JOEL LITTLEFIELD is the pastor of New City Church in Bath. NATHAN STROUT /THE TIMES RECORD

JOEL LITTLEFIELD is the pastor of New City Church in Bath. NATHAN STROUT /THE TIMES RECORD


Generally, people assume Christian missionaries are heading across the seas to far-flung locations in Africa, Asian or the Middle East, not the streets of Bath.

But for New City Church, it makes perfect sense to approach the City of Ships as any missionary would.

“The best missionaries, historically, are the ones that go into the community, learn the language, learn what they eat, learn what they love, get involved with their families,” said Joel Littlefield, pastor at New City Church. “Why should it be any different in our hometown?”

He called Maine post- Christian, saying it used to be the case that almost everyone in the state was from one Christian denomination or another. It’s now common, Littlefield said, to meet people who have no connection to that religion. That’s why he thinks it makes sense to act as missionaries.

“Bath has some traditional churches and some contemporary churches,” said Littlefield. “But we wanted to be mission driven, and our mission was to love the community.

“From the beginning we tried to build a culture of people where the thrust isn’t to see how many people we can get to come to church, but to train the people who are here to be missionaries in Bath,” he added. “It’s a slightly different model. That model is growing in the United States.”

Littlefield grew up in Maine, where he met his wife Callie. The couple moved to Tennessee for a time, but returned to the Pine Tree State in 2016 as part of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board, an organization that oversees domestic missionary work.

Despite having no family or connections in the Bath area, the couple moved to Bath with their four children in November 2016 to plant a new church with a missionary zeal.

“We purposely made that decision to live in an area where we didn’t have immediate blood relatives,” said Littlefield, “so we would be forced really to build a community ourselves and develop friendships, which is the hardest thing to do.

“I spent hours and hours and hours at my second office here at Cafe Creme,” he continued. “We just started meeting people and did everything we could to be part of the community.”

By the summer of 2017 they’d connected with a couple other families interested in starting a Southern Baptist church in Bath, and in July they officially launched the New City Church. The church originally began Sunday evenings at the Maine Maritime Museum. While that worked for a while, the church moved to 150 Congress Ave. in March, where it could begin holding 10 a.m. services — instead of in the evening — and didn’t have to worry about breaking down the equipment every week.

The New City Church approach seems to have found an audience in Bath. In just under a year, Littlefield said, the church has grown from three families to about 45-50 regular attendees. But creating a larger church isn’t really the point. In fact, Littlefield said the church’s mission is to send people away, not to draw them in and keep them there.

“We want to be a hub for sending more people out into other communities in Maine,” he said. “It’s not about us, it’s about growing. It’s about expanding.”

That said, the church will be celebrating it’s one-year anniversary Sunday with a baptism, testimonials about New City Church and ice cream.

“Really, it’s just going to be a time of celebration,” said Littlefield.

The church will also be continuing its community effort on Aug. 6 with a “Better Together Party.” The church will be hosting a bounce house, obstacle course and activities for the whole family. Bath police will also do some demonstrations for children.

“We do believe we followed a call to be here, and so to have come to a year mark with I guess measurable success,” said Littlefield. “There’s a recognition that we need to be here and we need to reach more people.”

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