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Iowa church makes connections with community to attract people

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (BP)–Making connections is the main focus of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City.

Southern Hills, in northwest Iowa about 100 miles north of Omaha, Neb., was stop No. 40 Sept. 28 on Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch’s bus tour of Southern Baptist churches across the nation, underscoring the cause of evangelism in kicking off “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign which has the goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.

“The church is the only organization in the world that exists for the non-members,” said Mark Hensley, pastor since October 2002. “We’ve got to keep that as the focus, the focal point.”

A congregation of about 275 in two Sunday morning worship services, Southern Hills has grown by connecting with its community and across the globe in a variety of ways. Results include about 30 baptisms last year.

The church is entering its fifth season of the evangelistic Upward Basketball program. In Sioux City, it’s a multi-church effort led by Southern Hills that last year involved about 400 youngsters.

For the first time, last year the local Catholic school system permitted the distribution of about 2,000 brochures about the winter season program. The season lasts eight weeks and includes Bible study during breaks in practice and an evangelistic message given at each game for parents, friends and classmates to hear.

Several people have joined Southern Hills because of connections made through the Sioux City WorldChangers construction mission projects, which for the last several years have brought in nearly 300 high school students each summer for community repair and renovation projects.

For the last two years, men of the church have conducted an oil change ministry for single mothers in the community and church.

“We do more ‘event evangelism,'” Hensley said. “One spring we had yellow and pink and green bags, 300 of them, all over the platform. Inside we had information about the church, and chips and salsa.”

Attached to each bag was the slogan: “Man shall not live by bread alone. Sometimes you need chips and salsa.” Church members passed the bags out in the community.

“We harnessed the strength of the congregation for that, instead of just a few,” the pastor said.

The women’s ministry at Southern Hills, led by Phyllis Pennington, is one of Southern Hills’ strengths, Hensley said. It’s friendship evangelism — perhaps crafts or trading baked goods — mixed with Bible study, and it has branched out to nearby communities.

Southern Hills youth are “catching fire and being instrumental” in reaching the community with Backyard Bible Clubs, the pastor said.

“We’ve done some innovative things that didn’t work,” Hensley said. “Television ads didn’t get much response, but we put that hook in the water.”

Something that did work, he said, was a midweek meal in the church’s gym that took place at round tables. On the agenda was music and a short devotion. Overnight, it seemed, attendance jumped from 15 to 90, where it held steady throughout the year.

“At the tables, we look in the eyes of each other and connect with them,” Hensley said. “Each table writes notes of affirmation to some of the hundred [Southern Baptist] churches in Iowa. We’ll send out eight to 10 postcards a week to state staff, directors of mission, and many, many churches in the state.”

Southern Hills has a strong commitment to missions, the pastor said. The church gives 13 percent of its undesignated offerings to the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ unified giving plan for national and international missions and ministries. The church also gives 3 percent to the Northwest Baptist Association and lesser percentages to local missions, including a food pantry, homeless shelter and Christian radio station.

Southern Hills financially assists four mission churches in Kingley, Iowa, and Orange City, Iowa, and Hispanic and Korean missions in Sioux City. The Korean congregation uses Southern Hills’ facilities.

The church also supports the ministry of a former member who pastors in Chicago and the ministry of two former members who serve in Poland.

“What’s worse than being lost?” Hensley asked. “Being lost and having no one look for you. The task of the church is populating heaven. We have to keep asking, What are we doing to reach our objective? It’s easy to rest on past successes without keeping the main thing the main thing. We need to ask two questions: What’s our business? And, How’s business?”