|SPEARFISH, S.D. (BP) -- Its many partners help Connection Church in Spearfish, S.D., showcase the benefit of Jesus' assurance, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name...."
This two-year-old church plant already reaching into three nearby communities partners first of all with God, says church planter Doug Hixson. His wife Dana and two youngsters are his next closest partners, plus 10 major church partners and a dozen others who are helping start a church planting environment in the scenic Black Hills of South Dakota.
Two associate church planters and their families (funded, like Hixson, by major partners), as well as the Cooperative Program, Dakota Baptist Convention and North American Mission Board provide still more partners for Connection Church.
"From the very onset I felt the best way for our church to be involved in missions was the Cooperative Program," Hixson said. "I believe the Cooperative Program is the best tool we can use to ... support missions nationally and internationally."
The Cooperative Program is the way Southern Baptist churches work together through state conventions for theological education, cultural impact and a global missions thrust.
The first 25 percent of Connection Spearfish's local income goes to missions, starting with 10 percent for the Cooperative Program, plus 10 percent for church planting in the region, 1 percent to the Black Hills Area Baptist Association, and 4 percent for local ministries with which the church partners, such as the food bank and crisis pregnancy center in Spearfish.
"We determined right off that we would learn to live off 75 percent of our income and in that way model generosity to our members, to give them a bigger vision than just our church," Hixson said. "The Cooperative Program has been a key part of that.
"We're stretching people to think about people around the globe," the pastor added. "We're blessed as a church to be able to invest in sharing Christ with someone we won't meet until we get to heaven. We talk a lot about how our city needs Jesus, and the Black Hills, and outside of that, there's the Cooperative Program."
Hixson, his wife Dana and their children -- Ben, then 10, and Adyson, then 7 -- arrived in July 2010 in Spearfish from an 11-year pastorate in Pampa, Texas. They knew no one in the town of about 10,000 people and had no list of contacts to start with.
"If my wife was not as called to what we're doing as I am, there's no way we could be here, doing what we're doing," Hixson said. "It takes a whole family. My wife works as hard as I do; I've listened to my children pray for their friends. Our family is committed to this, not just me, and I can tell the same thing is true with Geoff and Jason."
He was speaking of Geoffrey Davis, who arrived in August 2011 as college and worship pastor, with his wife Jill and their family and of Jason and Beth Ford and their youngsters who arrived in January 2012 as small groups and missions pastor.
The Hixsons had arrived alone. "We saw it as an opportunity to impact the Black Hills with the Gospel of Jesus Christ," the pastor said. But mission teams he recruited before he left Texas soon arrived to help.
That first summer, the not-yet-a-church-plant hosted a dozen get-acquainted block parties and, from that, one family agreed to be part of the Hixsons' home Bible study in September 2010.
Fifty people participated in Connection Spearfish's first service on Easter 2011. A dozen or more mission teams canvassed the community that summer and hosted block parties with the help of the growing number of people interested in being a part of Connection Spearfish.
"We were told that people here weren't receptive to the Gospel and they would not want to come to a Southern Baptist church, but we haven't found that to be the case," Hixson said. "There's a large slice of our church without a church background.... We have a slogan: 'No perfect people allowed.' We're not concerned about where you've been. We want to help you find God's path for where you're going."
Early this summer, several of this year's 17 mission teams canvassed every home in Deadwood, Lead and Belle Fourche, S.D. -- all located within 10 miles of Spearfish -- inviting people to get-acquainted block parties. By mid-July, all the houses in the three towns had been "tagged" with a doorhanger inviting the occupants to a fun time, and attention moved to Spearfish for more of the same.
In all, about 20,000 people were contacted this summer by Connection Spearfish.
"Mission teams have been a big part of our growth," Hixson said. "They do more in a week than we could do in a month, and then at night, after they get off work, our local people come to help with the block parties. We had three of them a week this summer." Continued...