“Lives are being changed, people are coming to Christ and others who have been believers a while are surrendering parts of their lives that are sinful or stand in the way of their growth,” wrote Austin White, pastor since 2019 of Calvary Baptist Church in Dayton, Nevada, to his director of missions this summer. “It’s been amazing.”
White credits a local eating establishment for helping with the growth. He started going there weekly, sitting in the same place and striking up conversations with people willing to talk.
“To reach people, it takes a lot of honesty, one-on-one conversations and consistency,” White told The Baptist Paper. He could have added “patience.”
One of the stories he tells is of a man he met, who in time began coming to church “inconsistently,” the pastor said. “Every Sunday I would preach the gospel, and it was clear as clear could be. He’d come up after the service and say, ‘I feel like you’re talking to me.’ Every time I’d tell him, ‘God wants you to come to Him. Are you ready to make that decision to follow Christ?’”
White met with the man a few different times to talk about the gospel and answer his questions. When asked again if he was ready, “He’d always say no. ‘I have more questions,’ he’d say or, ‘I’m not ready.’ One Sunday two months ago, even before I gave the invitation — I give an invitation every Sunday — he walked down the aisle, grabbed my hand and said, ‘I’m ready.’”
Another man, who had grown up in Dayton, frequently heard White talking with people at the café. White knew he was listening, but since the man didn’t approach White, he kept his patience.
“The cool thing is, he came to the church to talk with me! He asked some questions about what he’d heard me say, and I told him, ‘I was talking with them about what I’m saying to you.’
“It took years to get to that point,” White said. “I’m still praying for him.”
It was those and similar experiences this summer that led to White writing to Douglas Vaughan, director of missions of Sierra Baptist Association, to tell him of God at work in Dayton.
One of the challenges facing Calvary Baptist is that “people oftentimes move to Dayton to be left alone,” the pastor said. “They don’t want you in their lives. To meet them, you have to be where they want to be.”
This is the reason White frequents the café and the church does outreach to local elementary and high schools and hosts Kids Zone for the community’s annual Dayton Valley Days each September, which draws 8,000 or more to the town.
“There are a lot of people kind of rough around the edges here,” the pastor said. “They’re tired of lies. They’re suspicious of church, which they think feeds them ‘snake oil’ and then wants money.”
It takes time and honest, genuine conversations to even start relationships, the pastor said.
“You may not present the gospel the first time,” White said. “You have to be willing to come back. Many times.”
Calvary has hosted Alcoholics Anonymous groups for many years. It passes on a tithe of undesignated income to missions through the Cooperative Program, and to Sierra Baptist Association a missionary surgeon serving in Africa, son of Jerry Peterson, the former and founding pastor.
The church’s mission is to connect, grow and serve, according to its website: calvarybaptistdayton.net. Age-specific small groups help develop a sense of community so people can grow in their faith. In addition, women have a weekly Bible study and a twice-a-month quilting ministry. Intercessory prayer happens Saturday mornings. A men’s group starts this fall.
Sunday evenings have gradually turned into weekly family nights, with youth, children and young families all meeting during that time. On Sunday mornings, children gather in their wing of the church before the preaching starts, where they learn the message of the sermon simplified for their age.
Youth and adults take short-term missions trips to Austin Baptist Church and Yomba Baptist Church, both in Austin, Nevada. Charlie Vaughn is pastor, and both churches have about a dozen people. Yomba is a church geared for Native Americans. Calvary helps with a joint Vacation Bible School and other projects as they come up.
Calvary also helps support Silver Springs Baptist Church in Silver Springs, Nevada, which has dwindled to perhaps 10 people and has a pastor still serving at age 80 because God hasn’t yet provided a younger pastor. White is hoping to partner with Ed Brown, pastor of Silver Springs, to update that church’s website, possibly post a “pastor needed” announcement on the Southern Baptist Convention job board and even make a short video about the church and surrounding area of ministry.
“We had our Christmas Eve service there last year to encourage them,” White said. “They were so glad to see us, and we were glad to worship and fellowship with them.” Silver Springs is a 30-minute drive from Dayton.
When asked if he’d considered pastoring both churches, White said with a grin, “I know my limitations.”
Dayton, Nevada, was first settled in 1849 when gold was found nearby and had about 800 residents. Jerry and his wife Frankie Peterson started the church in 1978 as part of a church planting class through what today is Gateway Seminary. They served the church for 40 years. Today, Dayton has about 16,000 residents, and 500 new homes are being built.
The historic town — some buildings date to the 1860s — attracts Carson City commuters, California emigrants, young adults and people who live in recreational vehicles and work at the area’s industrial park, which houses Walmart, Tesla, Amazon and others.
“Our town is growing rapidly — thousands since I got here,” White said. “We need to grow with it. There are people here dying every day without Jesus. And that problem — lostness — will only get worse if we do not grow and go make disciples.
“We are seeing lives changed,” the pastor continued. “It’s amazing to see God moments.”