Bethlehem Baptist Church (Minneapolis)
|Bethlehem Baptist Church|
|Denomination||Baptist General Conference|
First Swedish Baptist Church|
|Founder(s)||J. L. Johnson|
Jason Meyer, Pastor for Preaching & Vision
|Part of a series on|
Bethlehem Baptist Church, is an evangelical Christian Reformed megachurch and a multi-site church headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, founded in 1871. Dr. E. Glenn Wagner, Chancellor of Oxford Graduate School, has referred to it as a "flagship congregation of the Baptist General Conference", and C. Douglas Weaver, Director of Undergraduate Studies and Associate Professor of Religion at Baylor University, has called "the best-known congregation in the Baptist General Conference at the turn of the 21st century".
It is also affiliated with the Minnesota Baptist Conference. The church has three campuses: the main campus in downtown Minneapolis and satellite campuses in Mounds View and Lakeville. From 1980 until January 2013, its senior pastor was John Piper. Jason Meyer succeeded him on January 1, 2013.
In the early 1870s, J. L. Johnson became the first Swede baptized by immersion in Minneapolis—in 30-below weather. He and a growing number of Swedes joined First Baptist Church (Minneapolis), and eventually formed a Swedish Bible class.
On June 22, 1871, they branched off, with First Baptist’s blessing, and founded Bethlehem—originally as the First Swedish Baptist Church of Minneapolis. This was 7 years after the American Civil War ended, and 13 years after Minnesota became a State, in a hall at 2nd Street and Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis, with 22 charter members. Pastor John Ring laid the foundation for the church, which was the first Swedish Baptist church in the Twin Cities area. In March 1872, the church bought a lot at 6th Street and 12th Avenue for $1,000 ($20,428 today); they broke ground in March of the following year on a new $4,000 wood frame church building.
The church had four pastors in its first ten years. The fifth pastor, Dr. Frank Peterson, arrived in June 1881 to a church of 127 members. On March 16, 1885, during Peterson’s pastorate, the church burned and was irreparable. In February 1888, 55 members of the church organized the Elim Swedish Baptist Church. The congregation learned that the Second Congregational Church at 8th Street and 13th Avenue South—only 3 blocks from the burned site—was available for $13,500 ($367,700 today). The church bought the building and property in May 1885. Peterson was of the view that Scandinavian immigrants made the best Baptists, because, as he put it in 1886, they were Protestants, religious, weren't communists or socialists, and very few of them were "peddlars, organ grinders, or beggars." There were 445 members by January 1, 1891, when Peterson departed.
Under Peterson’s ministry, 12 young people became missionaries. One was Ola Hanson who became a missionary to the Kachin people of Burma for 40 years. Hanson put the Kachin language into writing, produced an 11,000-word Kachin-English dictionary, trained 40 local pastors, and translated the Bible into Kachin. The British government awarded him the Kaisar-i-Hind Medal. His story is told in a biography titled ‘Light in the Jungle’, by Gustaf Sword.
The church's first services in English started in 1893, on a bi-weekly basis. The 6th pastor, Olof Bodien, came in 1893 and pastored until 1912. During that time the church suffered a fire (December 3, 1893) and a tornado (August 1904). History; First Baptist Church 1871–1921; p. 34. By this time a number of notable Swedish Baptists were members of the church. The church had two pastors from 1912–18, when the 8th pastor, Eric Carlson, arrived. Membership rose to 834, and language tension grew during that time between old (Swedish) and young (English). The 9th pastor, Anton Sjolund, came in 1928, and membership reached 1,204. Services in Swedish continued until the mid-1930, but on January 1, 1936, the church voted to move all services to English, except for one Swedish Sunday School class. Nine years later, on April 13, 1945, First Swedish Baptist voted to change its name to Bethlehem Baptist Church (the same year that the Swedish Baptist General Conference in America dropped "Swedish" from its name).
The 10th pastor, Eric Lindholm, came in 1949. He oversaw the building of the $500,000 ($4,356,635 today) Sunday School Building, dedicated at year’s end 1957 and still in use. The 11th pastor, John Wilcox, came in 1959 as the church’s first non-Swedish pastor (he was originally a Southern Baptist), and pastored Bethlehem for 7 years. The 12th pastor was Robert Featherstone, and the 13th, Bruce Fleming, pastored through the 1970s. By 1980, Bethlehem was a somewhat typical downtown Minneapolis church. Most congregants lived in suburbs and commuted, including the pastor. The average age of the now 300-person congregation was 75 years old when the pulpit became open.
The church decided to take a chance and bring in John Piper, who had never pastored. He had been teaching Bible at the denominational college, Bethel College. In 1983, Pastor Steller had a missionary epiphany, recognizing how the church’s theology connected to world missions reaching unreached people, and a missions movement was born. The average age soon dropped from the 70s and 60s to the 20s.
In 1991, the church had to do something no other downtown Minneapolis church had done in 60 years: find more room. Bethlehem enlarged her worship space; the building purchased in 1885 was demolished for a larger, 1,400 seat sanctuary. One of the stained glass windows from the original building is on display in the foyer. Another building addition came in 2003. In 2002, the church expanded its downtown ministry into the northern Minneapolis by creating a second campus. Instead of building a larger worship center downtown, nearly half the congregation began worshiping in Maranatha Hall at Northwestern College in Roseville. In June 2005, the church moved into its current North Campus facility in Mounds View. In September 2006, Bethlehem launched its third campus at Burnsville High School. In September 2018, the church moved into its current South Campus facility in Lakeville. Congregants of the three Bethlehem Baptist Churches all hear the same sermon, which is delivered in person in one location and on video screens at the other two.
On May 20, 2012 Jason Meyer was voted in (784 Yes to 8 No) to be the next Pastor for Preaching & Vision, replacing John Piper.
Planting of other churches
Bethlehem has planted, or partnered to plant, several churches in the Twin Cities in its history, including:
•First Norwegian-Danish Baptist Church (1879), on the corner of 13th Avenue and 7th Street (destroyed by fire and relocated to 16th Ave South and 33rd Street; later renamed Powderhorn Park Baptist; closed in 2006 and gave its building to Bethlehem; now known as Bethlehem's 16/33 Center) •Bethel Baptist in the Seward neighborhood (1896), which reunited with Bethlehem in 1961 •Elim Baptist formed in 1888 in NE Minneapolis •Spring Lake Park Baptist Church (1941) •Cross of Glory Baptist •Edgewater Baptist (1948) •Wooddale Baptist (1949) •Brooklyn Center Baptist (1952) •Cedar Grove Baptist (1963) •All Nations Christian Fellowship (2006) •Berean Missional Church (2004) •Glory of Christ Baptist, Rogers, Minnesota (2008) 
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- Bethlehem Baptist Church
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- Black and white photograph of the church, circa 1885