Illinois church plant has ties to Baptist Collegiate Ministries in Florida

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ALTON, ILL.–How is Requiem Church, a new Southern Baptist church plant in Alton, Illinois, connected with Baptist Collegiate Ministries more than 1,000 miles away at the University of Central Florida?

Vince Bissey, from Requiem Church, is serving this season as team chaplain for the Alton River Dragons, a minor league baseball team. Requiem hosted the team for a BBQ and a wiffle ball home run derby.

Two of the churches that have helped Requiem get started – one in Memphis, Tennessee, and the other in Alton – are pastored by two men who were heavily involved at UCF’s BCM, and both pastors say that the collegiate ministry and its leader – Brad Crawford – helped shape them into who they are today.

A new church plant can’t really get going without a place to meet, and the space for Requiem is provided by Heartland Baptist Church in Alton, where Alex Melton servers as pastor. Melton said the church was happy to allow Requiem to use this space, formerly used by its student ministry.

Requiem, which means “rest” in Latin, holds its worship services there each Wednesday evening so it does not conflict with Heartland’s Sunday services.

“It’s a great use of that space,” Melton said. “This is a very cool partnership. They came in and completely renovated that space with new drywall and paint.”

Once Requiem had a new location, the new church plant needed furniture. That’s where Matt Crawford’s Trinity Baptist Church in Memphis came in.

Matt Crawford, no relation to Brad Crawford, wanted his church to explore its part in church planting and participating in the Great Commission. One of his dreams for his church is to one day send out a church plant like Requiem.

Last year he reached out to church planters in St. Louis, Missouri, located just across the river from Alton, to see if there were any new church plants that Trinity could assist. That’s when he learned about Requiem and its lead pastor Vince Bissey.

“We were not ready yet to be the main financial supporters, but I asked for some targeted needs that our church could help with,” Matt Crawford said. “Requiem was moving into a new space and needed to furnish it and were looking to raise about $6,000. Our church’s mission committee has a real heart for missions. I took this request to them to see if we could help, and they took care of the whole amount.”

Requiem Church used those funds to purchase a room full of tables and chairs – giving the space a coffeehouse vibe.

“I wanted it to be a very inviting environment, like a coffeehouse, a jazz club or a comedy club vibe. Our goal was relaxed reverence,” said Bissey. “We wanted a very comfortable space.”

The church planter said the target audience for this church are blue-collar creatives, a growing demographic in the area that includes people who work regular jobs – perhaps shift work that pays the bills – which frees them up to pursue their passions outside of work like visual arts, videography, photography and music.

“We’re really trying to tap into that as far as vibe and feel, so that the crew will feel comfortable coming in,” he said.

Bissey said he has been overwhelmed by the support he’s received from local churches like Heartland and supporting churches like Trinity.

“I know that radical generosity is one of the core values for Heartland, and I’ve seen that in both Matt and Alex. The way they have led their people, and it has just been incredible,” Bissey said.

‘Discipleship through relationship’

‘If I were to boil down Brad’s (Brad Crawford, director of Baptist Campus Ministries at University of Central Florida) impact on me personally and in ministry, it would be discipleship through relationships.’

Matt Crawford Pastor, Trinity Baptist Church, Memphis, Tennessee

Matt Crawford said his time at BCM with Brad Crawford helped shape him for ministry and missions. He said UCF’s BCM is very missional, establishing a Great Commission culture and giving students lots of opportunities to be involved in mission work, like the work he did in Japan.

“If I were to boil down Brad’s impact on me personally and in ministry, it would be discipleship through relationships,” Matt Crawford said. “He’s so good at getting to know you, making you feel comfortable and being a friend. He is so good at ministry through relaxed time together. He makes that seamless. You can see some of that fruit in connecting with Alex and Kelli and partnering with Requiem.”

While Matt Crawford and Melton did not attend UCF at the same time, they had heard about each other through Brad Crawford and first met at last year’s Southern Baptist Convention in California. That connection led to both supporting Requiem Church.

‘I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe in “God incidents” and how God brings people together for His purposes.’

Alex Melton Pastor, Heartland Baptist Church, Alton, Illinois

“I don’t believe in coincidence,” Melton said of how they ran into each other. “I believe in ‘God incidents’ and how God brings people together for His purposes. We sat together and that started the connection with Matt and Vince.”

Like Matt Crawford, Melton said Brad Crawford’s ministry through BCM had a “massive” impact on his life and scores of other students.

“Brad was one of the first men in my life to show me what it means to follow Jesus. In BCM we learned what it was to study the Bible, and he gave us some intentional ministry opportunities to teach and lead. God used those to confirm my calling and my ministry,” Melton said.

Brad Crawford said he loves the fact that two of his former students have partnered together with their churches to help plant another church, and he loves that they and their wives share a UCF BCM connection. He only wishes they lived closer to Orlando so he could see them more often.

“It’s been a joy but certainly not a surprise to see that God has done great things in and through the lives of Matt and Christie, and Alex and Kelli,” he said. “They have been an inspiration and an encouragement to me and so many others as they have gone from their college years in BCM to getting married, raising families and serving faithfully in ministry. The churches they lead and this church plant they are assisting are blessed to have them.”

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