LAS VEGAS (BP) — Proximity to the neon lights of the world-famous Las Vegas entertainment corridor was never a main issue for the 17 families of Foothills Baptist Church who called Hoyt Savage as their first full-time pastor.
Not that they wanted to ignore or avoid the area that gives “Sin City” its nickname. Their focus, however, was simply on the streets where they lived — the new and fast-growing northwest part of Las Vegas.
“Within 15 minutes of the church there were 40,000 people,” Savage said of the community as it stood in 1982. “The question then was, ‘What could a tiny storefront church in northwest Las Vegas do to impact northwest Las Vegas and the city?’
“But we had a great core, loving people with great vision,” Savage told Baptist Press.
Community involvement, equipping and enabling new workers who might be gone within a year, and an emphasis on cooperating are the church’s strengths.
From a rented storefront to two buildings on 3.5 acres surrounded by tile-roofed homes, Foothills Baptist has grown with its community. So has its giving to the Cooperative Program, the mechanism Southern Baptists churches use to support state, national and international ministries and missions.
“From day one we started giving 10 percent to missions through the Cooperative Program, and 2 percent to our association,” said Savage, now in his 33rd year as pastor of the church where about 250 people participate in Sunday morning worship. The church now gives 11 percent and 2.5 percent.
“When I left seminary, I committed myself to lead whatever churches I pastored to always give a percentage [rather than dollar amount] to missions through the Cooperative Program so in good times and bad, that percentage would stay consistent,” Savage said. “And God has blessed. We gave 10 percent when our income was $80,000. We increased it to 11 percent in 1998-99, and our income is now a half-million dollars. When the church is blessed, CP is blessed.”
At the same time, the church has been a blessing, said Savage, who graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1982.
Foothills Baptist has strong children’s and youth ministries, offering Vacation Bible School which has enjoyed attendance over 400, including a block party. “We use that as a connection to our community,” Savage said.
A food pantry ministry has provided an open door to people with lives traumatized by the 2008 economic recession. The ministry began with an out-of-the blue grant from a stranger who had come to the church, asked what the pastor would do if money were no object, and returned a week later with a $35,000 check.
By 2014 the economy had recovered. Unemployment that had soared past 15 percent returned last year to a more typical 7 percent, and the church began offering the food pantry ministry “as needed,” rather than weekly.
In addition, Foothills Baptist partners with the Metropolitan Police Department to minister after acts of violence. A team from the church offers comfort and care to domestic violence victims as incidents occur.
When the church moved about 1.5 miles from its original storefront to its current location, neighborhood houses were brand new and the homeowners financially stable. But today, the homes in subdivisions surrounding the church are most often rented rather than owned, inhabited by single mothers and their children.
Knowing this, Foothills Baptist approached two schools in its area and offered assistance. Members of the church now partner with Child Evangelism Fellowship on one campus. Of the 50 or so youngsters who attend, a half-dozen have made professions of faith during the present school year.
The church has funded several events focusing on pupil affirmation and teacher appreciation, and volunteers are helping with annual field day activities. “I think we know our neighborhood well,” Savage said. “We want to partner alongside the teachers and administrators to help change the culture.
“Life is rough,” he said. “I think there are a lot of crisis issues that come when people move west. For example, very rarely are there more than two generations in our church. This indicates people have left their support systems,” leaving them more vulnerable in times of adversity.
“If a church is willing to process with people, there are opportunities to stand with people in their time of need,” Savage said. “You’re being God’s hands and feet, and in doing so, you win the opportunity to share the story of God’s personal love for them.”
“If churches are looking for open doors,” Savage said, “maybe we have to be willing to walk through the crisis times, and thereby win the opportunity to share God’ story.”
Ministry does require people to do the work, the pastor acknowledged.
“This part of the world is very transient,” Savage said. “If you’re going to build an effective church, you’ve got to plan for turnover — not for negative reasons; it’s just life.”
Military personnel stationed at Nellis Air Force Base as well as people who move to Las Vegas for secular jobs might be gone in a year. Some are committed, trained and effective leaders; others have potential. The church compensates by maximizing outreach through members as they are available.
“That’s been the heart of reaching, training and sending our people,” Savage said. “We are doing mission work when we’re doing our church ministry because a good portion of our people will not be here in a year. Our former members are all over the United States and the world, using or building on, in some other place, what they did here for God.”
Telling God’s story throughout the world is of central importance to Foothills Baptist. Savage, a trustee for 10 years with the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, led the church to a major involvement with two Middle Eastern nations. Several Foothills Baptist members have taken more than a dozen missionary trips to the Middle East, and at least 50 members have partnered with IMB missionaries on trips to other locations.
Partnering with churches, supporting and equipping future leaders and younger pastors, and mentoring others as Savage was mentored in his first years of ministry are all important aspects of Foothills Baptists’ emphasis on cooperating with other Southern Baptists.
Church members routinely provide training and resources for other churches in the Southern Nevada Baptist Association. Savage often meets with other leaders, depending on their needs and schedules, to be a sounding board, counselor and/or accountability partner.
“We’ve tried to help our people get a world vision,” Savage said. “Sharing God’s story takes more than just ministry in our own zip code and neighboring community.”