by Karen L. Willoughby
BELLEVUE, Neb. (BP) — LifeSpring Church in Bellevue, Neb., where 1,200 or more people participate in weekly worship, helps defend America.
More than half the congregation is active-duty or retired military, or employed as civilians at Offutt Air Force Base, known by its tagline “Defenders of Freedom.” Offutt is home to the 55th Wing and more than 50 partner units of the Air Combat Command, as well as U.S. Strategic Command (formerly SAC).
LifeSpring Church also defends the cause of Christ. It has given life to four other related congregations, started several other churches in Metro Omaha, and has ongoing partnerships in Honduras, Zambia and Mexico. It is a solid supporter of missions through the Cooperative Program — the way Southern Baptists work together to spread the Gospel in state conventions and globally — and LifeSpring’s local Baptist association, Heartland Church Network.
“We’re doing what we can and what we think is reasonable, keeping missions and the Kingdom of God in the forefront,” said Steve Holdaway, LifeSpring’s lead pastor for the last 22 years. “I lead the church to support the Cooperative Program because it is a way our church can do more and be more than we can by just focusing on our local area.
“This is personal for me,” the pastor continued. “I love the fact that through the Cooperative Program I’m supporting missionary friends and church planters I’ve met throughout the world.”
LifeSpring, first known as West Bellevue Baptist Church, was birthed with the financial support of the Cooperative Program. Southern Baptists from Alabama, Arkansas and Missouri volunteered their time to build the first structure.
“It’s all a part of cooperating, right?” Holdaway asked rhetorically. “You pool your resources [with other Southern Baptist churches] to make a bigger splash for the Kingdom of God.”
From Holdaway’s arrival in 1993, six months after the church was started, “I definitely expected our new church to grow,” the pastor said. “So did our members. Everyone expected, worked toward, and celebrated growth and new believers.
“I always had a vision for getting the church outside the walls, so I knew we would meet in various places,” Holdaway continued. “We knew if we were faithful and did our part, God would give the increase.”
LifeSpring parlayed its original location three miles from the main entrance to Offutt AFB into a change-resilient congregation that sees the regular reassignments of its active duty military members as a positive. They are reached, converted, discipled, and given ministry skills during their time at LifeSpring, so they can go out as on-mission Christians to their next duty station.
“We’re a sending church with the North American Mission Board, and we are a church that sends people out through contacts with the International Mission Board,” Holdaway said. “We have members of our church who are full-time missionaries in Zambia, Chile and Bolivia, and we have a family who moved from our church to Honduras.”
A Sudanese church in Omaha is one of the churches LifeSpring planted, along with three Anglo congregations in Nebraska’s largest city. Also, the congregation sent one of its youth pastors across the Missouri River from Omaha to Council Bluffs, Iowa, to start a church in a mall.
LifeSpring planted a church in Zambia and returns every two years to train leaders. A couple from the church helped start the New Day Orphanage in Zambia seven years ago. Today the 25-bed orphanage designed to provide Zambian leaders of tomorrow with a Christian worldview has additional Southern Baptist sponsors in the Midwest and Texas.
“All our missions involvement is a reminder to each member that it’s all about the Kingdom, and that every believer needs to be on mission,” Holdaway said. “Missions keeps the church from being self-centered and ingrown. It truly is not about us; it’s about the Kingdom of God.”
LifeSpring’s second congregation started 17 years ago at an assisted living center in Papillion, five miles west of Bellevue. Eleven years ago a third congregation was planted in an apartment clubhouse in Bellevue. LifeSpring Church Midtown, planted in 2014 in Omaha, runs more than 100 in attendance. The Lodge Church in Papillion, meeting in an upscale senior apartment complex, launched this January.
Though all congregations operate under the LifeSpring umbrella, each acts as a stand-alone church, with its own pastor and worship style.
“It’s all of us pulling together,” Holdaway said. “Our philosophy is to take the church to the communities around us. We can’t reach everybody in the original campus.
“We try to be who we are and to be open to the Holy Spirit leading us,” the pastor noted. “We want to be the best version of who God desires us uniquely to be.”
LifeSpring Church has grown from its 92 charter members to 1,200-plus in worship because the church has adhered to four tenets, Holdaway said: Biblical preaching that is Gospel-centered and relevant to daily life; life-giving worship experiences; loving, outreaching, and inviting people; and multiple services and venues to meet pockets of people with different needs.
“I’ve grown a lot as the church has grown, and vice versa,” Holdaway said. “It’s been constant change over these 22 years: from rented space to owning buildings, worship style, the look of our buildings, and some of our programs. We change as the Holy Spirit leads us to make painful changes to reach people.
“It’s encouraging to me the way our church has embraced change,” the pastor continued. “What hasn’t changed is the church’s commitment to the Great Commission’s mandate to ‘go and make disciples of all nations.'”
The word “disciples” is key, Holdaway said.
“We want to be about making disciples who make disciples, instead of making consumer Christians,” Holdaway said. “I believe in raising up from our congregation lay ministers, pastors, missionaries and community change-agents.”
As they are “raised up” through discipleship, the members move into service. LifeSpring provides a variety of ministries to Offutt base residents, such as a recent marriage seminar. The church is involved with prison ministries and with the area crisis pregnancy center. It reaches out to students on three Omaha-area universities. Each of its dozens of home Bible study groups, called LifeGroups, does service projects to minister in the local community.
Last fall LifeSpring launched the Omaha site of Freeway Ministries, which is housed at the Omaha Baptist Center, a ministry of Heartland Church Network (formerly known as Eastern Nebraska Baptist Association). Freeway Ministries, headquartered in Springfield, Mo., is a homeless/recovery ministry that includes mentoring, discipleship, meals and a men’s home in Omaha which draws up to 100 people each Saturday evening to an evangelistic service.
“We’re just trying to be missional, to get the people out,” Holdaway said. “That’s the structure of our church: ‘Get out of here and go do something!'”
Baptist Press (BP) is the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention and provides news to the 42 state Baptist papers. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.