Rapid City, South Dakota, is a beautiful town located at the entrance to the famous Black Hills. Home to Mount Rushmore, the city brings in over three million tourists every year, and the locals welcome the summer crowd to share in our little piece of paradise. The magical draw here is part of the reason my family moved to the Black Hills in 2011. As we settled in, we became involved in local church life and were introduced to the Mennonite Brethren family.
On the surface, everything here appears to be postcard picture perfect. But God has shown us the deep spiritual needs which are easily overlooked. Rapid City is in transition. Historically, it has been a conservative, Christendom-style community. There are many traditional churches here that are ministering to that demographic. Recently, Rapid City has been quietly changing. The younger generations are moving toward a postmodern, humanistic identity. There is a growing group of people who are finished with, and moving on from, all things religious.
According to Homefacts, those who are “unclaimed” in terms of their religious affiliation went from 29 percent in 1980 to 37 percent in 2000 and to 59 percent in 2010. As our local culture becomes more and more postmodern, the church needs a fresh contextualization of the gospel. We feel called to reach those who are looking for a church home, even those who do not know it yet. This includes the people who think they have moved on from Christianity or have no religious affiliation at all.
This group still feels a pull and interest in the teachings of Jesus but are often turned away from many churches because they don’t identify politically with the vast majority of traditional churches here. Our recently launched church plant, Renewal MB Church, seeks to engage these people through a genuine community which is focused only on one thing: the loving grace of Jesus Christ that draws people toward a relationship with him.
We regularly have conversations with people who see today’s church as something to avoid, because they believe it only seeks to expand a political kingdom. People like Suzy, who seeks to protect the environment and believes we should let hurting people enter the United States. Yet, she sees the churches surrounding her as not interested in having a real conversation with her about her beliefs, let alone welcome her into their community.
Another man who has started meeting with us, Trent, finds attending any church unappealing. He comes from a liberal background and is skeptical of things in the Bible. But he wants to feel free to ask questions in a safe space. One night after our gathering, he spent an hour just asking questions about the account in Acts of a lame man being healed in Jesus’ name. Trent wonders how he can know that what is written is genuine and not just a trick to coerce people and exploit them. Trent keeps returning and remains engaged in the conversation. Last week, he even stayed to help clean up after the service.
At Renewal MB Church, we strive to model what we see in Scripture: Jesus giving people like Suzy and Trent who need a savior an immediate sense of belonging and in that place of acceptance, having an opportunity to discuss beliefs and introduce them to Christ.
Harvest Time essays will share stories from USMB church plants that are being planted by Multiply jointly with district conferences. Multiply works collaboratively and jointly with USMB and the five district conferences to birth new Mennonite Brethren churches in the United States and provides training, coaching, assessing and project management for church planters. You are a valuable part of the Multiply church planting team and are helping many people like Suzy and Trent encounter Jesus.