Rob Lee first came to the state of Utah as a missionary with the Home Mission Board, now the North American Mission Board in 1987. More than 30 years later, as the executive director of the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention, Lee and his convention have entered a partnership with NAMB’s Send Network to bolster church planting efforts in the two-state convention.
Based on some of the demographic changes the two states have experienced in recent years, the timing could not be better to collaborate with Send Network Utah-Idaho.
“Utah and Idaho led the United States with the largest percentage of population growth since 2010,” Lee said. “They’re not just moving to the cities, like Boise, Idaho and Salt Lake City. They’re moving to rural communities as well.”
Roughly 98 percent of the population in Utah does not know Jesus as Savior, Lee said, which amounts to more than 3 million people. In Idaho, the amount is 92 percent.
‘Grand mission field’
“It’s a grand mission field,” Lee said. “We still have a lot of communities that do not have a gospel preaching church in them, in Idaho and in Utah.”
Part of what excites Lee about extending the Send Network process throughout the two states has been the proven success of Send Network in Salt Lake City, one of the Send Cities in which NAMB has focused church planting efforts.
“Our state convention grew 33 percent in the number of churches, which is an incredible thing to think about,” Lee said. “With the people moving to our region, areas outside of Salt Lake City are seeing tremendous growth. We have been starting churches throughout the two states, but Send Utah-Idaho will build on the success we’ve seen through Salt Lake City and multiply our efforts to an even greater level.”
The increased cooperation, said NAMB president Kevin Ezell, will hasten the pace of church planting in the two states.
“We want to put more fuel on the fire,” Ezell said. “This mission field is filled with opportunity, but also many challenges. I’m so glad we can put our strengths together to accomplish this mission.”
Bobby Wood, NAMB’s Send City missionary for Salt Lake City who helps facilitate planting in the city, and Lee counted the baptisms that took place on Baptism Sunday, Sept. 12. From five or six church plants they surveyed, they counted nearly 40 baptisms.
“This is a pre-Christian area, still,” Wood said. “We are still in an area that has yet to see a major move of the gospel, but we believe we are in the crossroads of that point where a gospel movement will break forth.”
Wood referred to a particular community in the Salt Lake City metro-area with a population of roughly 50,000 people to demonstrate the need for more churches.
“The only evangelical church in that community is a Spanish-speaking church,” Wood said. “In the Southern states, there are probably hundreds of churches in a town of that size.”
In Saratoga Springs, Utah, Steve Pierson has led Redemption Hill Church to plant three other churches. Redemption Hill launched in January 2017. Derek Duvall, church planter of Awaken City Church, launched their church in 2018 in Herriman, Utah, a community that doubled its population of 35,000 in just a few years.
Lee is a member of another church plant in Herriman, Oquirrh Mountain Country Church, and his expectation is that the partnership will foster even greater levels of church planting in Utah and Idaho.
“For our state convention, our priorities are starting churches and strengthening churches,” Lee said. “So, Send Utah-Idaho lines up right along one of our highest priorities of seeing churches started in our region. I pray this will give us an even greater pipeline for people to move here to see this region reached with the gospel.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — Brandon Elrod serves as a public relations specialist for the North American Mission Board, where this story originally appeared.