REACHing Kentucky: Journey Church started on Murray State Campus with boost from Benton Baptists

By Todd Gray

Published: August 22, 2017

Worship service at Journey Murray meeting in the CFSB Center, Murray State's basketball arena.

“Churches planted on college campuses are not sustainable.” No one could convince Matt Johnson, pastor of Journey Church in Murray, or Don Wilson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Benton, of the validity of that statement.

Johnson and Wilson have discovered that God can sustain a church that meets on a college campus and reaches people who are far from God. Over the past 12 years, the church has grown to weekend attendance of approximately 600 people and meets in Murray State’s basketball arena (CFSB Center).

 Journey Church, according to its founding pastor Matt Johnson, “launched on Sept. 11, 2005 with one simple mission: to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus.” While many churches may have a similar sounding vision statement, the difference at Journey is that they believe that a growing relationship with Jesus isn’t just for church people.

Johnson said, “So our vision was to create a church that people not in church loved to attend just as much as church people.” That has been the driving passion of Journey Church in Murray.

“We began with 128 people attending our first service held on the campus of Murray State University,” Johnson said. “Over the past 12 years, we’ve invested deeply through time and money. To date, we’ve invested tens of thousands of hours and over $700,000 back into our community because for far too long the church has been known for what it is against.

“We want to be known for what we’re for: We are for our community, and God is for them.” Johnson said. “We’re convinced we can show them how much God loves them by how well we serve them.”

It is not a stretch to say that, humanly speaking, Journey Church would not be where it is today without the support of Pastor Don Wilson and Benton’s First Baptist Church. Under Wilson’s leadership, First Baptist offered a three-year, $75,000 commitment that enabled Johnson to be devoted full time to the church plant. The commitment ended up being more $125,000 over a five-year period.

“It was generosity unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed,” Johnson said of the gracious giving of First Baptist’s members.

 Journey Church was also partially funded through the generosity of Kentucky Baptists’ giving through the Cooperative Program. However, they still needed additional financial support.

Wilson said, “After visiting all of their most promising leads for support and only receiving nominal encouragement, they came to us.

 “They came and shared their vision for their church plant and their passion struck a responsive chord in my heart,” he added. “I have always thought that First Benton was their last resort, but it proved to be their best resort! God is good!”

The timing for supporting a church plant was not ideal for First Baptist, Benton. According to Wilson, they were in the middle of retiring a large indebtedness on a building, and there was not much left for discretionary spending.

“Even though the timing did not appear to be right,” Wilson said, “what did appeal to me about this work, and what ultimately spoke to our church about it, was the clear vision for this church, the opportunity to help make a stronger imprint for Christ on the campus of Murray State, and our desire to see college students and the college community come to Christ.”

 When the deacons and congregation heard Johnson’s vision, they were all on board and wanted to help in a big way, he said.

First Baptist, Benton, not only helped Journey Church launch, they consistently give generously to Great commission causes. Pastor Wilson shared, “Since our initial assistance with Journey Church, we have given more than $1.5 million to missions causes and have ranked in the top 500 churches in the Southern Baptist Convention in giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.”

When asked if both parties would be willing to do for another church plant what was done for Journey in Murray, the men both concurred. Wilson shared that their church is considering supporting another church plant now, and Johnson stated that Journey has helped a couple of church plants and plans to do more.

“We have future plans to launch churches throughout the region and pay forward what First Baptist, Benton, did for us. I hope we are a big part of Wilson’s legacy and the story of FBC, Benton. We want to be that for future churches and church planters.” (WR)