God has been doing some exciting things in Utah, and I thought I would take a few moments to pass along the good news. Currently, Utah is one of about five states that are experiencing an explosion of population growth. Despite the high cost of building, contractors in Utah cannot keep up with the growing demand for housing. Whereas in other states, real estate may be experiencing a bubble effect, in Utah there is a genuine housing shortage, leading to a massive explosion in housing prices.
Meanwhile, and at the same time as this population explosion, the LDS church is quickly becoming mired down in the tensions caused by our country’s social lunacy. Many in our state wonder what course the LDS church will take in the immediate future, as there is such a strong push from so many members of the church to embrace a more tolerant and progressive state.
Not surprisingly, the LDS church is quickly losing its formerly iron grip on the spiritual life of our state. Anecdotally, when my wife and I moved to Utah in 1997, I would estimate that an average of 3 out of every four doors we knocked on were staunchly LDS. In any given neighborhood, we might encounter one household that was not active members of the LDS church.
Not so today. We have faithfully canvassed every part of our area from North to South, from East to West. Today when we evangelize a neighborhood, whether it be in the heart of Ogden or the outskirts of town, in the wealthiest neighborhoods or in the newest neighborhoods, we do well to encounter more than one faithful member of the LDS church.
As the population shifts away from the LDS church, unfortunately, we are not finding that they are turning to Biblical Christianity. Much of the influx of people in our state have come from our neighbors to the left, and while they have left California and Oregon and Washington behind, they have not left behind their political commitments. In my old neighborhood in Ogden, when I walked out my front door, I was greeted by a regular parade of homes flying the rainbow flag – nearly a dozen in sight of my driveway. A move away from the LDS church is not resulting in a move towards a more Biblical outlook.
Nevertheless, God is moving in our state, and I am excited to share with you some of the things God is doing. It seems that God has chosen this time as the time to infuse Utah with a sound gospel witness. I intend to point out some good things from outside of Independent Baptist circles, but my main focus will be on the great work being accomplished by Independent Baptist churches in our state. I hope you will rejoice with me as I recount what God is doing here.
We’ll begin at one of the furthest points north in our state. Before moving to Utah, Pastor Nathan Kirkman worked with Joe Gibbs Racing. God moved Brother Kirkman to Logan maybe ten years ago (please forgive me – I know I will be wildly inaccurate about the years). Lets just say that Brother Kirkman was not welcomed to Utah with open arms. He had a rough go of things for a few years. But he was faithful and determined, and God has used him to establish Mt. Logan Baptist Church on the north side of Logan. Brother Kirkman has a great heart for church planting in our state, and several years ago, he started holding a church planter’s conference with the purpose of bringing men to our state and arming them for the unique mission field that is Utah. Having himself experienced some serious challenges, Brother Kirkman understands what it takes to move to Utah from points elsewhere, and he is very focused on providing men with the tools they will need for this great work.
As a result of Brother Kirkman’s heart for church planting in Utah, we are seeing a tremendous flux of men moving to our state. At his conference a couple of weeks ago, Brother Kirkman reported taking a crew of thirty people on a tour of the state to see what God might move them to do. In the past few months, I have met two men who have sold all their belongings and are moving to Utah to plant a church – one right here in my own hometown, in a blighted neighborhood of Ogden. Praise the Lord!
The Heart of Logan
Pastor Jerry Stonehouse moved his family to Utah about forty years ago and did the hard work of planting a church in this Mormon stronghold. When Brother Stonehouse moved to Utah, Logan would have been almost exclusively LDS. The LDS church of the 1980s and 90s was very different than the LDS church of today. Nonetheless, Brother Stonehouse persisted. He canvassed and knocked on doors and built the church up until it was full, only to see most of the church pack up and move away. He started over at least a dozen times. But he never quit. And today, Grace Baptist Church is a thriving church in the heart of Logan.
About a year and a half ago (making allowance for my poor memory), God used a tragic medical condition to move Pastor Brandon Vaughn and his family to Utah. As usual, God’s timing was impeccable. The Vaughn’s move to Utah came at a time when Grace Baptist found themselves in search of a pastor. And, the opportunity at Grace opened up at the very time when the Vaughns were looking for a place to minister in our state.
Brother Vaughn left a thriving church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to move here. From the moment I met Brother Vaughn, I knew that he would have the impact of a wrecking ball in our state. In Tuscaloosa, Brother Vaughn was a very bold and dynamic street preacher among the college students at the University of Alabama. He faithfully proclaimed the gospel in that godless area of the world, and God used him to turn many to Christ. So, when Brother Vaughn moved to Utah, I knew that he would not rest until he found where to focus his energy for the sake of the gospel. Brother Vaughn is a man busy for our Lord, and God is using him mightily. There is a language barrier of course, with him being from Alabama and all, but he is adjusting and doing well in language school.
One of the earliest church planters in Utah was a man by the name of Cooper Abrams. Pastor Abrams planted churches all up and down the I-15 corridor in our state, and one of those churches was Calvary Baptist Church in Tremonton. In recent years, Pastor Abrams has faced some very difficult health conditions, and recently discovered that his body can no longer handle the altitude of Utah. We miss Brother Abrams and love him and his wife in the Lord.
Pastor Abrams mentored a young man and, when his health would no longer allow him to pastor, ordained Pastor Andy Sanford and handed the church over to him. Pastor Sanford has done a tremendous job in Tremonton. He is one of many bi-vocational pastors in our state. Yet, somehow he manages to pastor the church and lead in their Christian school. God is working in Tremonton, and though they have had a difficult row to hoe, they have been faithful in the work, and God is beginning to bless them in tremendous ways. Recently during our camp week, Brother Sanford was able to send a group of about a half dozen young people to camp. About half of those young people were just baby Christians. Praise the Lord!
Roy sits just across the freeway from Ogden. My family and I just moved to Roy a couple of weeks ago – to put it into geographical perspective. Maybe a dozen years ago, North Central Baptist Church was established in Roy. Roy is uniquely situated just outside the gate of Hill Air Force Base, and it was good to see a church established so close to the base to help with the work of evangelizing the airmen who serve our country in the Air Force. A couple of years ago through a tragic situation, North Central found themselves in need of a pastor. The church called Brother Mickey Muse to serve as Interim Pastor and to guide the church through the process of finding a pastor. Brother Muse has made this kind of work his special ministry, and he is great at it. Brother Muse provided a steady hand and a steadying influence to the church, helped them set a few things in order, and then guided the church to call a young man, still in his 20s, to make the move to Utah from somewhere in the south – if my memory serves me correctly, Georgia.
Brother Avery is mature beyond his years. From the moment I met him, I was impressed with his seriousness, his heart for the gospel, and his desire to reach our area for Christ. God has knit our hearts together in a special way, and it is a great delight to me to see what God is doing through this young man. The church at North Central is thriving, and I believe will be making a move to a new building in the near future.
For many years now, I have been pleading with people interested in Utah to look at the area between Layton and south of Salt Lake City. Pastor Chuck Beickel has been serving the Lord faithfully in Layton for many years now. Anchor Baptist Church is situated at the south end of Salt Lake City and has been a faithful gospel witness for more than six decades. But in between, there has been nothing – a gap of nearly 40 miles.
About a year ago, I began hearing rumblings of a man moving to Utah to plant a church in Farmington. Through the church planting vision of Pastor Nathan Kirkman, God moved Pastor Phil Moore to resign his thriving church in North Carolina and raise support to plant a church in Farmington. The Farmington area has seen an explosion of growth in recent years, and Farmington is almost exactly halfway between Layton and Salt Lake City. Brother Moore will be within striking distance of downtown Salt Lake City – a place that surprisingly does not have any Bible-believing Independent Baptist Church.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting Brother Moore and his family. They are an impressive family, and it is obvious that Brother Moore is prepared for this work. He has a focus and a seriousness about him that I believe will serve him well as he launches this ministry. Praise the Lord for bringing this family to our state.
The Heart of Salt Lake City
A little less than a year ago, God moved Pastor Nolan Ruby and his family to the Salt Lake Valley. After weathering some severe storms, God led him to establish Wasatch Front Baptist Church just outside of downtown Salt Lake City. As far as I know, his church is the closest to downtown of any church in the area.
I love Brother Ruby. He is a dynamic man – I don’t want to stumble him by pumping up his ego – but he is a mighty man of God. Though he has been in our area for less than a year, God has already used him to build up an exciting work. The church is exploding, and he has reported that he is struggling to keep up with all the work God has given him to do.
Brother Ruby has a tremendous vision for Salt Lake City and for the people of Wasatch Front Baptist Church, and I anticipate great news from the work there in the near future. Praise the Lord!
Though I have never met him, I am hearing many good reports from Bible Baptist Church in West Valley City, where recently Pastor Josh Warneke was called as pastor. Bible Baptist Church is one of the older churches in the Salt Lake Valley, and Brother Warneke’s father pastored the church for many years. The church sits on a strategic piece of property and is uniquely positioned to reach one of the most needy areas in our state. West Valley, Kearns, and the areas around the church are known to be some of the most difficult and crime-ridden neighborhoods in the valley. I trust that God will use Brother Warneke in a mighty way in that area.
Anchor Baptist Church was established a couple of years after our own church – more than 60 years ago – in the suburbs of Salt Lake City. For the past decade, Pastor Randy Love served the church there. Through his ministry, God led the church through some great difficulties, and God sustained His church throughout. I count Pastor Love as one of my closest friends, and enjoyed serving the Lord together over these years.
A year ago now, God moved Pastor Love back to Illinois, and the church called Pastor Jason Atwood to serve the church as pastor. Previously, Pastor Atwood planted a church in Corpus Christi, Texas and handed it over to a successor.
I am excited about what God is doing through Pastor Atwood. He is a singularly focused man, and through his encouragement, Anchor Baptist is thriving. Through Pastor Atwood’s leadership, the church has developed a great zeal for souls, and the people are actively seeking to win the lost to Christ. And God is blessing. By all accounts, the church is seeing a flood of new people, people being saved and baptized and added to the church. What a delight it is to see what God is doing with one of the pillar churches in Utah!
God moved Pastor Mike Mullineaux to plant a church in Riverton, Utah more than fifteen years ago. Pastor Mullineaux is a patient man, and he has worked tirelessly to see the work of God established at Harvest Valley Baptist Church. In recent years, Pastor Mullineaux has been leading the church to search for a building that they can call their own. Like most of Utah, the Riverton area has experienced an explosion of growth, and real estate is pretty hard to come by. Nonetheless, Harvest Valley Baptist continues to flourish and to persist in their efforts to find a permanent home.
I am very grateful for Brother Mullineaux’ friendship over the years. We have had the opportunity to work together with our summer youth camp, along with a variety of other ministry opportunities. He has proven himself to be a faithful man of God, and I am grateful for the work God is doing through him in our state. Harvest Valley Baptist Church is a growing church, and I am excited to see what God has in store for them.
God moved two men to the area south of Provo at about the same time. They are literally across the freeway from each other, and both men are close friends with each other. God moved Pastor Kent Boykin from Kentucky to Payson probably 20 years ago, where he planted Hope Baptist Church. God moved Pastor Stephen Martens to Spanish Fork at about that same time, where he planted Faith Baptist Church. Both pastors have a great heart for young people. Pastor Martens has a great group of young people in his church, and God is using him to bring those young people along in their Christian faith. Pastor Boykin’s “Soldiers of Christ” camp is a highlight of the year for my sons. He challenges young men to grow both in their commitment to Christ and in their calling as men. The boys love the camp because, in addition to knife throwing, tomahawk throwing, airsoft wars, archery, handguns, and rifles, they get to camp in the mountains and don’t need to take a shower for a week.
Recently, God allowed Hope Baptist Church to purchase two buildings side-by-side just off Payson’s downtown area. These iconic buildings are a landmark to the city, and Pastor Boykin has a unique vision for what he can do to advance the cause of Christ through these assets. Praise the Lord!
Pastor Cole Howe has been pastoring Moab Baptist Church for many years. If you are ever visiting Moab – one of the most popular destinations in Utah – I would encourage you to visit his church. Pastor Howe is a faithful preacher of the gospel and a pillar in our state. And besides that, his Facebook page is one of our favorites. I don’t know how he finds so many funny jokes and still finds time to pastor a church… but I digress.
Pastor Howe recently announced a young couple from his church who are heading over to Springville to start a church. The Springville area is another part of our state, probably an hour south of Provo, that is experiencing an explosion of growth. I am praying for this couple, that God will use them and enable them to build His work in that needy area.
Much of the focus of this article has been on the northern part of our state – though Moab is on the eastern boundary. But I would be negligent if I did not mention the ministry of Pastor Doug Hounshell. Pastor Hounshell moved to Kanab probably 15-20 years ago. There, God used him to establish Cliffview Chapel Baptist Church, now an established church in the heat of Kanab. Pastor Hounshell is a driven man, and he has been actively evangelizing two areas in hopes of establishing a church. Hurricane (pronounced “Hurrikin”) is maybe 45 minutes from Kanab, on the southern end of Zion National Park. Prior to COVID, Pastor Hounshell was evangelizing that area in order to see a church established there. Whatever Pastor Hounshell does he does well, and short of the COVID disruption, would have something going there already. As it is, I am looking forward to hearing good news on that front.
At the same time, Brother Hounshell has been going into the twin border cities of Hilldale and Colorado City, notoriously polygamous towns on the Arizona border, and holding Bible studies in hopes that a Bible-preaching church can be established in that area. It is very exciting to me to see what God is doing through Pastor Hounshell.
Our Own Church
About five or six years ago, our church was swimming along quite well. To be frank, we were busting at the seams. I was looking at our church and shaking my head. I knew that things were going a little too well, and we were about due for a pruning. And man, did God take the shears to our church. For four straight years, God moved an average of five families out of the church per year. Thankfully, only one or two of those families left the church because of unresolved sin. About 90% of the families that left moved out of the area. The first of these “migration” years scattered a total of seven families around the globe. Seriously, we had people move to Germany, to Washington DC, to Pennsylvania, to North Dakota, Phoenix, and Tennessee. And for the next three years, we had more of the same. Then, after four straight years of taking it on the chin, God finally put the stopper back in the drain, and we were able to go a year without losing anyone. It just so happened that the plug went back in the drain just in time for COVID, which greatly slowed our recovery.
Nonetheless, the people of Berean have kept plugging away. We have been through this kind of thing before, and our church has weathered it like good sailors. God is doing some exciting things in our church, and by God’s grace, we hope to have an exciting announcement in the very near future.
Meanwhile, Brethren, pray for us, that the Word of the Lord will have free course and be glorified. We are uniquely positioned in a part of the gospel that has never seen a genuine work of revival. By the grace of God through the faithfulness of God’s people, I believe we are about to see the gospel break forth in a mighty way.
I may have left off a church or two, and I apologize if I overlooked anyone. I have not even mentioned some of the great things that are happening up in Idaho right now. God is doing some great things there as well. But my focus for this article has been on Utah. I am thrilled at the work of God in our state, and am praying that God will keep adding to His work here. The Intermountain West is a place where the gospel has never taken root. We do not have a Christian cultural heritage in this part of the west that we can draw from or rely on in our witness. Ministry here is a work for pioneers, and those who come must be willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work. Nonetheless, God is doing a great work here, and I am thrilled to see His hand at work.
Will you join me in rejoicing in the work of God in the west, and will you pray with me that the Lord of the harvest would send forth laborers into his vineyard?