Pastor turned church planter brings hope to the Hillside

Michael Smith

Former Converge Content Specialist

  • Church planting & multiplication

Mark Pavola spent nearly 10 years as interim and then senior pastor of Bayside Baptist Church in Superior, Wisconsin. In 2017, he decided to resign to plant a new church across the river in the Central Hillside area of Duluth, Minnesota.

Nearly three years later, Pavola has no regrets about his decision.

Pavola has a strong connection to the Central Hillside community. He went to junior and high school there. He also served for 10 years as Youth for Christ executive director at the Encounter Youth Center in Duluth before coming to Bayside. Pavola’s church plant, Hope City Church, launched on Easter Sunday 2019 in the Encounter Center.

A community needing Jesus

Pavola said the Central Hillside area has many of the problems found in inner-city communities, including drugs and human trafficking. Other than Hope City, he said there are no real evangelical churches left in the area.

“[The community is] built on a big hill. It’s hard to maneuver around physically, and it’s just a difficult area to build or sustain any kind of a real church presence there,” Pavola said.

He has seen the spiritual darkness that permeates the community firsthand.

“We’ve had people completely demon-possessed coming into our services. I’ll be talking to somebody and just say the name of Jesus, and they’ll freak out. They’ll just absolutely lose it. And I’ve had people screaming profanity at me because they want $5 for [drugs] right in the middle of our fellowship time.”

Bringing light to the darkness

Amid these ministry challenges, Pavola has seen the power of the gospel to transform lives.

Jay and Samantha had been married for 12 years. For much of their relationship, Jay was a Satanist who also dabbled in Norse mythology. Samantha, a Christian studying to get her degree in youth ministry at Bethel Seminary, was part of Hope City’s leadership team.

When Hope City began holding services, Jay started volunteering in the sound booth. The music began working its way into his heart. He also had multiple conversations with Pavola about Jesus, theology and the existence of God. Jay came to realize that the only real truth is found in Jesus, and he put his faith in Christ. A month later, he was convicted to get rid of hundreds of old DVD movies. He took four garbage bags full of them to church one Saturday night, and after prayer, he had a “smash fest.”

Hope City Church

Hope City Church

At Hope City’s first baptism service, Jay shared his story and was baptized in front of his family and friends. He now has a completely new outlook on life and marriage.

Better together

Feeling clear about his call to plant, Pavola initially did not want to attend the Converge Church Planting Assessment Center. But after going, he said, “The whole assessment process and their recommendations, wisdom and love was an amazing gift that to this day is still bearing fruit.”

With Superior located in Converge Great Lakes and Duluth in Converge North Central, the districts decided to collaborate to help Pavola plant his new church.

Glenn Herschberger, Converge Great Lakes executive director of Church Planting, has coached Pavola through the church planting process. Both districts have provided financial support to the new church. Herschberger and Joel Nelson, Converge North Central director of Church Expansion and Growth, attended Hope City’s grand opening, where they presented Pavola with a $5,000 Church Planting Grant from the Converge Cornerstone Fund.

Converge has a goal of planting more than 300 new churches in the next five years. Herschberger and Nelson say it is more about the kingdom than who gets the credit.

“The bottom line is we want to see churches planted, and who gets the credit?” Nelson said. “Let’s give God the credit.”

Michael Smith, Former Converge Content Specialist

Michael Smith served as a content specialist for Converge from 2018-2021.

Additional articles by Michael Smith