Ronald L. Tottingham was sent out of Bible Baptist Church of East Grand Forks, Minnesota, to pastor a church. In January 1974, two churches invited him to candidate for their pastorate. One church was a Baptist church in Sioux Falls (now non-existent), and another was a nearby church in Minnesota. Since Ronald Tottingham knew he was called preach in Sioux Falls, he candidated for the Baptist church in Sioux Falls. However, he saw some incorrect things in the church's official structure and upon counsel with his pastor, Gordon Silcox, Ronald Tottingham was led to decline the church's invitation. The Lord used this experience to press upon his heart to begin a New Testament Baptist church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Empire Baptist Temple, which was earlier called Bible Baptist Church, was born. The church began having services the second Sunday in April 1974, sharing the Lutheran Church for the Deaf on North Mabel Avenue. Cleaning, snow shoveling, and lawn mowing was rent payment. Empire Baptist Temple became officially organized in April 1977.
In 1976, the church moved its Sunday services to South Minnesota Avenue in a storefront used by the Disabled American Veterans for bingo. The first permanent families came to join the church in this location in 1977. The Wednesday services remained in the Lutheran Church for the Deaf until they were moved to the Lion Sight & Sound Center on North West Avenue. In February 1978, the church was invited to use (rent free) the North End Community Sunday School Union building on North Minnesota Avenue. In this location the church reached over 100 in regular attendance and the membership was scattered from Dell Rapids, South Dakota to Rock Rapids, Iowa. The church began a college at this address and a Christian academy was begun. The opening of the academy led to the rental of more property across the street on North Minnesota Avenue, where the office and upper grades were held.
In June 1984, the church purchased its own building at 412 South Hawthorne Avenue. The property included a parking lot, parsonage, and a three-story church building. Here in this building, after extensive auditorium remodeling and other minor settling in, the Lord poured out mighty blessings. The church experienced a high attendance of 353, and in 1995 saw the average attendance reach 240. Then the church went through some trials and struggles while defending Christian education before the state legislative body in South Dakota, and helping do the same in Nebraska. These battles took a toll on the church and the attendance dropped to under a hundred. However, as the church continued its evangelistic outreach in the community good families came and the church rebuilt its congregation reaching new averages of just under 300 in 1997. The church also saw its giving reach its highest all-time average.
When EBT celebrated its 30th Anniversary on Resurrection Sunday April 11, 2004, with all its staff missionary/church planters home, the Sioux Falls Mayor awarded Pastor Tottingham with the "Reverend Dr. Ronald L. Tottingham Day" and gave him the "Key to Sioux Falls." Erich P. McCandless was also installed as co-pastor on that day. The McCandlesses' moved back to South Dakota from Australia, where they served for 10 years as missionaries. On January 1, 2007, Erich P. McCandless, DMin, was installed as senior pastor with Pastor Tottingham becoming the under-pastor and chancellor of the Divinity School. Empire Baptist Temple has had just 2 pastors in all of its years with as many as 13 ordained preachers in the membership at one time.
Amidst a global recession, the Lord laid on Dr. McCandless' heart to call for a sacrificial offering to lead EBT completely out of debt. As the offering was counted on Christmas day 2008, EBT entered a new phase of history being 100% debt free! This new status is allowing EBT more freedom to use all monies towards the ministries of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Empire Baptist Temple has always been aggressive to reach out into the community with the gospel witness. Establishing “preaching stations” wherever the Lord will open a door has been a normal mission for the church. Over the years ministry outreaches have included: a legislative lobby; state penitentiary, federal prison and county jail ministries; military and veterans group ministries; publishing ministry for books and tracts, an international newspaper, the Doorstep Evangel; Bible College and Divinity School; Christian academy, ministries to community youth groups such as the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Squadron, and many more. Currently, the staff and ministry students hold an average of 11 preaching services every week, most of those on Sunday alone. Dr. Ron Tottingham, PhD, LitD, has written 40 books/booklets and several tracts. Dr. McCandless and other staff members are also authors.
EBT praises the Lord for his goodness and the undeserved and unearned blessings he continues to bestow. The church will continually reach people for Christ, wherever the Lord will open doors, until we see him face to face.
The Lineage of Empire Baptist Temple
We begin the history of Empire Baptist Temple of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, by quoting an epitaph found on a tombstone, which reads as follows:
"To the Memory of Doctor John Clark, one of the original purchasers and proprietors of this island and one of the founders of the First Baptist Church of Newport, its first pastor and munificent benefactor; He was a native of Bedfordshire, England, and a practitioner of physics in London. He, with his associates came to this island from Massachusetts in March 1638, O.S., and on the 24th of the same month obtained a deed thereof from the Indians. He shortly after gathered the church aforesaid and became its pastor..."
Throughout the grand history of the United States, Empire Baptist Temple can trace her lineage as a church of the Lord Jesus Christ. A look at more modern times starts in 1955, when missionary Don White out of the Grace Baptist Church of Middletown, Ohio, began services in Anchorage, Alaska. In January of 1956, that church was organized as the Bible Baptist Church of Anchorage. One of the men of that church was sent by the U.S. Air Force to Grand Forks, North Dakota. Upon arrival, this man, Sergeant Bruce Milene, contacted his pastor, Don White, in Alaska and reported that there was no true Baptist church in the Grand Forks, North Dakota/East Grand Forks, Minnesota area. Don White then told Bruce Milene to start one. Don White and Missionary Jim Jenkins came to Grand Forks, Minnesota, and helped begin the new church called Bible Baptist Church. Its first building was located at 813 South 11th Street, an old Union Hall. Jim Jenkins also helped the new church in its organization.
In March 1966, Bible Baptist Church of Grand Forks, Minnesota, issued a call to Gordon Silcox (a native of Minnesota who had pastored in Iowa and Oklahoma) to become the pastor of this new church. Gordon Silcox arrived the first week of April 1966, and pastored the church until June 1990. During his 24-year pastorate, over 70 men surrendered and trained to preach the gospel and many churches were started and organized out of Bible Baptist Church. One of the early churches to be organized was Bible Baptist Church of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, (later known as Empire Baptist Temple). This church was established in April 1974 by Ronald L. Tottingham and was officially organized in 1977. Out of Empire Baptist Temple over a dozen churches have been organized, mostly in North Dakota and northern Minnesota, and several missionaries have been sent around the globe.
In June 1990 Pastor Silcox resigned Bible Baptist Church in Grand Forks, Minnesota, and the church called Mike Custer, long-time associate and son-in-law to Gordon Silcox to pastor. Since then the church has started several new churches. In the spring of 1997 the church was flooded by the Big Red River of the North and totally lost all of its properties. The church relocated across the Minnesota and North Dakota border and remains a strong church for the cause of Christ today.
Empire Baptist Temple has a common link of faith and practice with the church that Christ started in his earthly ministry. When our Lord promised the perpetuity of his church in Matthew 16:18, he made it clear that there would always be New Testament Baptist churches on this earth until he returns for his saints at the rapture. We believe there is an unbroken chain of genuine New Testament Baptist churches from the days of the early apostles until the present time. Though we might not be able to find direct connecting links, we know that links exist between churches from the first church established by Christ down to today. Empire Baptist Temple of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has a rich heritage that goes all the way back to Christ's first church in Jerusalem.