COLUMBIA — Luke Stockeland was still sitting at his desk one recent weekday after the lights were off and the doors locked at Open Door Baptist Church.
Although everyone else had gone home, he had more work to do. He was staying late to answer emails and make plans on behalf of his congregation.
This kind of dedication has paid off for Stockeland, 30, who was hired a year ago as church pastor. Since he came on board in March 2012, attendance has increased by more than 60 percent — from 80 to 130 — and revenues have doubled.
He has organized youth Bible classes, potlucks and excursions in an effort to bring people back to the church. Members have told friends and neighbors about the new push, and the community in southeast Columbia has responded.
During a recent sermon, it was clear that Stockeland's energy and personality were connecting with his audience. He skillfully linked personal anecdotes to biblical stories, and the congregation seemed to appreciate his self-deprecating humor.
"Luke is surprisingly wise and thoughtful for his age," said Laura Haycook, the church secretary. "He's full of ideas. He brought renewed spirit to us."
Other churchgoers agree that Stockeland has been a positive influence within the church.
"He has been reaching out for people in the community," said Jan Kelly, a longtime member of Open Door Baptist.
Lynn Acton, who first came to the church a year ago, said she likes his "big and tender heart."
"He has all kinds of big outreach ideas for the church, and he shares them with all of us," Acton said.
Church has an open-door attitude
The church, located near Grindstone Parkway off U.S. 63, was founded in 1990 as a place of worship where people would be comfortable but not always content with the status quo.
Membership began to suffer after a longtime associate pastor left in 2006. Attendance at Sunday service dropped from 200 to 80 members, Haycook said.
"It was very discouraging for us," she said. Things became so bleak that the church couldn't afford to keep a full-time pastor.
When the search committee hired Stockeland, he took a full-time job at part-time pay. Still, he wasn't discouraged.
"Money is not an issue for me," he said. "I just want to do what God wants me to do."
Theresa Chapman, who began attending Sunday services just before Stockeland became pastor, said he has been a good fit.
"Pastor Luke made church feel more family-related," she said.
Stockeland's own family includes his wife, Anne, and three children — Jarren, 6, Jolee, 3, and Olivia, just over 1.
Anne Stockeland said she was impressed with Columbia and the ministry here.
"I think the members of our congregation put their whole heart into ministering to others," she said. "I was pleasantly surprised with how people all work together, even though each individual has a very different personality."
His father was a pastor, too
Luke Stockeland was born and raised in Maquoketa, Iowa. His father, a local pastor, spoke at conferences around the country, and Stockeland, who was home-schooled, studied his lessons "on the road."
"We went to Mexico on five different occasions when I was in grade school," he recalled.
During high school, he participated in the Haiti Bible Mission, a foundation started by his father and now run by his brother, Mark. Stockeland says the experience changed him profoundly.
"What I wasn't prepared for was that it didn't just change me on a spiritual level," he said. "It changed the way I viewed my relationship with other people and with God."
He earned an undergraduate degree at Dayspring Bible College & Seminary in Lake Zurich, Ill., a master's degree at the Sarasota Academy of Christian Counseling in Florida and a doctorate from the Andersonville Theological Seminary in Camilla, Ga.
Taking classes through correspondence, he began working as a youth pastor in two churches in Green Forest, Ark.
"That's how I started in the ministry," he said.
Julie Fellers, a volunteer for First Baptist Church in Green Forest, one of Stockeland's former churches, said he demonstrated strong leadership skills early.
"He almost tripled the youth membership," Fellers said.
As pastor at Open Bible Baptist Church, Stockeland doesn't want to give up his outreach efforts. He wants to encourage the Columbia congregation to become involved in important issues around the world.
Stockeland plans to make a preliminary trip in April to La Universidad Cristiana de las Americas, a Christian university in Monterrey, Mexico, with Kevin Bradley, an associate professor in plant sciences at MU and a deacon at Open Door. They hope to establish a relationship with the university and participate in mission trips together.
Stockeland is also on the board of Woodland Acres Bible Camp in Arkansas, which he plans to introduce to families at Open Door Baptist this summer.
He has also invited his brother to speak to the church May 5 about the Haiti Bible Mission.
"Not only does it help people in Haiti," he said of his brother's work. "But it changes us, just like Haiti changed me."