Through CP, Oasis church offers hope in desert
PRICE, Utah (BP) -- When church planter Ryan Booth and his wife Tara showed up in the desert community of Price, Utah, they were told, "You aren't welcome here."
"This is a more religiously diverse community than most in Utah, but the Mormons have one arch-enemy: Baptists and specifically Southern Baptists," Booth, 28, said. "... We're trying to re-create what people think about Southern Baptists by first showing them love and then saying, 'By the way, we're Southern Baptists.'"
Booth planted Oasis Community Church last April and decided right away to lead the church to give 10 percent of undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program.
"If it wasn't for the Cooperative Program, what we do wouldn't be possible," Booth said. "We want to make sure the blessings CP gives us don't stop with us but rather are multiplied by us to continue church planting through Southern Baptists.
"The Cooperative Program is a network of Southern Baptist churches partnering together financially to fulfill the mission of Christ, to make disciples and penetrate lostness in our country and around the world," Booth added. "There's a very evangelistic heart to CP."
Before the Booths moved to Price from Lynchburg, Va., in January 2012, he made a strategic decision to start a church on the eastern side of the Wasatch Mountains.
"We were very attracted to Utah," he said. "They needed churches everywhere. Although Price is small, it's a hub for life in the desert, and because of the religious diversity here -- it's only about 50 percent LDS [Mormon] -- it was easier to establish a church here and set up a hub for future hubs in Provo and Salt Lake.
"If we went straight to Provo, which is 90 percent LDS, we would have had a hard time breaking into the culture, but if we established in Price, 60 miles away, we can grow in strength and have an easier time multiplying in those areas," Booth said.
With nine baptisms in 2012, Oasis was among the top five churches for total baptisms in Utah, and first in the state for baptisms per capita among the 46 out of 80 churches in Utah that submitted their Annual Church Profile information by mid-January. About 40 people participate in worship and outreach through Oasis.
"The presence of God is the No. 1 defining factor in the difference between what our people have experienced at Oasis compared to other places and other religions," Booth said. "We have summed up our vision -- putting together the Great Commission and the Christian life -- as Know, Grow and Go: Know Jesus as Lord, Grow closer to Jesus, and Go share the hope found in Jesus."
The discipleship process at Oasis involves teaching Scripture through the worship service Sunday morning so the people know; Life Groups meeting weekly and applying Scripture as a group living in biblical community so the people grow; and monthly sessions called "The Well" training the people to be on mission for Christ, Booth explained.
"From the beginning, we've really tried to be very missional, very missions-minded," Booth said. "We've tried to create a culture of outreach.... We knew we were coming to the high desert and that it was a spiritually dry place. We wanted to give them that living water so they wouldn't thirst again."
Contributing to the early strength of Oasis is that it has its own building and is debt-free. When Booth met with the area missionary, Billy Edwards, to say he was sensing that God wanted him to start a church in Price, Edwards said, "We've been praying for a church planter for two years."
A church that was started with Cooperative Program money and other missional efforts had withered after a time, and the building had been turned over to the association in 2008. The association passed it on to Oasis.
In addition, during the same timeframe the Booths were preparing for their move to Price, John Mark Simmons, pastor of Highland Hills Baptist Church in Henderson, Nev., called Edwards, looking for a construction mission project.
"We were looking for a place that would be our Samaria," Simmons said. "We have missions work in our city and county and have taken overseas trips, and we wanted something regionally. There are lost people in Price, too."
On Labor Day weekend in 2011, the Henderson Hills mission team painted the exterior of the church and the interior of the parsonage next door and made extensive repairs to the parsonage. They returned last year to help with community outreach, and they plan to continue the partnership.
Price's blistering summer of 2012 provided several opportunities for outreach in the first six months of Oasis Community Church's existence: a kids' camp at the church using Vacation Bible School materials; a block party at the church, which is on a busy street in the town of 8,000; and the distribution of 1,200 bottles of water during Price's international festival. Oasis even rented the local waterpark one scorching summer day and offered it free to the community.
"We're a very poor church, but we give 50 percent of our offerings back in outreach," Booth said. That includes 10 percent to missions through the Cooperative Program, 3 percent to the Utah Baptist Association and the rest in local outreaches as the church builds its reputation and gains a foothold in the community.
In addition to church-wide outreaches, each of the two Life Groups at Oasis does a ministry project every other month, such as making up 80 plates of cookies and delivering them to single mothers in apartment complexes and several of the small businesses around town.
Another idea conceived and implemented by a Life Group: making hot-packs filled with grain, rice or field corn that could be microwaved to provide soothing heat to the sore joints of people living in a seniors' complex.
"Many new church plants are focused on outreach to get started, but after a few years people tend to get comfortable," Booth said. "We have made it a point to help the folks understand we are creating a culture not to get the church started but it's going to grow and multiply so it's embedded into the DNA of who we are.
"Considering we started with two people, we have built multiplication into the DNA as well," Booth said. "The goal is by the end of 2013 to be actively involved in preparing for the next church plant."
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, newsjournal for Southern Baptists in Louisiana. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).