Tuesday, October 25, 2016

We Go to Church in South Dakota

“Location, location, location,” is what the real estate people say are the three most important particulars for selling property. Of course, location is an important factor for a church as well. Let’s admit upfront that when you begin with South Dakota as your location, you’re unlikely to form a mega-church. At least not a mega-church like, say, Saddleback in Southern California. The population of Rapid City, South Dakota is about 70,000 people, so if if Rick Warren decided to take up residence there, it is unlikely he’d build another church with 20.000 attendees.

But location still matters within a region, and this week we visited two ministries that are making the most of the place God put them.

The Filling Station, Sturgis
Driving on I-90 by the small city of Sturgis (population 7,000), it would be hard to miss the large white cross along the roadside (illuminated in red at night). You won’t be surprised to learn the building is the Mission at the Cross, nor that ministry happens in a variety of ways.

On Friday night, we went to a meeting of The Filling Station (note the garage doors on the building). The flyer we’d seen encouraged people to arrive early for a time of prayer. We did, but the meeting’s leaders hadn’t yet arrived. Robin, who was waiting in her truck, told us Bill and Jeri usually arrived early to open up and make coffee. When Bill and Jeri arrived (still technically early, before the start of the 6:15 prayer time), they explained they’d been delayed by traffic from the Kenny Rogers concert being in town, in addition to a flock of bighorn sheep dawdling across the thoroughfare (not a likely problem for other locations).

After the coffee got started, we had a brief prayer time. Then, other people arrived for a time of worship and teaching. Though all the marked spaces in the parking lot are for motorcycles, most people came in cars and trucks. Cooler weather makes for fewer bikers.

Bill told us that during the summer, many bikers come to the spot. On motorcycle rallies during the summer months, almost all the stops available in small towns are bars. The Mission at the Cross is glad to host such events.

Bill said there are three main parts of their ministry. First, there is the Filling Station, the event we attended. It’s a worship and fellowship time designed to encourage and equip believers. The second is Hellfighters, a ministry focused on evangelism. Hosting events for bikers falls under that ministry, but they also bring tents to events for bikers where they offer to pray for people and share Jesus. The third area of focus is meeting needs. The ministry is working on a toy drive for needy children in the area, which includes Indian reservations. They also try to meet practical needs such as providing free oil changes for single moms and others struggling financially.

Not only does the ministry try to reach ordinary bikers, they also try to reach outlaw bikers (the 1% of biker gangs that participate in criminal activity). In the past, such groups have helped with the toy drive, and they have seen members of such gangs come to faith in Christ.

Hills of Grace, Rapid City
We worshiped in another unique location on Sunday morning at the Rushmore Mall. Located among outlets for hair cuts, cutlery, and home furnishing is an outlet for the Gospel of Jesus, Hills of Grace Fellowship. (Tom, who occasionally stands near the door during services, said he enjoys watching people as they pass by during worship services. During the worship, we also thought it was fun to look over occasionally at shoppers peering in the windows.)

We arrived a little before 9:30 am for Sunday School. Along with classes for children and youth, there are three adult Sunday School classes: one for women, one for men, and the mixed class we choose.

Before the class got started, a pastor appreciation card was passed to be signed and a discussion of the fires caused by the lithium batteries in Samsung Galaxy 7 phones led to talking about the futility of finding an ideal energy source. More chairs needed to be brought in, as the table was surrounded by a capacity crowd (16 of us). Then the real discussion began on the first chapter of John and whether John the Baptist did indeed fulfill the prophecies of Elijah’s return from Malachi. There was also discussion of the different forms of baptism, with Tom noting that this wasn’t an issue of salvation, but a step of obedience. The discussion went until nearly 10:30 am, when the worship service was set to begin.

We walked across to the storefront where the worship service is held. Announcements, including a video for a revival (Refresh Rapid City) that the church would be sponsoring in November, started the service. A guest speaker, Dr. Cliff Ozman of Calvary Baptist in Beaumont, Texas, greeted Hills of Grace via video to encourage people to invite others for this Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday night event. People were encouraged to look at the empty chairs (there were not a lot, but there were some) and imagine God filling those chairs. There was also an announcement for the Lottie Moon Christmas offering, which goes to the international work of the Southern Baptists.

We happened to be seated near the single restroom for the sanctuary area. Quite a few children made their way to that door during the service. The church has quite a few families with small children, and after a time of singing, offering, and a brief children’s sermon, most kids were dismissed to Children’s Church. Still, we noticed a number of children who stayed for the sermon.

There was a greeting time during the service, and I talked with Wayne (who had been in Sunday School and brought up the subject of phones on fire). I asked him what had drawn him to Hills of Grace, and he said that “the church I was going to before didn’t cater much to kids, but they do here.” He pointed to an elderly woman sitting in the back row and said, “Miss Jean has cared for all of our kids.” He said Hills of Grace is open to everyone, and that there’s a family feel to the church.

Pastor Jimmy Dettman began his sermon by noting that the week before, a representative of the Family Heritage Alliance had preached, noting “I do not like giving up my pulpit.” He also noted that he and his wife had just been to a pastors and wives retreat (“The first time we’ve had without our children for seventeen years.”) Dettman preached on Ephesians 4: 1 - 3 and the need to strive for unity in the church and to learn to love one another.

I'd had an opportunity to talk with Jimmy before the service. He’s been the church’s pastor only since May. The church was founded nine years ago, but when, a few years ago, the church planter left to care for his parents, the church lost some members. Another pastor took over for a couple of years and then left.

Jimmy (who’s been a member of Hills of Grace for the past several years) was called to be pastor of the church. He’s a full time teacher, and said he believes calling up someone from a congregation to minister is a good Biblical model.

When you go to Hills of Grace Fellowship, you can’t help noticing that it’s situated next to the “At Home” store. It seems that a number of people at the church would use that store’s name for their fellowship.

The Filling Station
Service Length: 1 hour 21 minutes
Sermon Length: 32 minutes
Visitor Treatment: we (and two other visitors) were asked to introduce ourselves to the group; people greeted us before and after the service began, introducing us to others in the fellowship
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Count: 14
Snacks: cookies, coffee (but we didn't see anyone eating them)
Musicians: guitar (man), vocals (woman)
Songs: "Power in the Blood"
"Open the Eyes of my Heart"
"Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone"
Miles to Church: 34

Hills of Grace Fellowship
Service Length: 1 hour 18 minutes
Sermon Length: 47 minutes
Visitor Treatment: We were greeted by several people when we came in, and one woman made sure we met the pastor. During the worship service, visitors were encouraged to fill out the visitor card (we hadn't gotten one); there was a connection card in the program that regular attenders were encouraged to fill out. We filled that out and dropped it into the offering basket. During Sunday School, we were invited to sign the pastor appreciation card (which we did).
Followup by Tuesday Morning: We had an email from Jimmy, the pastor, on Monday morning
Our Rough Count: 75
Probable Ushers’ Count: 100
Snacks: coffee cakes, donuts, coffee, hot water for tea or cocoa, ice water
Musicians: acoustic guitar (woman)
vocals (3 women)
Songs: "Lord Reign in me"
"Strength Will Rise"
"Open the Eyes of my Heart"
Bless the Lord, O My Soul/10,000 Reasons"
"All Who Are Thirsty"
Miles to Church: .5
Miles from Start: 39,561
Total 2016 Miles: 39,275