When I believed God was burdening my heart to plant a church in my hometown, many people laughed or just shook their heads. You see, I am from Las Vegas, Nevada.
In 1977, I planned to graduate on May 11, get married ten days later, and assist my pastor in building a recent successful church plant in Burlington, North Carolina. That year, however, God changed my direction towards planting a church in Las Vegas. We lived in a church planting environment. Our college president planted a very successful church in his hometown. My pastor planted a church in his hometown. Each week I drove back and forth from Virginia to North Carolina and saw churches on every corner. Yet, as far as I knew in my hometown there was only one independent Baptist church. Fundamental Baptists were just not interested in this city. In fact, when it came to evangelism, many of my friends just looked at Las Vegas as hopeless.
There are several things my wife-to be and I faced in planting this church. We lacked experience as recent college graduates. No one was inviting us, and we knew of no one who would help when we arrived. We had no network or denomination from which we could raise support. We were going to be newlyweds, and we had no place to live or meet.
Despite the obstacles, I knew how God was leading us, and I resigned in February as the youth director in Burlington. In May, my wife and I both graduated, and ten days later we were married. In July, we moved from Lynchburg, Virginia, to Las Vegas, Nevada. Within a week, we joined Gateway Baptist Church, located in the northeast part of the Las Vegas valley. With the permission and direction of our new pastor, on September 11, 1977, we started Liberty Baptist Church as a mission out of Gateway Baptist Church. That Sunday, sixty-eight people were present, and two people put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.
It is now thirty-five years later, and this past year we averaged well over 800 people weekly. We have given nearly $400,000 to missionary work around the world. Through our missions program, Liberty Baptist Church has given the Gospel to millions of people. Through our local outreach and our missionary endeavors, there have been over 80,000 people who have trusted Christ as Lord and Saviour. That is to say, God has done a miracle in one of the most unlikely places in the United States.
Over the past several years, the Lord has allowed us to help several church planters in the Las Vegas valley. We thank God that all five of our children are involved in ministry here in the Las Vegas area. We have given the Gospel to every single home in the city of Las Vegas, and each year we give the Gospel to at least 200,000 homes in this valley. Praise the Lord for what He has done in Las Vegas, Nevada—my hometown.
Planting a church is no easy task. Looking back on our own church plant and helping several other church plants, we found the following ingredients to be vital for a successful church plant:
When Anna and I knew God was leading us to come to Las Vegas to start a church, we made a prayer list of material items we felt we needed to make our church successful. When we got here, we were amazed when the pastor of Gateway Baptist Church took us to a mini storage warehouse and opened the door. Inside was every material thing that we had prayed for, including hymnals, chairs, and a piano. We only lacked people. God hears and answers prayer.
There must be a passion for this church planting. If you have a passion, no amount of obstacles will keep you from accomplishing what God wants you to accomplish. This passion is not emotional excitement, but a daily interaction with the God of the Bible who confirms His plan in your life.
It is absolutely essential that a church planter is married and that he is married to the right woman. A church planter’s wife cannot have what I call the “nesting syndrome.” She must be willing to be at home and minister to the children, but she must also have a passion for the work of God. She has to be there Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and visitation. She has to be willing to take the children with you as you go door to door. She has to be willing to clean the nurseries, clean the toilets, and visit with people. A church planter cannot have a wife who just says, “I support my husband in whatever he wants to do.” He must have a wife that is involved in every aspect of their ministry.
It’s absolutely essential that you have a plan for outreach and follow-up. Dr. Jerry Falwell stood up in front of us as students my last year of college, lifted his fists, and said, “Boys, these knuckles have knocked on every single door in Lynchburg, Virginia.” When I heard that, I purposed to knock on every single door in Las Vegas, Nevada. Frankly, I didn’t know that they were going to keep on building new doors, so I was not able to accomplish knocking on every single door, personally. However, our church has given the Gospel to every home in the Las Vegas valley—twice. Once in 1991, when there were only 325,000 homes and again in 2004, when there were 629,000 homes.
Our initial plan was simple:
1. Knock on 100 doors per day, five days per week.
2. Follow-up on weekends and evenings.
3. Re-contact anyone who was interested by phone call and by a letter.
4. Personally revisit all our prospects the week we opened the doors.
It worked in 1977, and it is still working today. You must have a plan.
If you are going to succeed, you must work hard. You cannot have what I call the “field of dreams” mentality. You cannot just build it and expect people to come. You must go out and bring them in. Once they attend, you must go back and encourage them to keep coming and bring others. Church planting is just plain, hard work. You get up early and stay up late. You spend day after day with people. That is the life of a church planter. Then you get to hear somebody on Sunday say, “Well, preacher, I don’t know why you are so tired. You only work three hours a week.”
Keep your priorities straight. If you are going to maintain sanity and be the proper example, you must have your priorities right. These priorities are: first, your relationship with God; second, time with your wife; third, playing with and praying with your kids. Keeping these principles in check helped me and Anna overcome the obstacles that Satan put in front of us. It also allowed us to see God build His church here in this city.
It is my prayer these same principles will encourage and help you as you are planting a church to bring hope to your hometown.