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."
Two nearby Southern Baptist churches also help. Black Hills Baptist Church in Whitewood hosted about 175 mission team members for Connection Spearfish, and Foothills Baptist Church in Piedmont hosted another 75.
"It's a real blessing to have their partnership, and it's missions for them," Hixson said. "They get to be a part of what God is doing in Spearfish and the Black Hills. They really have a Kingdom mindset to cooperate together to build the Kingdom."
Involvement in missions locally and globally could be another key to the growth of Connection Spearfish.
Members have done construction projects for low income families in the community, helped raise money for school projects, volunteered at the local food bank and crisis pregnancy center, and much more, the pastor said.
"We're very, very involved in the community," Hixson said. "These are our folks learning to be generous and to serve."
Members of the church plant went on a mission trip to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation this summer to work on a construction project. They plan to go to Boston in the fall to help with a new church plant there and also to Moldova to serve as part of a dental missions trip.
Hixson credits Connection Spearfish's partner churches for their multiyear participation in missions work on the northern edge of the Black Hills.
"Long-term relationships are key to long-term success," Hixson said. "You can't do it in two years....
"I've prayed a prayer since I got here, that God would keep this work bigger than what we could take credit for," the pastor said. "He's already done abundantly more than we could have imagined."
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
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