DETROIT, MI (BP) – First Baptist Church of Trenton prayed for two hours after Sunday morning worship late last year about what to do -- disband, merge or abandon its cavernous building. A day later, church members say God answered with a resounding, "None of the above."
One of the church's two boilers had breathed its last breath in November 2016. Cost to repair: $35,000. An anonymous giver provided $20,000, but the work hadn't yet been completed, when in November 2017 the water main broke. The subsequent cost to replace 250 feet of rusted-out pipe: $37,500.
"We have no water and no heat this Sunday morning," James Jones, pastor since 2000, told the 21 people who had come to worship in the suburban Detroit church.
But a day after the impromptu prayer meeting, the owner of a plumbing company told Jones at the church, "On the way here the Lord spoke to me and said I was to repair this and not charge you a penny," Jones told Baptist Press months later.
Jones had never before met the plumber. The water main repair at the church that was a former school building, Jones said, would have just about depleted the church's finances.
"Do miracles still happen? These blessings, I feel, are because our church is not a big church, but it's a faithful church," Jones told BP. "Every month we send 14 percent of our offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program, and 4 percent to the [Greater Detroit] Baptist Association, and I believe God honors that."
By Jones' calculations upon the 60th anniversary of First Trenton in 2017, the church had given in its lifetime $582,000 to missions through the Cooperative Program, and more than $1.2 million to all mission outreaches combined.
Jones is in his second pastorate of First Trenton; he previously led the congregation from 1960 to 1983. During his first tenure, Jones said, he led the church to increase its CP giving from "a little" to 20 percent. Sunday church attendance was about 270. After he left, CP giving dropped to a low of $100 in 1992, and attendance declined.
When Jones returned in 2000 for his second stint as pastor, it was with the condition that the church immediately increase its CP giving to 10 percent raising it more with time.
"Through the Cooperative Program we can have a part in missions all over the world, all over the United States, and be a part of preparing more than 7,000 men and women for ministry, and that's what we want to do," Jones said about the Southern Baptist method of churches pooling their mission dollars for greater impact worldwide. "Every Sunday morning when I get up to take the offering, I tell the congregation, 'When you give your offering today, you're not only blessing this church, you're blessing people all over the world.'"
Over the years, the church about 30 minutes southeast of downtown Detroit has planted six churches and rescued two others. For three years, First Trenton led a ministry to Muslims in Hamtramck, an adjacent community of about 23,000.
After 2005's Hurricane Katrina, First Trenton partnered with others in Michigan to provide cash and other essentials for four families who moved from New Orleans to apartments First Trenton provided in its church building. A 55-foot semitrailer full of items went to an additional 25 families in the New Orleans area, plus $1,000 each for 15 student families of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary who had lost everything.
First Trenton has aged and withered.
After growing past the capacity of two building projects, First Trenton in 1979 bought an elementary school that had closed. What became the church's worship center could seat 350; but it never has and likely never will, given its lack of parking, its location on a dead-end street in an older residential area, and its limited visibility.
Jones remembers the church's heyday, when Sunday morning worship reached more than 400 -- in 1973 -- and the church's bus ministry thrived. That's the era when First Trenton started what is now Legacy Church one town to the north, and Woodhaven Baptist Church to the west. Other church plants spread out from Trenton to as far north as Dearborn.
The Dearborn church plant failed to thrive, but First Trenton held title to the property and gave it to a Filipino Southern Baptist congregation. A church plant in Romulus later united with Bethlehem Baptist Church in Bellville, to increase its Gospel witness. First Trenton started a church in inner-city Detroit, with a pastor from Guyana.
"We have a great history of church planting," Jones said. "And as we did it, there was only one year we didn't go up in our offerings, and our giving."
Within the last two years, two men in their 40s made professions of faith in Jesus, were baptized and now are actively involved in maintenance and upkeep of First Trenton's aging 40,000-square-foot facility.
With the city's zoning laws limiting the facility to a church or school, First Trenton is unable to sell its facility and move to a better-sized and more visible location. Church members, however, have carved out an intimate setting for Sunday morning worship, and remain faithful to reach out, minister, and give, all for God's glory, the pastor said.
Three Sunday afternoons each month, the church gathers at a local assisted living facility and has worship for perhaps two dozen residents. First Trenton also shows Focus on the Family videos of the Holy Land there on Tuesday evenings. And every summer, multiple mission teams stay at First Trenton while ministering in greater Detroit.
"We have a 40,000-square-foot building, and it's paid for," Jones said. "God provided it and we want to use it to honor Him."
First Trenton plans to host a community block party outreach again this summer, to start a senior citizens ministry this fall, and to participate financially and hands-on in the Greater Detroit Baptist Association's new innercity ministry.
"We need to be aware of our ministry to all the world because Jesus said, 'go into all the world,'" Jones told Baptist Press. "He's our Lord and we love Him and we want to obey Him, and we want to share Him with everyone in this whole world, starting next door to each of us and reaching around the world."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press, online news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.