Editor’s Note: The following feature story originally appeared in the fall 2020 issue of Southwestern News.
The dust-cloaked Ford F-150 idling on the edge of the small town of Bar Nunn, Wyoming, looks like most of the other trucks in town: four-wheel drive, knobby tires, stickers adorning the back window declaring allegiance to popular outdoor brands, and angled trails of mud thrown up from each tire covering the factory paint job with nature’s palette. On the side of the road, close to the idling truck, a family group of antelope lounge in the midday shade cast by a billboard for a nearby Holiday Inn.
As he glances out over the high plains scrub through a cracked windshield, Tyler Martin smiles widely, shakes his head, and says, “God is bringing so many people to this city for us.”
This is not just an optimistic church planter’s way of looking at the world, though—Martin is careful to note that it is God bringing so many people to the city, because there is no doubt in his mind that it was God who brought him and his family to this town from Fort Worth, Texas.
When Martin and his wife, Ashley, first visited Wyoming on a church planting vision trip and drove through Bar Nunn, he knew one thing: he did not want to live in that “Podunk city with no stop lights.” But as he would come to find out, God had a plan to start a church in Bar Nunn, and Martin would be an integral part of it.
An Ember Kindled
Within a week of accepting Christ as his Savior at the age of 15, Martin shared his testimony at his home church, Hallmark Baptist Church in Fort Worth, during a Sunday evening gathering. After hearing him speak, his youth pastor at the time told him, “Tyler, I think you have a gift. God may be calling you to ministry.”
Eager to find out whether this was so, Martin followed the counsel of his pastor and promised to pray every night until God gave him an answer.
“I went home every night for three months,” he recalls, “and I said, ‘God, are you calling me to ministry?’ not even knowing what that meant. And within three months, all that I know is that there was a fire within me. Whenever I would learn something in the Scriptures, I had to share it with somebody.”
Fueled by a fire to preach whenever he had the opportunity, Martin began to lead devotions among his friends at school and at gatherings of his school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes, where he served as president. He also preached once a month in his youth group. His joy for the Lord and magnetic personality drew people to him in high school, a trait that continues to characterize Martin’s ministry today. At the age of 20, while he was in college majoring in religion, Martin was called to pastor a 12-person Baptist church in Linden, Texas.
A Need to Prepare
As a young pastor in east Texas, Martin received one confirmation after another that God had called him to be a pastor for the rest of his life. But God also revealed Martin’s need for further preparation.
Seeking wisdom from a mentor at his home church, Martin sent a text message that said, “I think I need to go to seminary.” The response from Madison Grace, associate professor of Baptist heritage at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was simple: “I’ll see you at Southwestern.”
“I saw in Tyler, early on, that he got what the Gospel is about,” Grace says. “He walks into any room and he wants to get to know everybody, and he’s going to try and love everybody in that room. And then, he’s mostly concerned with, ‘Do they know Jesus?’”
Volunteering in the youth ministry while he was a Ph.D. student, Grace discipled a group of 10th-graders, including Martin. He recalls Martin would often arrive late for their discipleship meetings, more often than not because he had stopped to share the Gospel with someone.
Before he completed his Master of Divinity in 2018 at Southwestern Seminary, Martin had the opportunity to hear from a visiting NAMB church planting catalyst in one of Grace’s classes during an annual North American Church Planting week at the seminary. This encounter, and his professor’s keen awareness of the work of the Holy Spirit and God’s gifting on Martin, became an integral part of connecting the Martins to Wyoming as church planters.
Grounded in firm doctrinal convictions and strong ecclesiology, Martin recalls his favorite and most meaningful classes in seminary were in biblical counseling. He loved learning how to put Scripture and doctrine into practice.
“I just remember being in class at seminary, and so often people would ask, ‘Why are we learning this?’” Martin says. “I never had any clue there would be so much correction [in the local church]. So many false understandings of the Scripture, so many bad understandings of the Scripture, and so much sin. The things that have made our church the healthiest—we really emphasize the Gospel, but also, we really emphasize baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and membership in our church. We raise those things up high because those things protect the Gospel.
“Everything I do revolves around using the Scriptures to help someone somehow.”
Which One Are You?
When Martin and his wife, Ashley, arrived in Wyoming, Martin had a conversation with a church planting strategist who presented him with three types of people who come to Wyoming to do ministry. The first type are those who come to Wyoming who love Jesus but do not love the outdoors. Secondly, there are those who come to Wyoming because they love Jesus and they love the outdoors, but they came for the outdoors, not for Jesus. Lastly are those who come who love Jesus, love the outdoors, and they come to serve Jesus, which they do well because they fit in the culture. The question posed to Martin was, “Which one are you?”
An avid outdoorsman who loves duck hunting and is most often seen accompanied by his black lab, Nola, Martin wrestled with the answer to that question. He admits that he was initially attracted to the beauty of the land and the bounty of wildlife available to hunt in the region. But while driving through the city of Bar Nunn, Martin sensed the reason God had brought them to this city.
“I was burdened that 94 percent of the people here don’t know Christ,” he says. “And you can drive two hours in any direction, and you’re going to pass less than 5,000 people, and usually there are no churches.
Martin asked God to give him a heart and a burden for the city of Bar Nunn. God gave him that burden, and then He provided in ways that only He could.
The Martins began a yearlong apprenticeship through WindCity Church in Casper, Wyoming, and their partnership with this church and with NAMB taught them the cooperative nature of ministry in the frontier.
As they began to develop a heart for the town, the Martins began doing diagnostic evaluations of the city to which God called them. One of the common features of every home in Bar Nunn is a collection of vehicles parked in the driveway or alongside the house. Nearly every house has a camper, a side-by-side all-terrain vehicle, and a four-wheel-drive truck. Some might have a boat, too.
In this town, where the predominant religious preference is “None,” the dollars parked outside of these homes tell the story of what is important to those who live inside. And this provided an insight into the spiritual position of those who live in Bar Nunn.
“The god of Bar Nunn is fun and materialism,” Martin notes. “People here work really hard, and they just want to have a good time. They work five or six days a week, so when they are home, they just want to go.”
When the sun is shining during the brief summer months in Wyoming, everyone takes advantage of beautiful landscape and gets out in nature. Rather than seeing this as a challenge to overcome, Martin realized as he looked around the city that “church as usual” was not going to work here. This is part of the reason why Outfitter Church meets on Wednesday nights instead of on Sundays.
“They love the outdoors, they love creation, they think it’s a marvelous creation, but don’t ascribe any glory to the God who made it,” Martin says.
Outfitter Church was planted with a determination to change that narrative with the mission: “equipping you to relentlessly pursue Jesus and make disciples.”
‘Outfitter Church is Not Special’
In October 2019, after the Martins had spent nine months developing a core team with the assistance of WindCity Church and through relationships built in Bar Nunn, Outfitter Church was officially planted with 10 people as covenant members. Their first service, held at “The Hangar,” a local bar and grill with a 10,000-square-foot multipurpose room, was attended by 44 people. Immediately, Martin knew God was up to something.
“We had planned to start small and meet in homes every other week, and after our first service, we realized that wasn’t going to be possible,” Martin says. “Outfitter Church is not special: God is. Before Outfitter got here, there was no church intentionally trying to reach this city with the Gospel and actually doing something about it. We’re intentionally a church for this city.”
In less than a year since it was planted, God has given Outfitter Church land at a significantly reduced price that they would have never expected from a church in Kansas that also had a desire to see a church planted in the town. Again they saw evidence of a cooperative desire to see the city reached with the Gospel. When the Martins could not find a home to live in, they prayed, and shortly thereafter, WindCity Church received a phone call from “an oil field worker who loves Jesus,” who donated his mobile home in Bar Nunn to the church. At a baptism service in August 2020, seven people were baptized in a river near the church.
In a desire to perpetuate the collaborative Kingdom efforts that have made Outfitter Church possible, Martin has built multiplication and support of other church plants into the core vision of the church. Even though they do not yet have a building of their own in which to meet, Outfitter Church is financially supporting two other church plants in the region.
In September 2020, they participated in their first two mission trips. They joined a WindCity Church plant in Medicine Bow, Wyoming, for a weekend-long block party and revival. Less than two weeks later, they helped a fellow Southwesterner in Kalispell, Montana, with the launch of Veneration Church.
Martin is eager to see Wyoming reached for Christ and knows that the cooperative nature of church planting in the West is one of the ways God is at work to draw people to Himself.
“We have to work together to plant Gospel-centered churches in every single one of these little cities.”