FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) — Pastor Tom Cabral still tells people to meet him at “the bar,” even though it’s his church now. Locals best remember his worn building as a former sports bar where a 19-year-old once walked in and shot three suspected rival crack dealers.
Eight years later, the mirrored walls, parquet dance floor and bar remain. But the worst trouble may be found around the Sunday school table, where kids try to heed a handwritten list of rules including: “We will walk indoors, not run.”
Redemption Fellowship of Fall River is one of dozens of churches the Southern Baptist Convention has planted around New England in the last decade with a multi-million dollar push into territory skeptical of the South and increasingly indifferent to religion.
Cabral seems unfazed. He’s “indigenous,” he explains, a native of nearby Somerset. He’s so eager to share his faith that he regularly carries a wood cross asking, “Are You Ready?” to a traffic island in this southeastern Massachusetts city and evangelizes to anyone who rolls down their window.
“I really believe that God wants to change this city,” he said.
Since 2002, the Southern Baptists have spent roughly $5 million to plant churches around the region, and have another $800,000 committed for this year.
They’ve started 133 new churches in that time, a nearly 70 percent increase that brings their regional total to 325.