Baptist Church Planting Continues, Despite Pandemic Challenges
JACKSONVILLE – Southern Baptists are still planting churches in the United States and around the world, despite the challenges posed by covid-19.
Doug Hixson, a former pastor from Arkansas, is preparing to open Connection Church in Longmont, Colorado, next year.
In Evanston, Wyo., Aaron Leggett started Bear River Church. He meets in the For Pete’s Sake cafe on Main Street, just below the Thankful Hearts Yoga studio.
Closer to home, Ahmad Muqtasid and his wife, Tagel, have started a ministry focused on the apartment dwellers in Maumelle.
On Sunday evening, members of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention gathered at the First Baptist Church in Jacksonville for a Mission Connection meet and greet dinner with Hixson, Muqtasid, South Florida missionary Tim Wolfe and Brian Smart of the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention.
After tasting Greek food at Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe, they focused on the missions.
“These are really souls,” said Bob Fielding, state convention consultant for chaplaincy and national / international missions.
Although the covid-19 restrictions placed barriers in the path of church planters, they have not proven to be insurmountable, the speakers said.
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The Southern Baptists, at their annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, in June, approved a strategic mission plan known as Vision 2025. It seeks to increase the number of Southern Baptist churches by 5,000 over the course of the next five years; at the last count, the denomination numbered 47,592 churches. The plan also calls for a net increase of 500 full-time, fully-funded Southern Baptist missionaries.
Starting a congregation from scratch isn’t easy, Hixson told the crowd.
âThis is the second time that we are planting a church,â he said. “Fools do it once. Fools do it twice.”
TO THE NORTH
Twelve years ago, Hixson and his wife, Dana, moved to Spearfish, SD, population 12,193, and founded a Southern Baptist Church.
After a brief stay in Texas, the native couple from Arkansas agreed to return north.
âWhy did we move to Longmont to plant the church? It is because there is an incredible need for a Gospel voice in a very beautiful, very dark place,â he said.
Located 80 km north of Denver, the city has 98,885 residents. Depression is high and drug use is widespread, he said. Marijuana has been legal for recreational use since 2012. Broadcasts of the Arkansas Razorbacks are rare except when the team wins, he noted.
Evangelicals are rare in this fast growing region of Colorado, he said.
âNine out of ten people I see every day don’t know Jesus,â Hixson said, citing data from the North American Mission Board.
Since moving to the city in June, the Hixsons have focused on meeting their neighbors and building breakthroughs in the community.
Connection Church is not expected to have its public launch until fall 2022.
ALL HANDS ON THE BRIDGE
Before starting a business of this size, missionaries study the target area and browse demographics. But there is no artificial formula that guarantees success, Hixson said in an interview.
âNo matter the strategy, the city or the goal, if you don’t have a call from the Lord, it is impossible to complete the task,â he said.
A person cannot do it alone, said his wife, Dana.
âPlanting a church takes a whole family commitment,â she said.
“[During] our first church plant, our children were young, in grades two and five, and everyone had a role to play. We were all involved, âshe said.
In this type of missionary work, âYou need everyone on deck, so to speak, and [it’s] definitely a call not only to Doug’s life as a senior planter, but also to my life, âshe said.
Initially a regional body, the Southern Baptist Convention has experienced extraordinary growth during its first 150 years, largely by planting churches in every corner of the country.
Since the 1960s, it has been the largest Protestant denomination in the country. After peaking at 16.3 million in 2006, membership began to decline slowly and steadily, dropping to 14.1 million in 2020.
Baptists are eager to see these trends reversed. In part, they’re motivated by the belief that hell is real and that the souls of millions of Americans are in danger.
Leggett, an Arkansas pastor for 17 years, had a church in Southside. Now it is focused on the southwest corner of Wyoming.
Evanston, population 11,747, is less than five miles from the Utah border. For the Southern Baptists, at least, Evanston was not fertile ground.
âOn a Sunday like yesterday morning, there could be 120 people in a church believing the gospel somewhere,â Leggett said.
Evanston Chamber of Commerce director Tammy Staley said there are plenty of churches to choose from in her community.
âI’m countingâ¦ around 25,â she said.
“Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Baptist [church], Lutherans, Episcopalians, Catholics, Seventh-day Adventists [and] Jehovah’s Witnesses, âshe said.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is most present, but members of the Church of the Nazarene, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and the Assemblies of God are also coming together, she said.
“98% ARE LOST”
Regardless of the number of churches, the vast majority of Evanston’s population is still not reached, Leggett said Thursday.
“More than 98% [are] lost and I haven’t heard the good news from Jesus, âhe said, attributing the figure to the Wyoming Baptist State Convention.
âWe always share the gospel with love, but nothing would be more distasteful than not sharing the gospel with people who haven’t heard it or need to hear it,â said Leggett .
While Hixson and Leggett left Arkansas for missionary work, Muqtasid sees central Arkansas as his field of mission.
âOver 90% of the people who live in apartment communities have no religious affiliation. It blew me away,â Muqtasid told the group, citing research from a para-ecclesiastical organization known as ‘Apartment Life.
Although good churches already exist in Maumelle, they do not reach most people who rent apartments, he added.
âI was taught a long time ago in the little Baptist churches in Arkansas that if you want to catch a lot of fish, go where the others don’t go,â he said.
âI specifically spoke to God in prayerâ¦ and God put on my heart to go to apartment communities,â he said.
In August, he and his wife, Tagel, left their home and moved into the River Pointe apartment complex, he said.
Rather than rushing to start a conventional church with Sunday morning worship services, Muqtasid’s focus is primarily on relationship building and small group evangelism. Sometimes he revised his plans, postponing larger gatherings due to health concerns.
âWe were born on covid-19, so it’s always been a cautious approach, a prayerful approach,â he said.
Doug Hixson is a church planter from Arkansas. He is currently working to launch a new Southern Baptist congregation in Longmont, Colorado, north of Denver.
Dana Hixson (pictured) and her husband, Doug, are working on the founding of a new Southern Baptist Church in suburban Denver, Col.
Aaron Leggett is a Baptist pastor from Southern Arkansas who planted a church in Evanston, Wy. The community near the state’s border with Utah has few evangelicals, he said. ..[Photo taken Oct. 25, 2021 in Cabot.]
Hot Springs Baptist Church pastor Mansley Beasley (left) shares a moment of light Tuesday with Chuck Barrett of the Carey Baptist Association at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention annual meeting, held in Cabot . Beasley’s term as president ended this week following a rally emphasizing the need for evangelists. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Frank E. Lockwood)
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