Surprising Hope in Sin City

Acts 29: Churches Planting Churches

Las Vegas. The (in)famous Strip is lined with large casinos, bright lights, tourism, and the adult entertainment industry. Small wonder it has earned the title Sin City.

Most people who have never been to Vegas assume I live in a tent on the front lawn of the MGM Grand Casino. (I don’t.)

To be sure, Vegas is a place of reckless abandon. But while the city is unique in many ways, its roots are similar to those of your own city. You may not have casinos and tourism, but you do inhabit a “sin city.”

For example, there are almost as many strip clubs in Louisville as there are in Las Vegas (despite the fact Louisville has almost 1 million fewer people). So long as sinners inhabit cities, they will be places of sin. 

We plant churches because we long to see dead hearts spring to life. As a pastor, I’ve helped replant a church, and we are now in the process of planting a new church from the established church.

But planting a church in Vegas requires learning. Turns out there’s more to this city than big casinos and flashing lights. So we’ve had to do away with some common misconceptions in order to effectively bring the gospel to bear.

What Happens in Vegas (Doesn’t) Stay in Vegas

The slogan “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” is only partially true. Vegas is a transient city—not a place people tend to settle. Many view it with what I call a “layover mentality.” You know how this works. You’re on a flight from New York to Los Angeles, but you’ve got a brief layover in Chicago. Chicago doesn’t have great significance to you on this trip; you might recharge your phone, get a snack, get some work done, download that next podcast, and move on.

Why? It’s not your final destination. People often treat Vegas like a layover. They become like locusts ravaging the land of its resources. They’re looking to glean meaning, pleasure, or escape from their past. The city becomes a means to people’s self-centered ends.

Once they’ve consumed everything in their path—having found only instant gratification if not deep emptiness—they move on. Vegas just so happens to be an opportune pit stop.

I’ve seen so many come to Sin City in pursuit of vain pleasures—only to meet Jesus, stay put, and reorient their lives to see others come to know him, too.

But this is fertile soil for the gospel. I’ve seen so many come to Sin City in pursuit of vain pleasures—only to meet Jesus, stay put, and reorient their lives to see others come to know him, too.

Changed Lives

There’s an Air Force base on the outskirts of Vegas. Most Airmen (and their families) are here for an assignment lasting only a couple years. They’re not here to stay, and Jesus is certainly not on their radar.

But by God’s grace, we’ve seen dozens of Airmen come to know Christ in the last few years. We haven’t done anything extraordinary; we’ve simply been prayerful and intentional about getting in their path. We’ve sought to learn their needs, know their struggles, and understand where they hang their hope. 

Do you know the average stay of people who move to your community? If not, I’d encourage you to find out. Then find ways to be intentional about getting the gospel to them before it’s too late.

Viva Las Vegas?

Another popular slogan, “Viva Las Vegas,” no one here actually says. But it’s a good marketing tool. It means “long live Las Vegas,” and it conveys a sense of community pride.

But community doesn’t really exist here. Most who live in Vegas do not love the place or the people. They’ll say it to you. They want out, and fast.

In our church, however, the gospel is changing how our members view the city. And we plant churches because we want to ground ourselves in a local place among local people. 

No matter our context, we mustn’t underestimate the value of being present. Hospitality, for example, is vital. Why? Because Jesus didn’t show up virtually, and he wasn’t just passing through. He came to save sinners, and he did so in human flesh.

Another powerful apologetic in a place like Vegas is love within the local church. As the people of God love one another, we show the world something profound (John 13:35). Not flimsy, shallow love, but steady, others-centered love grounded in Christ’s love for us.

Grace Out-Abounds Sin

I’m reminded of my friend Stan. He moved from Michigan to Las Vegas more than 40 years ago. The move proved disastrous for him; it was a time filled with drugs, drunkenness, and excessive gambling. Stan was also a “smut-peddler” (his words) for the porn industry, and he eventually spent time in prison.

But then Stan met Jesus. He stumbled upon our church family, and everything changed. He was amazed at God’s pursuit of him even when he wanted nothing to do with God. Now he’s part of our family, where he’s affectionately known as “Stan the Man.”

As the people of God love one another, we show the world something profound.

When it comes to gospel ministry, I hope what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas. God has positioned this city to be a church-planting hub in the American West, even around the world. As the apostle Paul once wrote, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20).

May the grace of God abound not only in Vegas, but in sin cities across the world. Viva the kingdom of Christ.

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