Members of Valley West Baptist Church have a new building for worship, but the 12,000-square foot, split-faced tan block structure is secondary in importance to everything else connected with the church.
"Our priority is people. Our building is simply a tool or instrument to enable and enhance the ministry. We're trying to touch lives for Jesus Christ," the Rev. Allen Heiser said in an interview.Valley West Baptist Church has 100 members, with 70 of that number being residents of the Salt Lake area. Another 30 live out of state but retain their membership with the church, which is located at 3550 S. 4400 West. The church is affiliated with the Conservative Baptist Association based in Wheaton, Ill.
Formerly located at 3874 W. 3500 South, the church moved to the new address when the latter site became part of an expanding area of prime commercial property. The church kept getting unsolicited offers to sell its land and building. That created a certain amount of member unrest, and the 3500 South building was too small to meet the growing congregation's needs, the Rev. Heiser said.
A pastor for 13 years in the West Valley City area, the 43-year-old clergyman was born in Henderson, Neb. He graduated from Grace College of the Bible in Omaha in 1969, the same year he and his wife, Dalice, were married.
The couple spent two years in France where they worked for Greater Europe Mission, an organization that trains European nationals to become pastors of local congregations. When the Heisers returned to the United States in 1972, they moved to Denver where he attended Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary.
He graduated in 1974 with a master of arts degree, and he and his wife moved to Des Moines, Iowa, where he was assistant to the pastor of Grace Baptist Church until 1977.
Since that time he and and his family - which also includes a son, Jeremy, 15, and a daughter, Allison, 12 - have lived in West Valley City.
Dalice Heiser teaches at Intermountain Christian School, sponsored by Evangelical Free Church, in Holladay.
The Rev. Heiser says the cross and the word of God are central to the beliefs of the Valley West Baptist Church, whose structural design incorporates a 4-inch thick, 6-foot high metal cross suspended from the main entrance to the building. A decorative stained-glass window in the church worship hall features a cross and a picture of "The Risen Christ" with outstretched arms.
"We have tried to structure our new building around our beliefs. In worship we see God as a God of glory and majesty. He is eternal, unchanging and worthy of our praise and adoration. The worship hall's high, vaulted ceilings are designed to "lift our focus upward."
The cross, which appears throughout the building, "and the word of God are central to our beliefs."
The church includes a number of classrooms used for Sunday School and for the children's club program, known as AWANA, which stands for Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed.
A scripture in II Timothy 2:15 of the new International Version of the Bible counsels: "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth."
AWANA fosters games, singing, scripture memorization, crafts and teaching for children in preschool through the sixth grade. A real effort is made in getting God's word into the lives of children, the Rev. Heiser said.
If it had more staff, the church would like to expand AWANA to include junior high school-age students. AWANA, he said, helps to prepare children for moving into junior high school.
"In addition to helping them cope with social problems we believe we need to help train and instruct our children in God's word."
An Explorers Bible Study program for women is held at the church but is not sponsored by the church. The interdenominational program is an independent group to which some members of the church belong.
Valley West Baptist members come from diverse economic, cultural, geographical and religious backgrounds.
The Rev. Heiser said he and the church board are evaluating the church's organizational structure to "enable us to be more effective in the ministry and in the community." For three years, the minister was a regular volunteer at the Salt Lake County Detention Center.
He said church members struggle with many of the same problems that face people in churches in Utah and throughout the world.
"People tend to shy away from long-term commitments. With many husbands and wives working and an increasing trend toward single-parent families, they are inclined to guard their time at home and with families a little more closely. People don't seem to have as many hours.
"It used to be that a lot of ministry in the church was carried on by women during the week. But a lot of those people are now working outside the home. What we are doing is re-examining ministries, priorities and time available to make the best use of our resources," he said.
He said he is concerned with the demands made on people's time and how those demands affect marriages and families.
He said many people seem to be struggling with "self-centeredness," which he said "includes use of time, possessions and careers - verses a life of obedience to Christ."