This month’s church planting highlight is Montana’s largest city – Billings. Following is a synopsis of the city and the needs for church plants. In the near future, we will highlight Gracepoint Church, the newest upcoming plant in The Heights.
Billings is the largest city in Montana. In fact, it is the largest city for about a nine-hour drive in any direction from it! Close to 115,000 people call the city home and the population of Yellowstone County is nearing 160,000 people. In addition to these numbers, it has been estimated that nearly 500,000 people come through town on the busiest weekends. All of that to say, if you influence Billings with the gospel, you will influence much of the region.
Billings is home to several college environments (including Montana State University-Billings, Rocky Mountain College, and our very own, SBC affiliated, Yellowstone Christian College… to name a few). The Cincinnati Reds affiliated, Billings Mustangs, play baseball in the late spring and early summer. There are also plenty of hiking, biking, and other outdoor opportunities in the area. Yellowstone National Park is only 3 hours away and the Beartooth Pass on which you drive to get there is constantly voted among the top scenic drives in the United States. The geography is unique and can be described as the transition point between the northern plains and mountainous western Montana.
The people of Billings are very friendly and down to earth. Many work in the medical field, the oil industry, mechanical shops, or at one of the refineries in town. The medical system here is the largest offering between Minneapolis and Seattle. The hospitals here often serve people in Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Canada. It is a town in transition from a smaller close-knit community to a larger city. You will find a healthy mix of people new to the area and multi-generation families. In general, Billings has the feel of a mid-west style city and has a best-kept secret of lower snow totals than the rest of the region. That said, it can be as cold as negative 60 degrees (with the wind chill factor) in the winter and as hot as 100 degrees in the summer!
Broken up into four distinct environments, the city offers potential to multiple styles of church planters. The shape of Billings may best be thought of as a capital L shape that has fallen down to the left. The distinguishing marker of the city is “the rims,” a 300 feet high rock wall (or mesa) running along the northern part of the long side of the L shape.
Here are the four distinct areas of Billings.
1. The Heights is the short side of the L on the north-east part of the city. This is a mostly residential area containing about 30,000 residents, many having multiple school age children. It is a strong family environment with multiple elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school.
2. Downtown/Central Billings is located at the bend of the L shape. This is an area with a diverse economic base ranging from young professionals,medical professionals and low-income areas. The downtown area is charming with many eateries and shops.
3. The South Side is just below and to the east of downtown and is an area with a higher concentration of low income, but is also beginning to see an influx of younger families who desire a lower housing cost.
4. The West End is the area at the end of the long side of the L shape. The bulk of the most expensive housing is in this area, as well as, most of Billings’ larger churches, including the largest SBC church in Montana, Emmanuel Baptist Church. This area of Billings also includes most of the newer stores and restaurants, and is often called the “pathway of progress.”
In addition to the four areas of Billings, there are four surrounding towns/areas of significance ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 in population. These are Laurel to the west, Blue Creek to the south, Lockwood to the east, and Shepherd to the north. These towns have varying needs for church planting.
Billings is ripe for multiple church starts. We believe gifted and called planters have an opportunity to THRIVE in Billings. While there are many church buildings in the city, there are not many vibrant or growing churches. In fact, many of the church facilities you see will have less than 50 people in them each weekend. There are still many residing in Billings who have never been to a worship service or have never read the Bible. So, if you aim at those who are far from God, you will have more than enough people to reach and disciple. As is the case with most of the large cities of Montana, we recommend prospective planters develop strong financial partners and identify a strong worship leader to arrive with them. Worship space is difficult to find in the city of Billings unless you are in a revitalization effort or a current MTSBC affiliated building becomes open. Be prepared to be flexible, adaptable and creative to find an effective meeting space.