By: Zach Riggs
When God calls a family to start a church in a new city, He’s asking them to leave everything and start again. Starting a new life around unfamiliar people in a strange city is scary, difficult and daunting.
That’s what happened to my family. In 2001 my dad, a pastor at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., helped other pastors plant a church in Las Vegas called Hope Baptist Church. The following year, through a crazy set of circumstances, God called our family out to Las Vegas to join Hope.
We moved from green and humid north Atlanta to dry and desert Las Vegas. My dad served as missions pastor for Hope, and I grew up a PK (pastor’s kid). This meant my childhood was vastly different than many of my friends’ childhoods. My entire life was uprooted by the church planting process. But I loved it, and the lessons I learned in Vegas were exceedingly valuable in shaping my outlook on people’s need for the gospel and what’s really important.
Growing up in a church plant taught me four key truths about ministry and life:
1. Patience and flexibility really are virtues.
Church planting has a lifecycle all its own. People, locations, offices, equipment and events spin in and out of a church plant’s life like a revolving door. When we first got to Vegas, my dad literally had a closet for an office, and he was fine with that. But the same challenges requiring flexibility and patience are those that make serving a church plant adventurous and rewarding. I got to see many lives completely transformed by the gospel, and that wouldn’t have happened without God’s work through Hope Baptist Church.
2. Don’t mind being portable.
One of the most important (read: stressful) aspects of starting a church is where to meet. That becomes increasingly difficult as the church grows. Hope Baptist Church met in a living room, then they gathered in a Boy Scouts Center before building their own building. During this time the church remained totally portable (meaning they had to set-up and tear-down all chairs and equipment every Sunday). When Hope built their own building, they quickly outgrew it, so they were forced to go back to being portable, meeting in a high school gym while they built a larger building. The growth process was exhausting, but it knit Hope together as devoted volunteers worked week in and week out. Our willingness to be portable also meant more people were reached, because making sure people knew they were welcome was a priority.
3. Express yourself.
Take it from me; if you’re growing up in a church plant and show any hint of creative or musical ability, someone will ask you to join the youth band. Count on it. God changed my life in Vegas through a Hawaiian intern named Zeke. He taught me how to play bass, which led to acoustic guitar, which led to piano, which led to singing and leading worship. Without the close-knit community of Hope, I may never have developed these talents. I thank God for that, and I’m grateful for the risks required of people who commit themselves to church planting. Those risks result in changed lives—including mine.
4. People may put poker chips in the offering.
Okay, maybe this is just a problem for Vegas churches.
I love Hope Baptist Church and the kingdom work they did and are doing today. Coming from someone who grew up in a church plant and saw NAMB’s Send Network strategy up close, I have a deep respect for church planting, North American missionaries and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® (AAEO) that helps support them. Churches like Hope have been built from the ground up because of AAEO, and every dollar given to AAEO directly supports missionaries and church plants across North America. These are wonderful churches doing glorious work in Christ, and they are changing lives by faithfully preaching Jesus’ forgiveness and loving through His grace.
Zach Riggs is a writer and worship leader living in Atlanta, Georgia. He believes strongly in the North American Mission Board’s strategy to plant churches in Send Cities.