The Baptist Union of Latvia has developed an excellent model for missions and its vision for church planting may be inspiring for others.
The Latvian Baptists trace their roots to the second half of the 19th century when a spiritual revival happened. The date of September 9, 1860 is viewed as the first beginning of the contemporary Latvian Baptist movement and since then many local congregations were established.
The Soviet era brought persecutions when thousands of believers and particularly leaders were deported to the labor camps and church buildings were confiscated. However hardships didn’t stop the Christians from worshiping God, also lectures in theology were offered and Christian books were printed.
After the collapse of Soviet Union the Latvian Baptists have regained long desired freedom and started dynamic mission work. A Latvian Christian Radio, Publishing House and Union Offices but primarily the Baltic Pastoral Institute found their location in the reclaimed historic building that serves now as the Baptist Center in Riga.
There are 90 local Baptist churches in Latvia with a total membership of about 7000.
Vision of church planting
The reverend bishop Kaspars Sterns leads the Latvian Baptists and coordinates the church planting movement in this Baltic country. He shares:
The church planting program for the last 10 years has been a great experience. It was started as a reaction to our reality and later a strategy has been developed. We have learned from some mistakes and our practice is to assess all candidates in order to select those who will lead others to productivity. We also learned to take into consideration demographic and geographic conditions, i.e. we see better growth in cities and regional centers. Right now there are 16 church plants that are mentored by some of our best mentors. We continue an annual church planting forum where we gather all leaders and teams. It helps us to connect with each other, evaluate the past and set future goals.
Bp Sterns explains that the union’s vision is to build a network of missional and reproducing communities. The vision of mission work overlaps very much with the church planting. The training program consists of 4 modules of teaching called “M4” as the acronym stands for: Master – Mission – Multiplication – Movement and is based on the personal mentoring and regular conferences for church planters. This church planting initiative draws many talented people who discover their calling and passionately involve in ministry. They truly form a church planting movement!
Church planting in Liepaja
One of the 16 earlier mentioned church plants is located in Liepaja, a town on the Latvian coast. It was started in 2017 with an initial group of 20 people. In the first year the church plant has doubled in numbers and Sunday attendance rose to 50-70. A discipleship course was started and 12 new converts were baptized. Youth ministry has grown tremendously, from 10 to about 40; it is successful ministry but also comprises many challenges. The Sunday school class grew to two age groups and 4 teachers. The capacity of a meeting hall forced the group to look for a new place.
The church planter Toms Bermaks wrote in his report in 2018: