Pointing to the One who is worthy: Utah church has planting in its DNA

By Scott Barkley

SALT LAKE CITY (BP) – About 10 years ago, three grown men with families spent a week at summer camp. That week led to planting one church, which has in turn led to planting two more.

Lead pastor Lukas Counterman said that from the time Gospel Grace Church began he and other leaders worked to establish a culture of “purposeful multiplication.”

“From the very start, our desire was to be a church-planting church,” he said. “We wanted people who joined to be thinking about multiplication because of the need. There needs to be more Gospel light up and down the Salt Lake Valley. It’s part of our DNA.”

Children take part in the recent Gospel Grace Church Christmas kids worship service.

In addition to Counterman, Will Galkin and Jonathan Albright were also at the camp in northern Wisconsin. Those three and their families – along with another founding pastor and his family, Jon Kopp – joined approximately 40 others to form Gospel Grace Church in 2012.

Intentions to plant another church took shape through a 2017 revitalization in the Salt Lake suburb of Riverton with the launch of Gospel Hope Church. Most recently, Gospel Peace Church launched near the campus of Utah State in Logan.

Gospel Grace began with multiple sources of funding. However, the Southern Baptist backgrounds of many staff members, including Counterman, as well as a common passion for planting churches led Gospel Grace and Gospel Peace to join the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention this fall.

“If there hadn’t been at the very onset a vision for more church planting to be done, I don’t think all four of us would have signed up,” said Galkin, who is Gospel Grace’s pastor of outreach and strategic multiplication.

Pastors and other leadership at the church plants were trained through Gospel Grace.

Of the four pastors to plant Gospel Grace, Galkin is the only one from the area. Growing up, his family used to travel from their home in Twin Falls, Idaho, to the Salt Lake Valley. He would go on to be an itinerant preacher. Counterman was previously a pastor in Wichita Falls, Texas, who became convicted by his own preaching after a sermon series on missions. Kopp leads in the church’s community groups and administration. Albright, who has since moved back to Ohio, led worship and the collegiate ministry.

Lead pastor Lukas Counterman says church planting is built into the DNA of Gospel Grace Church, which was formed in 2012 and officially chartered as a church the next year. Gospel Grace and one of its church plants, Gospel Peace in Logan, Utah, joined the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention this year.

Early on, all were bivocational. Counterman was an Air Force chaplain, which included no weekend duties and opened up his Sundays to preach. Galkin continued his full-time preaching ministry while Albright and Kopp worked as graphic artists, web designers or teaching music lessons.

Counterman said that a pervasive disconnect from the Gospel exists throughout Salt Lake City, headquarters of the LDS church. The area has also experienced a rise in those claiming no religious identity, the Nones.

Before getting its own building in the heart of the city, Gospel Grace met at different locations on the University of Utah campus and worked with college students probing those types of questions. Gospel Peace does the same for those attending Utah State.

That lack of exposure to the true Gospel makes it stand out all the more for those hearing it clearly for the first time.

“It is easier for the main thing to be the main thing in a place that is so unreached,” Counterman said. “Our statistics say that less than 3 percent of the population here is evangelical. The mission is essential; the Gospel is essential.”

To plant Gospel Peace, a call went out for church members to move to Logan, an hour-and-a-half away from Salt Lake City. Only two of the 70 who volunteered to go were able to so without changing jobs.

John Moon, family and community pastor, speaks to members of Gospel Peace Church in the Whittier Community Center in Logan, Utah.

Gospel Grace has increased its partnership with the North American Mission Board, which identifies Salt Lake City as a Send City and worked alongside the church to plant Gospel Peace. Gospel Grace also serves as a teaching site for the Rocky Mountain campus of Gateway Seminary.

Gospel Grace averages 450-475 in attendance while Gospel Hope has approximately 150. Outside partners joined Gospel Grace members to launch Gospel Peace, which has around 125 in weekly attendance since launching in September. That congregation has already baptized three with more scheduled.

Galkin said that from its start, Gospel Grace has been about sharing resources to further the Gospel. “We want to constantly communicate that we’re a church-planting church,” he said. “And we’re not done. There are still places in Utah with no Gospel presence.”

Counterman doubled down on that assessment.

“We exist as a church to glorify God by making Gospel-centered, grace-saturated disciples of Jesus Christ. If we get to talk to people, we want it to be about the biblical Gospel and about God’s grace.

“In a city with people striving to be worthy, we want to point them to the One who is worthy.”

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on Baptist Press.

Published December 16, 2021

Scott Barkley

Scott Barkley is national correspondent for Baptist Press