On the surface, Hope Church looks like any other mega-church in America, with two campuses, a diverse lineup of talented staff, coveted creativity and a 2,000-plus membership led by a well-known senior pastor. Yet, Hope Church is different.
What makes the congregation distinctive is its location far outside the “Bible Belt” – Las Vegas, Nev. Ninety-two percent of Las Vegas residents are non-churchgoers, according to Vance Pitman, pastor of Hope Church.
Pitman started the church in 2001. When asked what led him to leave his home state of Alabama in 2001 to launch a new ministry in Las Vegas, he said it was clearly God’s calling.
In an interview with the Biblical Recorder, Pitman said there are four strategies that Christians must explore when doing ministry in post-Christian cultures.
1) Intimacy with God
The primary motivation that drove Pitman to Las Vegas was intimacy with God, he said. “Where I’m from,” Pitman explained, “people don’t go to Las Vegas, and if they do, they don’t tell anybody.”
He vividly recalls spending time with God one morning, reading Luke 4. “I can remember telling God, I don’t know where you’re calling me to, but the answer is yes,” he said. Pitman believes everything Christians do should start with intimacy with God.
After two weeks of feeling convicted about reaching cities, Pitman received a phone call from Johnny Hunt, then-pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga. Hunt said the church wanted to launch a new church plant in Las Vegas.
At that time in Pitman’s life, he had never been west of the Mississippi River. In fact, he said it wasn’t until he and his family moved to Nevada – literally exiting the airplane – that he had ever stepped foot in Las Vegas.
Pitman recalls seeing slot machines in the airport, then going to a hotel and realizing that he and his wife were official residents of Las Vegas. He said in that moment they were overcome with emotion, crying out to God and questioning whether they made a mistake.
“I can still remember going to this pizza restaurant … looking at the people come and go, when Las Vegas became to us a city that God had called us to reach,” Pitman said.
Life hasn’t been easy over the past 20 years, he added. But Pitman believes God gave him a vision to minister in Las Vegas and beyond. He wants to see 300 new churches across the nation that each multiply 10 times, to reach 1 percent of the American population.
Pitman said he believes God calls Christians to reach cities, not just develop church programs. “Too many church planters are starting worship services,” he said, “which is not church planting.”
Church planting begins with the question, “How are we going to serve the city?” he said. “Jesus never said anything in the Bible about planting a church. He said, ‘Go and make disciples.’”
Pitman said focusing on the city, beyond mere church development, helps a church planter focus on how to reach that city.
Pitman is passionate about ethnic diversity. He believes that reaching post-Christian cities with the gospel requires loving all people.
“A multi-ethnic church is not a new way of doing church,” he said. “A multi-ethnic church is a New Testament church.”
On a typical Sunday, 55 different languages are spoken at Hope Church.
“Every church planter needs to know that its mission is global, not just local,” Pitman said. “The mission is the Kingdom expanded to the nations.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Maina Mwaura is a freelance journalist who lives in Atlanta, Ga., with his wife and daughter. They attend Johnson Ferry Baptist Church.)