SBC Life Articles

Friends Help Friends Start New Church Plants

Connection Church in Spearfish, South Dakota

Worship at Connection Church in Spearfish, South Dakota. Photos courtesy of Connection Church.

Doug Hixson would say that he’s not an administrator—that he needs an administrator—but with vision, a strong work ethic, and friends across the nation, the former Texas pastor is in the process of planting his fourth church in five years in South Dakota.

Connection Church of Spearfish, the church Hixson started in 2010, is the multiplying (or sending) church. Connection Church of Belle Fourche, also in the Black Hills of western South Dakota, was started in 2013 with Stephen Carson as church planting pastor. Connection Church of Sioux Falls, on the eastern edge of South Dakota, was started in 2014 with Jonathan Land as church planting pastor. Connection Church of Sturgis, the third to be started in the Black Hills, is slated to launch by Christmas, with Jared Benson as church planting pastor.

At least fifty mission teams from several states have helped the church plants over the years by leading in door-to-door visits, block parties, and a variety of other outreach events in the communities where the churches are being established. The example of enthusiastic mission teams also helped instill in the growing congregations the importance of continuing outreach.

“Part of who we wanted to be as a church was to be active in reaching people,” Hixson said, referring specifically to the first plant: Connection Church of Spearfish. “In the first year, we knocked on every door in our city of ten thousand at least three times.”

With continuing effort over the last five years, fifty-two people have been baptized at Connection Spearfish. At least two-thirds have been eighteen or older, and probably half have been thirty or older, the pastor reported.

Hixson also led the Belle Fourche and Sioux Falls church plants to focus on outreach that would raise awareness of those new churches.

“Doug [Hixson] has a great work ethic,” said Carson of Belle Fourche. “He works hard to meet people and to minister to the community.

“But I think first of all that God called him to this area, and God is blessing Doug for his obedience to come,” Carson continued. “I believe God has blessed their commitment to give away resources—finances and people—to reach their community and to plant churches.”

That generosity is DNA-deep. From day one, Connection Spearfish has given 10 percent of its offerings to church planting and another 10 percent to missions through the Cooperative Program—the way Southern Baptist churches across the nation work together in reaching the people of the world with the Gospel message. An additional 5 percent is earmarked for “local missions.” Connection Spearfish has led Connection Belle Fourche and Connection Sioux Falls to do the same.

“We believe God has called us to be generous to missions,” Hixson said. “I don’t believe we would have grown so fast if we hadn’t been. . . . Our members want to be part of something that is active on mission for God.

“The Cooperative Program gives us the network to do missions around the world,” the pastor continued. “There’s no way without the Cooperative Program that we could support the sharing of the Gospel on every continent and train the next generation of pastors and missionaries. We could do a scaled-down model, but it wouldn’t be as effective.”

About two hundred participate in Sunday morning worship at Connection Spearfish. About 150 attend Connection Belle Fourche; about seventy, Connection Sioux Falls; and two home Bible studies in Sturgis are in preparation for that as-yet-unrealized church plant.

“God has blessed to allow us to see growth, and part of that is because we’re outreach-oriented,” Hixson said. “We’re trying to attract new people who don’t have a church in this community. We do a lot of kindness outreaches, such as taking a box of donuts into a business, and telling them, ‘We want to share God’s love with you because of what He’s done for us.’

“We want everything we do as a church to be very outreach-oriented and evangelistically-centered,” the pastor continued. “We’re trying to attract new people who don’t have a church in this community.”

Connection Spearfish uses small groups to build accountability and community, and to encourage participation in outreach activities in town, such as a women’s shelter, pregnancy care center, and food bank.

Connection Church in Spearfish, South Dakota

Baptism at Connection Church in Spearfish, South Dakota.

“We’re still more than half new believers or very young in their faith,” Hixson said. “We are preaching and teaching the basics.” Mature believers are encouraged to continue individually in their own Christian growth, even as they mentor and nurture newer believers.

“As our people give towards and serve in missions, it changes their perspective on the Gospel and their responsibility to share it,” Hixson said. “It gives them a passion for missions in other areas, and they realize ‘my backyard’ is a mission field too. It helps them see God has given them talents, resources, finances that all need to be used for the Kingdom of God.”

Perhaps the biggest strain on Hixson is the importance of balancing his time. He and his wife Dana are the parents of Benjamin, fifteen, and Adyson, twelve.

“We are in need of more help,” Hixson said. “I could use an administrator and someone to help with small groups. At this point, our church is growing faster than we can keep up with, staff-wise. And we have a planter raised up in our church who is called to ministry.” Hixson is helping him raise support from established churches in the South because Benson, being from South Dakota, doesn’t have the network the other two planters have.

“We’re ready [to launch in Sturgis] as soon as God is ready,” the church planting multiplier said, referring to the need to secure funding for Sturgis.

Hixson was pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Pampa, Texas, in 2009, when he joined with a Southern Baptists of Texas Convention mission effort in South Dakota.

Afterward, “God put it on our heart to pray for church planters,” Hixson said, including his wife Dana in his comment. “We did and God said, ‘How about you?’

“The Dakota Baptist Convention wanted to reach the western side of South Dakota, and they wanted to plant a church that would plant other churches, and that caught our heart,” the pastor continued. “We feel like our DNA is to see our city come to Christ, whether we’re five years old or fifty. We’re trying to not be a church that gets comfortable, because people still need Christ and still need to be discipled.”

Hixson collects friends the way some people collect postage stamps, and what he leads the church he pastors to do doesn’t have to revolve around his agenda of local outreach. That’s how and why Connection Spearfish helps support church plants in Boston and Las Vegas; a ministry to teens and to Sharps Corner Baptist Church on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in south-central South Dakota; and church planting, sharing the Gospel, and preacher/teacher training in Haiti. He likes people and likes to be part of something God is involved with, the pastor explained.

Sometimes there’s just a need. That’s how Connection Spearfish took on a collegiate ministry of what is now about fifty students at Black Hills State University. “We had to,” Hixson said. “These students are the next generation of leaders in the church, the community, and potentially world-wide.”

Hixson has made friends in the Dakotas over the last two years with his leadership as president of the Pastors’ Conference. He was elected president of the Dakota Baptist Convention at its annual meeting in September.

“I am honored to serve the Dakota Baptist Convention,” Hixson said. “It’s in cooperating together that we’re at our best.”