Emmanuel, the oldest and largest Southern Baptist church in Montana, is a stable, thriving congregation with a rich heritage and tremendous potential for the future. Begun in 1952, its first pastor, Glen Braswell, immediately led in starting missions and satellite churches in other towns and communities in Montana. After nearly sixty years, Emmanuel has started more than twenty churches directly, has resurrected several dead and dying works, and is indirectly responsible for over 120 Southern Baptist churches statewide.
After several years of growth in a downtown location, Emmanuel bought five acres of land in 1964, under the direction of Pastor Leo Sullivan, and relocated to the west end of town at 14th Street West & Custer Avenue. The congregation chose to change the name from First Southern Baptist, to Emmanuel Baptist. Pastors Cecil Osborne and Dr. Curtis Ellis added to the expansion of the church, so that by 1979, Emmanuel had again outgrown its property.
In 1979, Emmanuel called Don Jones to be its fifth pastor. Pastor Don led the church to buy twenty acres of land on the extreme west end of Billings on Shiloh Road. The church building was constructed in 1984 with mostly volunteer labor. Emmanuel’s fifth pastor is the father of its sixth pastor! Young Pastor Paul returned from South Africa in 1983 after having been a Journeyman missionary there for two years, and became Emmanuel’s Youth Director, 1983-85. Then, following four years of seminary training, the church called him to return to Emmanuel to co-pastor with his father. Pastor Don resigned in 1992 to go into fulltime evangelism, and Pastor Paul became the Senior Pastor, a position he has held since then.
There are several distinct characteristics that have emerged during Pastor Paul’s tenure. Emmanuel has become even more missional in its practices. Emmanuel has produced eight missionaries who have served in foreign countries for one year or longer. Five of these have served as Southern Baptist Journeyman missionaries. Also, Emmanuel has increased its annual World Missions Offering until it now exceeds $100,000. Another important characteristic of Emmanuel is its elder leadership. The church elders serve to provide Pastor Paul with personal and pastoral accountability. They serve as “doctrinal guardians,” and are also responsible for issues of church discipline. The most obvious thing about Emmanuel over the last few years is its tremendous growth.
After embarking on an 18-month building project, Emmanuel dedicated a new addition on January 4, 2009, that nearly doubled the square footage of the facility. Because of the added space and expanded ministries, the church currently runs about 1,000 in three morning services, including children’s church. Emmanuel continues to be fully committed to a culturally relevant, multi-generational ministry based on a theologically conservative foundation.