CASPER, Wyo.—It’s a February morning in central Wyoming and Tyler Martin is trying to keep his nose hairs from freezing.
Wyoming winters are notoriously brutal, not so much for the cold and snow, but for the winds that cut across your face and literally take your breath away. They aren’t particularly bad this day, even though the mercury has settled at 1 degree, minus 11 with the wind chill. Temperatures stayed low enough that what remained of a 500-lb. elk Martin harvested remained safely in the bed of his ’03 Ford F150 for more than two weeks.
“It hasn’t even started to stink,” Martin said, laughing. He was able to get 125 pounds of meat from the animal for himself, his wife Ashley; daughter, Ava Grace (3); son Michael (1.5) and the baby on the way.
The native Texan has had to learn to work within his surroundings since arriving two years ago from Fort Worth to plant Outfitter Church in Bar Nunn, a town of 3,000 just north of Casper. If it’s not the cold, it’s working in an environment with a frontier mindset and very little biblical literacy. Like other pastors, he’s tasked with taking a timeless message and communicating it in timely ways.
A land of church plants
Outfitter Church is among several planted under the guidance of North American Mission Board catalyst Chris Sims, who is still helping churches get off the ground. In early February, Sims met with two dozen people at a community center in the town of Shoshoni for the launch meeting of a seventh plant, Wind River Church.
“They were spiritually hungry,” Sims said. “Most of them are from local ranches and are seeking a place to worship.”
A native Arkansawyer, Sims had a management career with Walmart and Sam’s Club before sensing a call to the ministry. He had lived in Casper in the mid-1990s to open a Sam’s Club, so he knew the area and culture.
Quin Williams, executive director for the Wyoming Southern Baptist Missions Network, was pastor of Boyd Avenue Baptist Church in Casper when Sims arrived to plant his first Wyoming church, sponsored by Boyd Avenue.
“When Chris goes through a community, any community, he sees the opportunities to plant a church or churches there. This is just the way he is wired,” Williams said.
Last fall, Wyoming Baptists added a line item to the budget for Wyoming dollars to be used towards church planting in their state, augmenting funds from traditional partner NAMB.
Don Whalen, church planting strategist for Wyoming Baptists, cited the unique challenges of establishing new churches throughout the state: including distance and the declining presence of mainline denominations.
“The distance of our communities is often measured by hours of travel rather than miles,” Whalen said, adding that more than 60 communities have no church at all.
“Nearly 25 percent of our Wyoming Southern Baptist Mission Network churches are, or were, new church plants within the last 15 years. Many of those plants have become strong, multiplying churches,” Whalen said.
As for Outfitter Church, Bar Nunn is one of the wealthier communities of the state. Most driveways have a combination of a four-wheel drive vehicle, camper and four-wheeler or snowmobile—or all of these. Many residents see weekends as the time to get away to the lake, mountains or campground, especially in the summer.
To that end, Outfitter has its regular services on Wednesday nights. “It’s your Sunday morning-type service,” Martin said. “We have music, preaching and everything.
“We wanted to fish when fish were in the river,” he said of the unorthodox meeting time and local lifestyles. Since starting with 10 people on Oct. 16, 2019, the church has grown to 50 and baptized 16.
“We’ve seen significantly more professions of faith than that, but we want to be patient with our baptisms and see the fruit,” he said, adding that concepts like repentance and salvation are new to many.
The name of Martin’s church was chosen with its community in mind.
“I wanted it to relate to the culture and be a place any lost man would feel comfortable being at. Everybody hunts in Wyoming, and I felt this would connect with lost men in our community. That’s been the case 100 percent,” he said.
“The whole purpose of an outfitter is that if someone isn’t equipped to hunt, the outfitter equips them for it. Our church is equipping people to pursue Jesus relentlessly and make disciples.”
The church is home to new believers and many who had been drifting in the faith, unable to find a Bible-teaching congregation. “We’ve seen a lot of disconnected Christians begin truly pursuing Christ and walking with him,” Martin told the TEXAN.
Born and raised in Crowley, Texas, Martin said he is grateful for the involvement from the Lone Star State in his Wyoming church. Texas churches partnering with Outfitter include several affiliated with the SBTC: Longview’s Mobberly and Woodland Hills Baptist; First Baptist Bloomburg; First Baptist Van Alstyne; Bear Creek Baptist, Avinger; Oak Ridge Baptist, Marietta; and Piney Grove Baptist, Atlanta.
Mobberly, which began partnering with Outfitter in 2020, sent an encouragement team that year and assisted in producing a video telling the church’s story. Mobberly plans to send a dozen volunteers north to help with a sports camp outreach at Outfitter this summer.
Texas churches have also sent volunteers to help with various outreaches: summer missions projects, car washes, movie nights, barbeque dinners.
Beast Feast—an annual dinner sponsored by Outfitter for men in the Bar Nunn area—draws its share of Texas volunteers who help distribute invitations and enjoy fellowship with the Wyomingites over brisket and pulled pork. In 2020, a speaker regaled the crowd of 120 with hunting stories and shared the
Outfitter is not Martin’s first congregation. While in college at East Texas Baptist, he pastored Bear Creek Baptist, making “incredible connections” with fellow SBC pastors in the area.
“I knew I knew nothing,” Martin said of his early days in ministry. “A handful of pastors took me under their wing and taught me how to pastor.”
Following seminary at Southwestern, Martin and family headed to the Cowboy State, which, although far from the Bible belt, seems to be a place that fits.
This article also contains reporting by TEXAN staff.