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Reno church uses visibility to share Gospel, counteract sin

RENO, Nev. (BP)–South Reno Baptist Church is one of the best-known churches in Reno, Nev., for at least three reasons: location, location, location.

South Reno Baptist was stop No. 51 Oct. 4 on SBC President Bobby Welch’s national bus tour of rallies in Southern Baptist churches to generate a sense of urgency about evangelism toward the kickoff of “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign which has the goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.

“We’re in probably one of the most prime properties in all of Reno,” said Joe Taylor, South Reno Baptist’s pastor since December 1993. The city’s growth has placed upscale neighborhoods around the church “and we’re on McCarran Boulevard, which loops the city, so we’re very much a regional church.” Because of its location, South Reno Baptist has hosted a number of Reno’s high-profile funerals, such as services for soldiers killed in Iraq.

And, just by being in Reno, the church faces the challenge of city’s reputation for godlessness.

South Reno Baptist was founded in 1980, when new pastor Tony Adair had a dream of building a church on seven acres of land that, at the time, was far from the developed areas of Reno. John Sullivan, today executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention and then-pastor of Broadmoor Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., stood with Adair on the property.

“If you want to start a work here in Reno, then we’ll start it,” Sullivan said to Adair, according to the church’s history. Construction volunteers from the Louisiana church helped build a typical first-unit, rectangular building for South Reno Baptist.

By 1990, the eight-lane McCarren Boulevard had been opened, which placed South Reno Baptist outside the city “walls” as part of the “exclusive” area of town.

“Caughlin Ranch grew this way, where the homes start at $1 million,” Taylor said. “None of this was here 10 years ago.”

Not much of the church was, either. Today about 600 people worship each Sunday at South Reno Baptist in a building constructed in 1994 for a thousand-member congregation.

“Our church is an up-and-coming, growing group,” Taylor said. “There were 42 who voted me in as pastor, after more than two years as interim. We were stuck for a long time because the building we were in didn’t seat 100 people.”

South Reno Baptist added a second worship service the last Sunday of September this year to accommodate its continuing growth and to provide worship options: One service is somewhat more contemporary; the other, somewhat more traditional; but neither is extremely different from the other, the pastor said.

“Our services are always upbeat and wind down to encounter God,” Taylor said. “I do expository speaking with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. I do a ‘What the Bible says about….’ series twice a year. We don’t beat people up about it; we just speak the truth and draw a thick line in the sand about social issues. The rest of the time I preach through books [of the Bible].”

The congregation responds, as do others: At least 75 people have been baptized so far this year at South Reno Baptist.

“We live in the most unchurched county in the nation, according to George Barna and the U.S. Census Bureau,” Taylor said. “Most churches out here aren’t growing, but people know us here. We do advertise our congregation –- our logo [states,] ‘A friendly church that cares.’

“We’re well-known for Iraq soldiers’ funerals,” the pastor continued. “That’s because the church is one of the biggest worship centers in Reno, and its right on McCarren, so there’s easy access for everyone in the city. We also host ‘Line of Duty’ funerals for police and firefighters.”

Reno’s proclivity toward a sin-filled lifestyle is one of the church’s key challenges, the pastor said. Gambling and prostitution available 24/7 brings in an unhealthy element to Nevada, yet the core problem, Taylor said, is the love of money.

“The casino workers are generally pretty embarrassed about what they do,” he noted. “But it’s been a long time since I baptized a pit boss. The locals don’t gamble a lot because they find they don’t make a lot of money that way. But for those willing to do whatever, there is money to be made here, and you can get addicted to the money.”

Prostitutes -– called “servers” in Nevada -– can make so much money in a relatively safe environment [as compared with the streets of major metropolitan areas] that they become numb to what the work does to them emotionally, the pastor said. Exotic dancers -– called “strippers” in former eras –- face similar problems.

“Girls have told us they can make in a day more than I can as a pastor in a month,” Taylor said. “But they’re emotionally beat up. They’ll make a profession of faith, but it’s so easy just to show back up and make a bunch of money, to get ahead for a few months. You’ve got to get them out of here. We’ve got an arrangement with a Christian group in San Francisco where they can go to get a fresh start in a new setting.”

Reno also hosts a variety of godless events, such as a recent weeklong “Burning Man” festival that drew about 30,000 people for an “anything goes” event -– nudity, unbridled sex, illegal drugs.

“It is the most disheartening thing you have ever seen,” Taylor said. “The week before that was the ‘gay pride’ parade, the second-largest of its kind in the nation. A month ago it was a swingers convention.”

South Reno Baptist counteracts the sinlessness with a variety of God-centered events and activities. The church is a place for friendship, learning, enrichment, service and worship, according to its website, www.southreno.com.

While Reno is known all around the world for its sin, “one day we want to be known all around the world for our healthy churches,” Taylor said.