We’ve seen that here at Gardiner Baptist Church.”
Gray is bivocational, also serving as structural fire chief responsible for the 1,600 buildings in Yellowstone, including lodging for 20,000 guests and vehicle accidents on the park’s 466 miles of roads traveled by more than 4 million visitors a year.
His job and the church’s location lead to opportunities to reach out to all kinds of people, but building relationships requires getting out and meeting and greeting people in order to expose the lost to the truth of the gospel, he said.
God has been faithful
God has been faithful in everything, from sending people to keeping the bills paid, said church member Sue Oliver.
“We stay on our knees constantly, asking God to move people’s hearts and help us reach this lost community,” Oliver said.
Alongside the challenge of staying open are the needs of people dealing with the financial struggles of living in a high-value area, Linda Gray said.
Many rentals that once were affordable have been turned into expensive vacation rentals by new owners, meaning that local people often work two or more jobs to make ends meet to avoid losing their housing.
“When they ask for help, Gardiner Baptist Church is there to help them,” Linda Gray said. “We’ve given people rent money, money to pay for dental work for a young girl being teased at school. We’ve kept the heat on, paid for medications.”
When asked how that was possible in a church with such limited resources, she shook her head and smiled.
“God does it,” Linda Gray said.
“We’re Gideon’s Army,” Britton Gray said. “God gets the glory. It’s just amazing how God works.” (BP)