SBC Life Articles

Churches on Mission


Spurred by a vast reservoir of oil shale and a readiness to share the Gospel, Hazen Christian Fellowship in Hazen, North Dakota, wants to be ready for an influx of workers and their families into the western part of their state.

According to a U.S. Geological Survey news release in April, the twenty-five thousand-square-mile Bakken Foundation has an estimated 3 to 4.3 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil. A Kiplinger report described the Bakken field as "twice the size of Alaska's reserves." About two-thirds of the oil-laden shale is located in western North Dakota, but the formation also extends into Montana and Saskatchewan, Canada.

Hazen Christian Fellowship pastor Bob Pittman envisions a hoped-for activities center at the church as an extension of its missions vision. Even so, the vision starts with giving 15 percent of the church's undesignated offerings to missions, including 10 percent through the Cooperative Program, the Southern Baptist way of combining the efforts and resources of local churches to make a difference in the lives of people across the nation and around the world.

"God is not going to bless us to stockpile His resources," Pittman said. "With that motivation, we want to give as much as we can to help Southern Baptists in ministry around the world."

Jim Hamilton, executive director of the Dakota Baptist Convention, sees the church's plans for a new building as right on target for outreach in Hazen, a town of 2,600 people about eighty miles northwest of Bismarck, the state's capital city.

"God has strategically positioned Hazen Christian Fellowship to be a high impact church in its community," Hamilton said. "Pastor Bob has done a great job casting a Kingdom vision and preparing the church to move to the next level at the same time they have kept their Cooperative Program focus. I remember leading the church through their strategic plan and thinking, this pastor has the passion to make it happen and these people are catching it. Their plan for the new building is an answer to thinking through how they can meet people's needs in their community and introduce them to Jesus."

Pittman and his wife Becky left children, grandchildren, friends, and an established ministry in Houston twelve years ago after a visiting evangelist asked them to consider the needs and opportunities in North Dakota.

"We believe very much in missions," Pittman said. "There were some times it was a real struggle to give to the Cooperative Program, to have the money to even keep the lights on, and two or three times a church in Louisiana sent money to keep the propane on to heat the building. But from the beginning, the intent was to give 10 percent."

As Pittman sees it, "A church that is not willing to give is not really in line for the blessings of God. The Cooperative Program is an important part of who we are. We've been a recipient of CP dollars, and we want to give back."

Youngsters with receptive hearts flocked to backyard Bible clubs the Pittmans sponsored during their first months in Hazen in 1996 with the help of a group of Southern Baptist youth from North Carolina.

A TeamKID missions program came next and then a youth group started, each with the help of CP dollars.

"Both grew well, and we started having worship services in a one hundred-year-old building," Pittman recounted. "We bought it for $10,000 — the building, a lot and a house — and worshipped [there] for five years. Then we built where we are now" — a forty-by-eighty-foot one-story building on 3.5 acres that is debt-free. The congregation paid off a fifteen-year note in five years even while continuing its missions giving through the Cooperative Program and Prairie Partners Baptist Association.

"When we built this building we were running twenty-five to thirty people, and now we're running seventy to eighty, and when we get this new building up, it will double again," Pittman said. The activities center would be a metal gymnasium-sized, 4,500-square-foot building with classrooms on the side, finished by Southern Baptist volunteers to save on costs. It would serve as a worship center on Sunday and as a community gathering place the rest of the week. The current worship center, meanwhile, would be converted to additional education space.

The multi-purpose building could accommodate a basketball or volleyball game as well as a variety of classes such as basic homemaking, scrapbooking, cooking nutritionally for a family on a tight budget, mechanics, hunter safety, and woodworking.

"Anything we can come up with that will reach more people," Pittman said. "I see this building being used every day of the week."

A self-taught mechanic and experienced woodworker, Pittman anticipates leading classes on those subjects; Becky Pittman would share her homemaking knowledge; and others from the church could share their expertise.

The activities center will help grow the church and the Kingdom of God, Pittman said.

"It's the command of Jesus to go out into the community, to reach them and bring them in, where they can develop their relationship with the Lord," he said. "Ultimately, that's the goal of the whole thing."

Mercer County, where about ten thousand now live within driving distance of Hazen, includes a unique gasification plant that converts coal to natural gas, along with several coal mines and electrical generating plants.

And there are rich reserves of oil shale nearby.

Hazen is near the center of the Bakkan Foundation, which the Kiplinger business news service described as possessing "potentially enough to meet all U.S. oil needs for two decades."

"Figure on at least five years before the oil starts flowing in large volumes," the Kiplinger report noted in March. "A lot of work will need to be done first. In addition to installing drilling gear, firms must build supporting infrastructure, including roads, pipelines as well as new water, sewage and sanitation systems to meet the needs of workers and other area residents."

All the preliminary work means an influx of workers, Pittman said. In addition, workers who came in twenty years ago when the other energy plants opened are nearing retirement, which means their replacements also will be moving in. Retrofitting the plants with current technology also will add workers eager for employment that might pay $28 an hour or more.

"That's partly why we want to get this [building project] going," Pittman explained. "If we wait until the people get there, we'll be left in the dust. But if we can get this up, we'll be ready."

Another reason for moving ahead with construction of the multi-purpose activities center is the number of unchurched families in the area, Pittman said. A recent demographic study by the North American Mission Board found that the largest concentration of ages in the Hazen area were young children, ages 5 to 9; the second largest: people 35 to 39.

"That's what we're seeing, too," Pittman said. "We have a lot of young families in this area, and that's exactly who this building would reach out to."

The congregation's support of the Cooperative Program, meanwhile, fuels its interest in God's work across the globe.

"We do Missionary Moments videos, and that helps [the congregation] say, 'Hey, I'm a part of that.' It gives them a sense of accomplishment that they are helping the missionaries," Pittman said of the missions education resource available from state Baptist Conventions as well as the SBC Executive Committee.

Hazen Christian Fellowship ministers regularly at a local nursing home and a senior center. The church also recently developed a reciprocal partnership with a Missouri church. A mission trip to Missouri is anticipated for the summer of 2009 — the same time frame for construction to start on the church's new activities building.

"Because we have struggled financially over the years, there are those who say we need to hang on to what we have, but if we do that, we won't realize the real blessings God has for us," Pittman said.