Church Planting in the Salt Lake Valley
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Riverton, Utah, preaches the Word in the suburbs of Salt Lake City.
Situated between two mountain ranges in the Salt Lake Valley, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Riverton, Utah, has been growing and growing alongside Salt Lake City’s booming population. People are hungry for the Word of God, and they are finding their way to this former church plant.
Historically, there have not been many Lutherans in Utah — Utah is Mormon country, through and through. But in an effort to reach out to Mormons and also to meet the needs of Salt Lake City’s fast-growing southwest side, Grace Lutheran Church in Sandy, Utah, was encouraged to plant a daughter church nearly 20 years ago.
“God brought together a group with many different perspectives,” said Kevin Andrews, one of the original members of the congregation. “There were pastors, theologically trained laypeople, businessmen and educators all involved.”
For about five years, this initial group worked together to organize a church plant. By June 2008, they were ready to call a pastor, and the next year 39 people signed the charter for Holy Trinity. This dedicated group worked together to find a location to hold church services, call the Rev. Al Borcher as their first pastor and apply for a grant.
“That grant fueled the fire for my call, and that money was used to pay half my salary for one year — so we had one year to make this work,” said Borcher. “I remember one night, sitting on the deck at my closest friend’s house and asking him, ‘Is this really going to work?’ And he said, ‘You know what, it’s not up to me and it’s not up to you. It’s Jesus’ church.’ The rest of it I left up to Him, and I concentrated on Word and Sacrament ministry.”
Putting Down Roots in Riverton
Holy Trinity started out by renting a building that shared a front with an insurance agent. The congregation then shared space with Salt Lake Lutheran High School, and then with Hope Lutheran Church (a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod). Holy Trinity members would hold their Sunday morning service right before Hope’s. Afterward, the congregation would head to a nearby restaurant for Bible study.
Borcher and Andrews spent hours and hours looking for a piece of property that Holy Trinity could call its own. But since the Salt Lake Valley is hemmed in by two mountain ranges, real estate is scarce and expensive. Then God provided in the form of an unheard-of real estate deal.
The mayor of Riverton pointed Borcher to a 3.5-acre plot of land that was available. A developer intended to build multi-family homes on the property, but the surrounding neighbors were unhappy with this plan. Instead, they thought a church would be a much more suitable use of the land.
“We had an emergency voters’ meeting on the following Sunday, and after lots of discussion, somebody made the motion to offer $425,000 for it,” said Borcher.
“God gave us the location,” said Andrews. “He had His hand in it. We’re located on the busiest street in the Valley — now it’s a six-lane highway. Everybody knows where Redwood Road is.”
In 2014, they broke ground, and over the course of the following year, Laborers For Christ built the sanctuary, designed to be a multipurpose facility that could be used for services, fellowship events and, eventually, a school and day care. In 2015, on Good Friday, they held their first service in the new sanctuary.
In a matter of just a few years, Holy Trinity outgrew its first sanctuary. Today, the congregation has 327 baptized members, with 60 students enrolled at its school. Construction of a new sanctuary that can seat 300 people is set to be finished in January 2024. In two more construction phases to follow, Holy Trinity will build six additional classrooms and a new gym.
On the English-Speaking Mission Field
Salt Lake City’s rapid growth and Mormon-majority population make it a prime mission field. Through Word and Sacrament ministry, God has grown His flock at Holy Trinity.
“We’ve had some people come in who were Mormon, and I’ve been able to catechize them, and they’ve stuck with it,” said Borcher. “And then many others who were inactive at various churches here in the Valley have come to us.”
Borcher said that one of the greatest joys of his ministry was “coordinating and working with the rest of the pastors in Utah to call a missionary and outreach person [to Mormons] in all of Utah. The right person came along at the right time.”
That person was the Rev. Rob Bennett, a specific ministry pastor at Holy Trinity. Bennett travels around Utah doing training for laypeople on Mormon apologetics.
Proclaiming the Gospel to Mormons comes with challenges. For example, Mormons have been trained to avoid talking to pastors. And with the Book of Mormon, Bennett explained, “the devil has perverted the Word of God just enough to make you think you’re following God. But in the end, he’s twisted everything.”
Bennett also drives a couple of hours south every Sunday to serve Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Richfield, Utah. God has worked through the steady efforts of Bennett and faithful congregation members to grow a small, informal campus ministry for nearby Snow College. Each week, a handful of Mormon students come who are hungry for the Word of God.
“There just seems to be more and more [young people] every Sunday,” said Bennett. “And the questions they ask — you could tell they’re starting to hear the Word of God because they really want to engage with it.”
Proclaiming the Gospel in Every Place
“There are communities, urban centers, that are growing by leaps and bounds,” said Borcher. “Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, Las Vegas. And people need churches.”
In the past few decades, the United States has seen a significant population shift to the western part of the country and the “Sun Belt” region. With this shift comes the opportunity to plant churches in communities where there may not be another LCMS church around for miles, so that the Gospel can be proclaimed in every place.
“[It’s important to plant churches] to show God’s love, spread His Word and enjoy in fellowship with other Christians the joy of salvation,” said Andrews.
Typically, individual congregations and circuits are best suited to identify opportunities for a church plant. Grace and Holy Trinity’s mother/daughter church model is a good example of an effective way to plant a new church, though other models, such as sister congregations supporting a mission plant together, are also feasible. To further support these efforts, the LCMS Office of National Mission is developing a systematic approach to planting new churches throughout the country.
It’s easy to dwell on the challenges that churches face. It’s easy to fear that the Gospel will only ever fall on deaf ears. But St. Paul’s reminder in Romans is heartening: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). The Word acts on us, giving faith to all who hear it. And the Word is always at work, in faraway places and local communities, through pastors and laity, in churches old and new.
- To “plant, sustain and revitalize Lutheran churches” is one of the Synod’s seven mission priorities. For more information about the Synod’s church-planting initiative, email email@example.com.
- Support National Mission
Pray with Us
Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning, be with the saints of Holy Trinity, Good Shepherd and all throughout the Salt Lake Valley, that they would proclaim boldly the message of Him who died for the sins of the world and was raised again for our justification; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
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Staff writer and editor for LCMS Communications.