Idaho church using the outdoors to share the gospel


RIGBY, Idaho – A defunct church plant’s ministry has become a mainstay of a now thriving church.

Scott and Jennifer Plath received a mass email in 2010 sent from the online studies office at Liberty University that challenged students to consider ministry in lesser-evangelized areas of the nation, such as the Northeast or the Rocky Mountain region.

“Once we read that email, it’s hard to quantify but there was a definite draw to the Intermountain West,” Scott Plath told Baptist Press. The church they attended, Cornerstone Community Church in Drummonds, Tenn., paid for them to check out western Montana, Idaho and Utah.

“We learned about the need in Rexburg, [Idaho] but in His providence the Lord provided a place a place to live in the neighboring community of Rigby,” Plath continued. Still believing that the church would be planted in Rexburg, the Plaths labored for months trying to get a Bible study started in Rexburg with little success.

It was only when they decided to host a small group in their Rigby home that the tide began to shift. There were eleven people at that first small group meeting in Rigby.  “The Lord made it pretty clear this was where we were to focus our attention,” Plath said.

In October of 2013, Faith Baptist Fellowship was launched in Rigby, Idaho, with about 40 people in attendance. It was the first Southern Baptist church to ever be planted in that city.

Faith Baptist Fellowship provided a “traditional” Southern Baptist service because that was what they knew, Plath said. It grew a bit, but after four years of attempting to reach Rigby with the gospel, “It became clear toward the end, when we had declined to about 10, that there was not going to be longevity. Something had to change.

“At the same time. I was building significant relationships and sharing the gospel with people in my shop in Rigby,” continued the pastor who works bi-vocationally as a taxidermist. Plath began to seek the Lord about what it would look like to bring together what felt like two disconnected lives, work and ministry.

He had a conversation with Mike Palmer, church planting director for Idaho (now part of NAMB’s Send Utah Idaho Network), expressing his interest in something for outdoorsmen. Palmer suggested he check out Outdoorsmen Church in Missoula, Montana.

“As soon as Jennifer and I walked into that service we said, ‘This is it!’ It was just a simple service of singing the Word, preaching the Word, and praying the Word, without all the other trappings that come along with the traditional church model,” Plath said. 

“We came away invigorated,” the pastor continued. “We talked all the way home about what it would look like to close Faith and open up what would become known as South Fork Outdoorsmen Church.”

That was in August 2017. 

“We closed Faith in November and restarted as a small group with the vision to plant South Fork Outdoorsmen Church on January 1, 2018,” Plath said. The church gets its name from the south fork of the Snake River, the lifeblood of the valley.

“We started in our home again with 21 people attending our first small group, and met weekly for several months while we prepared to launch South Fork,” the planter/pastor said. On May 6, 2018, Rigby’s South Fork Outdoorsmen Church launched public services with about 40 people in attendance. “It seemed huge.”

Other than the preaching of the Word, dependence on prayer, and a goal for discipleship, the only ministry vestige of Faith Baptist Fellowship is “Mega Sports Camp,” which was started at Faith with the help of mission teams from Tennessee.

“Sports Camp gives us opportunities to reach into our community and develop relationships that are real,” Plath said. “I was at the grocery store in Idaho Falls [15 miles south of Rigby] recently and a 9- or 10-year-old-girl came running up and hugged my legs. Her dad came up with ‘that look’ in his eyes and I had to explain to him who this strange man was that his daughter was hugging. Sports camp has connected South Fork with this community.”

Because it’s for kids in a part of the country that values doing things outside, Mega Sports Camp has grown to about 100 youngsters each July hearing the gospel while playing basketball, soccer and cheerleading. 

Rigby’s Outdoorsmen Church now meets at 5 p.m. Sundays in a former ATV repair shop that at Easter drew 120 people, though 60 is more typical. It is a simple service centered on the expository preaching of God’s Word, with theologically rich worship through song, and a rich sense of fellowship.

In addition to the Sunday gathering, South Fork holds small groups throughout the week for youth, men, and women with an emphasis on Bible study, evangelism, and discipleship. South Fork saw 10 people baptized in 2023 and has seven in the preparation process for 2024.

“It’s really growing rapidly and we are out of space,” Plath said. “There’s no building available around here that’s any bigger, though, so it looks like we’re going to have to build, but land prices have gone sky high. There are challenges but God is faithful.”

Plath has a four-stage plan to build the church: prayer/saving, land purchase, shell construction, finish out the inside. The hope is to build a modest facility without strapping the small congregation with a mountain of debt.

“God is faithful,” Plath repeats. So is Outdoorsmen Church. It’s reaching out to its community, looking ahead to a mission trip in 2025, to possibly planting a church further north in Idaho, and 10 percent of undesignated offerings is allocated for missions through the Cooperative Program and Eastern Idaho Baptist Association. 

“It’s just good practice to give to the Lord, giving back out of what He has given us,” Plath said. “With our missions giving through the Cooperative Program, we partner in the spread of the gospel and fulfillment of the Great Commission.

“We love being part of like-minded, ministry-minded churches that have a desire to reach the lost in north America and beyond,” the pastor continued. “The whole idea with the Cooperative Program is that we can do far more together than we can do alone. It’s not simply a cliché.”

Plath was hospitalized with covid pneumonia at the same time his best friend and worship leader Kent Burchyett was. When Burchyett died, “I began to think,” Plath said. “I could be gone tomorrow, and I began to look at everything around me. I realized that if I died, South Fork would likely stop. If I wanted this to last far beyond me, I needed to obey scripture and equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph 4).”

Since then, he has doubled down on getting laypeople in the church trained and doing all types of ministry in the community and Eastern Idaho. This May he took 15 others to Preacher School in Salmon, Idaho, for advanced training in Bible study for some and Worship for the others. He routinely takes men with him on his recreational forays into the back country for one-on-one conversations. “My heart in pastoring and even church planting is not about building a big church with lots of people, but being a good shepherd to the folks the Lord does bring, and that’s all I’m really interested in,” Plath said. “That and equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.”


This story first appeared in Baptist Press.