Idaho church plant focusing on local evangelism
Reprint of original story published on the February 6, 2023 issue of Baptist Press
EMMETT, Idaho (BP) – Riverside Church, having successfully grown a 2019 church plant into a constituted church later that same year, plans to emphasize evangelism in 2023.
Starting its first community groups to disciple and organically nurture emerging leaders also is anticipated this year, Pastor Hugh Orr told Baptist Press.
“God has really put a burden on my heart for our church to step up our efforts in evangelism, to encourage people to understand there are people every day who are dying who don’t know Christ, right here in Emmett,” Orr said. “It’s every Christian’s privilege and responsibility to tell people about the Gospel and what Jesus has done for the world.
“I’m trying to remind people that, if we love our neighbors, we have to do this. That’s our emphasis this year, to stoke that fire in people’s hearts, to tell the Good News.”
Orr’s first class at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary a few years ago, had included a video on the Cooperative Program, the way Southern Baptists work together spreading the Gospel in North America and throughout the world. At the time he wasn’t Southern Baptist.
He chose Southeastern because it was the only seminary that offered a half-price tuition break to military veterans.
“I watched that video and was sold immediately,” Orr said. “I was living in Idaho, going to Creekside, and I told the pastor, ‘This is great! A little church like us can actually be involved in church planting in North America, and overseas missions too.’ I sold him on the idea to become a Southern Baptist church – I think it was 2015 – and that’s my total exposure to the SBC.”
The idea that eventually became Riverside Church started with a video Orr saw, about a church of 80 that had planted several churches. He was part of another 80-member congregation, Creekside Baptist Fellowship (now Creekside Bible Fellowship) in Eagle, Idaho, about 30 minutes south of Emmett, in southwest Idaho near Boise.
“Wouldn’t it be great,” Orr said to his pastor, “if we were to plant a church some day?”
Or maybe Riverside Church started with the prayers of another church in the association. Orr, at the time an associate pastor at Creekside in Eagle while working for the U.S. Postal Service and attending seminary online, talked about church planting at a gathering that included Clint Henry, pastor of Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho.
“We’ve been praying for a church in Emmett for at least 10 years,” Henry said, according to Orr’s recollection.
It was early 2018. Orr, soon to graduate with his M.Div., had been considering what to do with God’s call to the ministry, though Orr hadn’t considered church planting until Henry brought the need in nearby Emmett to the forefront of his mind.
Later that year, “Two, three, four families from Emmett – none of them knew each other – started coming [to Creekside in Eagle] right at the time I was getting geared up to plant the church,” Orr said. “We told them early next year we’d be planting.
“We kind of had a built-in launch team from the beginning. Five families were excited about it. I preached every Sunday for three months, so they got a preview of what the preaching would be like at the new church.”
Orr and his wife Pam, who had moved to Emmett in late 2018, opened their home to a Bible study followed by supper on Sunday afternoons. In early February the fledgling congregation moved, at the unsolicited invitation of the pastor of Gem Community Church, to share their building.
“Since our people were used to meeting Sunday afternoons at our home, it was not hard to transition,” Orr said. “We had 21 at the beginning, and about 30 within six months in that small church building.”
The congregation moved in October 2019 to Sunday morning services at a much larger Seventh-day Adventist church building. That same month they constituted as a stand-alone congregation that allocated 10 percent of undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program.
Riverside Church this January started an eight-week course in evangelism.
“The first half is laying the foundation, learning what is evangelism, what is your personal testimony and some of the reasons we don’t evangelize,” Orr said. “The rest of it will be ‘how to,’ like how to steer conversations to things of God.
“A lot of evangelism is just intentionality,” the pastor continued. “Community groups will help with that. Community groups are an onramp to get introduced to the Gospel.”
As friends and neighbors join in the community groups, the Gospel will be shared, and “sharing with others will encourage others to do the same,” Orr said.
Riverside’s main outreach each year is Emmett’s annual Cherry Festival, which takes place in June. The church has a booth manned by church volunteers, who pass out free ice water, share the Gospel, invite people to church, give Bibles upon request, and pray for those drawn by the church’s sign, which says “Can we pray for you?”
The church’s mission statement is, “Making disciples who will exalt the name of Jesus in Emmett and beyond.”
Like everywhere, people in Emmett, known as the “gateway to Idaho’s backcountry,” often are too busy, focused on what’s happening in their lives on any given day, the pastor said.
“The way I try to change that [with those who attend Riverside] is by emphasizing, ‘This is real, my friends. People are going to go to hell. You might be the only Christian they ever meet. Engage them. See where they’re at.’
“I was much more fervent when I was first saved,” Orr continued. “I was fired up because it was so new, so real in my life. I think that’s true for many Christians. Then the years go by. Now, when we stop and think about it, we say, ‘I really should do more.’ It’s so hard to find the time. That’s why we talk here [at Riverside Church] about trying to – needing to – create the time. And pray that the Lord will give us opportunities, divine appointments.”
By Karen L. Willoughby
A frequent contributor to UI Connections and Baptist Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org