[SLIDESHOW=39770,39771,39772]EDITOR’S NOTE: The annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 1-8, and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering provide support for missionaries who serve on behalf of Southern Baptists across North America. With a goal of $60 million, this year’s offering theme is “Send North America.” For more information, visit AnnieArmstrong.com.
SIOUX Falls, S.D. (BP) — “I guess it’s in our blood,” church planter Jonathan Land said.
More than 180 years ago, as Stephen F. Austin led the effort for Texas independence from Mexico, a friend of his, Josiah H. Bell, was equally resolute in a different way. Bell helped form the first Protestant church in Texas.
Bell started a family tradition that today reaches to the Dakotas: Land is Bell’s great, great, great, great grandson.
“I was born in Texas,” Land said of his Texas roots. “There’s a reason people don’t like people from Texas. They are just so arrogant about being from Texas. I used to be that guy.”
South Dakota has taken some edge off that arrogance.
Land’s father served Texas churches as a youth minister and pastor during Land’s childhood. At age 8, Land was asking the right questions, which led to a discussion with his dad about salvation. At the family’s breakfast table, Land prayed with his father and placed his faith in Christ. He remembers an immediate change.
“I remember the first few times it came out of my mouth,” Land said. “I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus.”
As a teenager, Land was studious, a self-described nerd. Still, he found ways to get into mischief.
“I distinctly look back and remember there were some moments when my life could have gone in a number of different directions than it has now,” Land said.
By his late teens, Land felt a call to ministry. He helped serve in the youth ministry of a small church that even allowed him to preach.
After high school, Land attended McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, on an academic scholarship and played baseball, now realizing that he worshipped the sport during his freshman year. But the pressure to keep a high grade point average and a new dating relationship with Shelby, his future wife, caused him to rearrange his priorities. He quit baseball and soon became interim pastor of a small West Texas church during the summer break.
“They showed me mercy each week,” Land recalled.
Making the Connection
Land enrolled at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey, intending to pursue Ph.D. studies. But again there was a change of direction when he realized that classroom teaching might not be his thing. So the Lands returned to Texas. He became a pastor in Groom and met Doug Hixson, who was a pastor up the road in Pampa in the same Baptist association.
“We had a similar passion to reach people with the Gospel, and we were actively engaged in it in West Texas,” Land said.
Hixson had moved his family in 2010 to Spearfish, S.D., to start Connection Church. His passion for church planting in the Dakotas grew to the point that Hixson sent a text to Land asking what he thought about planting a church six hours away in Sioux Falls.
“I had sent a credit card bill to Sioux Falls once or twice,” Land said, “but other than that I had no real knowledge of it.”
Through the Dakota Baptist Convention and with Annie Armstrong Easter Offering financial support from NAMB, Land became a church planter apprentice with Hixon in Spearfish. Apprentice is one of the levels of involvement in the North American Mission Board’s Farm System, which seeks to assist churches in discovering, developing and deploying the next generation of missionaries.
“That was a big deal for Doug and me,” Land recalled. “Some guys can just jump out there and do what it takes. We needed some skills to know what to do.”
After the move, Land soon became the lead church planter and worship leader at Connection Church of Spearfish’s first plant, located in Belle Fourche. But Land’s sights were on Sioux Falls. With help from existing churches in door-to-door canvassing and multiple block parties in Sioux Falls, a small group of interested people came together, enough for Land to drive regularly six hours across the state to lead them.
High religious IQ
Sioux Falls is a thriving metropolitan area of 250,000 people where financial services companies help fuel the economy. Once Land and his wife moved there with their two children, they bought a fixer-upper home with meeting space and started hosting Bible studies.
“We aren’t walking into a place that has never heard the name of Jesus,” Land said. “They have a high religious IQ [but] the majority have not been following Jesus.”
Connection Church in Sioux Falls launched on Easter 2014 with 43 in attendance at a local elementary school.
“We gave our entire offering away to church planting and Annie Armstrong,” Land said. The church now contributes 25 percent of its undesignated tithes to missions.
Within three months, they broke the 50-attendee mark, which is a milestone for Southern Baptists in the Dakotas.
Connection Church in Sioux Falls is attracting an above average number of single young adults. Their level of education varies, but they are all working in good jobs.
Land’s passion for the Dakotas and the potential for church plants there has grown rapidly. “If we had planters and money,” he said, “we could equip people to plant on a regular basis.”
Land looks forward to the day when Connection Church in Sioux Falls is helping other church plants, much like Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview, Texas, which supports the Connection Church plants financially and with volunteers.
That would make his great, great, great, great grandfather proud. Even better, Land is part of a multigenerational church planting legacy, one that will continue as Connection Church plants churches that will plant churches.
Watch Jonathan Land talk about his calling and his road to becoming a church planter: