Vegas church-planting legacy supported by Send Network, Cooperative Program

By Timothy Cockes

LAS VEGAS (BP) – For Hope Church Las Vegas, planting churches throughout the city has always been a priority and a passion.

Even before he became president of the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Send Network, Hope’s founding pastor Vance Pitman viewed church multiplication as a priority, he told Baptist Press in written comments.

“God sometimes builds His Kingdom in the most unlikely places, and He invited us to simply join in His activity in Las Vegas by being obedient to engage that city with the Gospel,” Pitman said. “As disciples were made, churches were born.”

Pitman joined Send Network in March 2022, but not before leaving a generational legacy of church planting in Las Vegas.

One particular branch stemming from Hope Church is in the process of sending out its fourth church in the city. WALK Church has benefited from the support of both Send Network and the Cooperative Program.

A new believer is baptized at WALK Church, a plant of Hope Church in Las Vegas. Submitted photo

Heiden Ratner is the senior pastor of WALK Church, which he planted in the very town where he grew up.

After becoming a Christian during his freshman year of college, Ratner felt an immediate calling to reach Vegas with the Gospel.

“When I became a believer, I felt like I caught a passion for evangelism, specifically in my hometown of Las Vegas,” Ratner said. “I wanted to be the change that I didn’t see and didn’t have growing up.”

Upon a recommendation, Ratner would start attending Hope Church during the summers when he was home from school.

Ratner had never been to church before and wasn’t even aware there were churches in Vegas. But he soon discovered that Hope Church met on Sundays in the very same gym where he played high school basketball.

Pitman began mentoring Ratner, who would begin a two-year church-planting apprenticeship with Send Network in 2013.

“I felt like God was calling me to plant a church one day, and I wanted Hope to be the sending church,” Ratner said.

“Pastor Vance invited me into his life in discipling and mentoring me for several years, and the Send Network apprenticeship was an opportunity for me to learn what it means to be a pastor and grow my understanding of church planting and disciple-making.”

In the fall of 2015, WALK Church was launched. A few years later in the fall of 2020, Ratner would step into a new position as the NAMB Send City missionary for Las Vegas.

He said neither the planting of WALK nor the overall planting work of Send Network would be possible without the generous partnership of Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program.

(Left to right) Jack Diven, Joseph Gibbons, Vance Pitman Heiden Ratner show four generations of churches planted in Las Vegas. Submitted photo

“What I’ve seen in my couple of years being a Send City missionary is just a culture of unity among the planters in our network,” Ratner said. “There is not a competitive vibe, but it’s more of a celebration vibe. We’re seeing the great work of not only our lead church planters, but also the spouses of our planters using their gifts in the church-planting journey.

“We believe in giving to what you believe in, and we believe in Send Network. We are not just talking about planting churches, but we really are planting churches. The dream is not just a theory; it is practitioner based, and it’s been a blessing to have resources to help met planter needs.

“It’s not a burden to give to the Cooperative Program, it’s actually a joy because we know that the guys at Send Network are getting the job done. This wouldn’t be possible if people didn’t give. I’m not just a recipient of Send Network funds, but I’m actually a satisfied customer.”

The multiplication legacy was also part of WALK Church from the beginning, Ratner said.

“From our very first days we had church planting in our vision and timeline,” he said. “We believe that this isn’t a new way, it’s the New Testament way. You can find in the book of Acts that the pattern of Kingdom expansion has always been churches planting new churches.”

“I want Vegas to transform and be less known for being the city of sin and be more known as the city of Him. I want the world to know that God is alive and at work in Vegas, and I believe the only way we are going to see that is through churches planting churches. WALK church alone couldn’t reach the city, but a lot of churches could.”

One Vegas church planted by WALK is Favor City Church, pastored by Joseph Gibbons. Ratner met Gibbons in 2019 while guest preaching at Dayspring Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala., where Gibbons was the student pastor.

“I could sense that Joseph had a calling on his life, and I wanted to try to call out the called so I began to talk with him and his wife about considering church planting,” Ratner said.

Gibbons went out to visit Vegas several times. He and his wife developed a burden for the lostness in the city and realized the rate of new churches was “not even close” to keeping up with the growth in Vegas.

“Pastor Vance always said that the Kingdom of God runs on the rails of relationships,” Gibbons said. “There is such as great need to get the Gospel out in Las Vegas, and we can’t do that with one single church. It takes different churches to reach different people. It’s strategic to be able to lock arms together in a unique way in the same city.”

The couple would decide to move to Vegas to do a residency through WALK and Send Network. Favor City launched in October of 2021 and has grown to more than 100 people.

And once again, the multiplication DNA was passed on to Favor City.

Over his years serving in Alabama, Gibbons developed a relationship with Jack Diven, a fellow graduate of the University of Mobile.

When Diven began feeling the call of the Holy Spirit toward church planting, Gibbons was there to talk him through the process.

Diven and his wife moved to Vegas to be a part of Favor City, where they will complete a residency with plans to plant another Vegas church upon completion.

“The way that God has threaded all of this together between these church plants is insane,” Diven said. “God placed me in this moment with these people, and this brotherhood between us has been a byproduct of this commitment to church planting.”

In his role with Send Network, Pitman hopes to replicate the pattern of the planters he has influenced by prioritizing the relational strategy of churches planting churches.

“For a biblical missiology, the sending church is critical,” Pitman said. “For this reason, the sending church is essential to our strategy at Send Network, and something that my own experience showed me needs to remain a high priority. This is why we do not allow a planter to be endorsed through Send Network without a sending church.

“I believe by conviction that individuals don’t plant churches, denominations don’t plant churches, networks don’t plant churches, but churches plant churches.”

Published October 25, 2022

Timothy Cockes

Timothy Cockes is a Baptist Press staff writer.