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Embarking on a Spiritual Surge

The military and forensic background of the lead pastor helps South Dakota congregation strategically reach its community one neighbor at a time.

In his nearly three years as a crime scene investigator, James D. Moore gained a perspective of his city that few pastors have.

Until early 2019, Moore worked as the police department’s lead forensic examiner in Rapid City, South Dakota. He spent his days in the laboratory and nights walking crime scenes — sometimes followed by early Sunday mornings preaching at Rapid City’s Journey Church.

“I have put a lot of people in body bags,” he says. “God showed me the needs of our city.”

The 41-year-old Moore left forensic work to minister full time at Journey Church earlier this year. Now, he and the congregation are launching an evangelism campaign to reach the city’s neighborhoods and neediest areas. Through “Rapid City Surge,” he’s encouraging the church’s attendees to get to know their immediate vicinities, pray over them, and evangelize block by block.

“Begin baking cookies and take them to your neighbors,” Moore advises. “Have a garage sale. Get to know your neighbors and pray for them.”

With a population of nearly 75,000, Rapid City sits in the Black Hills of South Dakota near Mount Rushmore and the Badlands, which attract millions of tourists each year. But in the shadows of those national monuments, Moore says he has seen firsthand how many struggle with poverty, crime, and drugs.

Moore sees parallels between this evangelism strategy and his previous work in the military. Before entering the ministry, he spent 10 years working as a special agent with the Army Criminal Investigation Command and as a bodyguard at the Pentagon. During that time, he served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Bosnia.

He patterned the evangelistic surge after the Iraq War “surge” campaign that set up substations where smaller military units built relationships in neighborhoods. Moore also is relying on the description of the Church in Acts 5:42: “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.”

“The closer in relationship you are, the greater willingness they have to receive the gospel from you,” he says. “You are already there in their lives to be their discipleship partner and walk with them.”

Journey Church has about 200 adherents who live throughout the city. Moore says he has encouraged churchgoers to “stake out their substations” by writing down names of people to pray for and connect with. In April, the church held its first call to prayer on Facebook Live, where attendees prayed for their neighbors from their living rooms.

The congregation is seeing more people come to salvation in Christ. Jasmine Sanders, who attends the church, says the emphasis on evangelism spurred her to invite a neighbor to church in April. The neighbor accepted her invitation and brought a friend along one Wednesday night. Both accepted Jesus as Savior that evening.

“It was already on my heart,” she says. “Sometimes you have thoughts that you don’t know exactly how to do it, and you get the confirmation that it’s good to do it.”

James Dye, who attends the church and serves as the district Royal Rangers leader for the South Dakota Assemblies of God, says he connected with a former friend and invited her son to a Ranger Derby event. That led to her attending on a Sunday, when she also became a Christian.

“It was as simple as inviting someone to a church event like that,” Dye says.

Moore says he is planning future phases where congregants will eventually go on prayer walks followed by outreach events in the city’s neediest areas.

Ian Richardson

Ian Richardson is a 2014 graduate of Evangel University and former intern with the Pentecostal Evangel. He is originally from Afton, Iowa, where he grew up as the son of an Assemblies of God pastor.