Loving Las Vegas: Amid challenges, church planter finds fertile soil for the gospel


LAS VEGAS – Las Vegas might be the most known, and unknown, place on earth. Most people know it’s a place where slot machines outnumber ATM’s; a place where you can play golf at midnight; and a place where, if you so desire, you can order a $3.99 ribeye at 3 a.m. But very few people know the Las Vegas that Alabama natives Joseph and Kristen Gibbons know.

“I think the biggest misconception about Las Vegas is it’s just ‘the Strip’, it’s just ‘Sin City,’” Joseph says. “But what we found when we got here is that it’s really just families here trying to raise their kids.”

For Joseph and Kristen Gibbons, Las Vegas has always been a city full of surprises. As a matter of fact, it was an unexpected discovery that drew them here in the first place.

“In 2019, we were invited to lead a youth weekend here,” Joseph says. “And while we were preparing for the trip, we learned that Las Vegas is our nation’s capital for teenage homelessness. The statistics were disheartening, but then the moment on that trip when we met a homeless teen, the statistics became a story for us.”

“This girl was probably 13 years old,” Kristen says. “She didn’t know where she was going to be from one night to the next. This was her life, and that just confirmed to us that this place needs a church.”

In 2020, Joseph, Kristen and their two kids, along with five other friends, left their homes in Alabama and moved to the greater Las Vegas Valley area of Henderson to plant Favor City Church.

“The people who run the Strip live in this community,” says Joseph. “And we wanted to meet them in their fast-paced lives and slow things down enough so the gospel could sink in.”

Planting a church in a place that bills itself as “Sin City” would, at first glance, seem to be a hard ask. Statistics, after all, do identify Las Vegas as one of the least churched metropolitan areas in North America.

“Yeah, the context here in Las Vegas is so different than the context in somewhere like Alabama,” Joseph says. “Sixty percent of the people in our city would identify with no religion at all.”

Combine that statistic with the instability that comes from living in a place where families—drawn by high-paying but stressful tourist sector jobs—come, stay for a short time and then go, and the Gibbons truly had their work cut out for them when they arrived in Henderson.

But Joseph and Kristen quickly learned that all these unique characteristics actually make Las Vegas fertile ground for church planting.

“Yes, it’s true most people here don’t identify with a specific religion,” Joseph says. “And yes, the transient nature of our city makes church planting in Las Vegas very difficult. But all that just means that people here are wide open to spiritual conversation.”

It was that combination of openness to spiritual conversation and lack of spiritual background that led the Gibbons to plant a church that would feel like home for anyone who showed up, no matter what they happened to believe.

“We wanted our church to be a place where people can come and feel like they belong to a community that loves them,” Kristen says. “And in that, they can discover how Jesus loves them.”

Favor City Church launched in October 2021, and it grew quickly as people first belonged and then believed. In their first two years, attendance grew to 150. They baptized 30 people. They trained a church planter apprentice who’ll soon plant another church in a nearby community. Now, they’re even building witnessing relationships with homeless teenagers by partnering with a local ministry that was already active in their community.

A lot has happened in two years—and it was made possible in large part because Southern Baptists gave to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. As lifelong Southern Baptists, Joseph and Kristen had heard of Annie Armstrong for years, but they’d never really understood just how much God could do with the missions offering until they were on the receiving end of all those gifts.

“We were part of great Baptist churches growing up, and I was familiar with the Annie Armstrong offering,” Joseph says. “But what we’ve seen over time is that Annie helps us stay in the fight, knowing that we have friends and family and churches all across North America that are helping and holding the rope for us as we fight this battle.”

God is using Southern Baptist churches from all over to help the Gibbons make Jesus known in Las Vegas.

“Annie allows us to have the resources our church needs so we can focus on building relationships,” says Joseph. “And it’s out of those relationships where we’re able to see the disciple-making process happen and the church be born. We’re seeing entire families come to know Jesus as their savior, and that just blows my mind. We’re humbled to be a part of the story God’s writing for His kingdom in Las Vegas.”

The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® provides half of NAMB’s annual budget, and 100 percent of the proceeds go to the field. The offering is used for training, support and care for missionaries, like Joseph and Kristen Gibbons, and for evangelism resources.