NAMB NEWS OFFICE
Editor’s Note: Heiden and Neena Ratner are church planting missionaries featured in the Week of Prayer for North American Missions and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.® This year’s theme is “On Mission Here and Now.” The national AAEO goal is $70 million.
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Established in 1905 near the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, this city that was once a pass-through in the Mojave Desert has become one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. Las Vegas hosts more than 42 million visitors each year. The draw includes novelty resorts and casinos with enough lasers and neon lights to make it visible from space, earning NASA’s distinction for Brightest Spot on Earth. But spiritually, the statistics tell a different story.
The city’s resident population is estimated to be around 630,000. Of that number, 92 percent do not know Jesus. Less than 37 percent of residents identify as religious; less than 5 percent align with the Protestant faith. The numbers underscore the reputation by which this place is known — “Sin City” and “The Entertainment Capital of the World” — but a new church plant is at work to bring transformation.
Leading the way are Las Vegas natives Heiden Ratner, wife Neena, and the team at WALK Church. Their mission is to free people to walk in Jesus. “We believe that Jesus has placed a primary calling on all of our lives and that is to make disciples of all nations,” says Ratner. He explains that the church engages people and Jesus sets them free. Planting a church, leading, sharing the Good News — it isn’t what he planned to do with his life, but now he can’t imagine doing anything else.
While growing up, Ratner’s dreams consisted mostly of playing Division 1 college basketball. As a sophomore, he was selected as the Gatorade Player of the Year for Nevada, and consistently made all-state teams. He went on to play as a guard for James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg, Va. Some teammates invited him to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) meeting, and everything changed. He says, “It was during that time that I realized I was missing something. I thought, these people have something I don’t. I was able to hear the gospel, get myself a Bible for the first time, ask questions, and it was there that God really began to draw me to Himself.”
Heiden became a believer in Christ, and while getting to know Jesus, he began to develop a passion for teaching, preaching, and sharing the gospel. The journey led him back to his hometown where he started a group Bible study.
Neena, whom he had known from high school, was among those he called to attend the study. Says Ratner, “That’s where we connected again, and I saw something change in her life, as well as mine.” Their friendship grew, as did their respective relationships with the Lord.
After his career at JMU was over he played professionally for a short time in Israel. While there he and Neena were married. Though he loved playing professional basketball, seeds that had been planted years before were starting to take root. The Ratners eventually returned to Las Vegas, and Heiden continued leading Bible studies for friends and former teammates. He eventually felt God’s call to plant a church in the city.
Ratner began studying as a church planting apprentice at his home church, Hope Church, and then began forming a launch team that included people from around the city. They circled a launch date on the calendar and met often to study the Bible, pray, —See Carving, Page 2
and plan. Says Heiden, “I love this city. I love the people in this city. I love the lights in this city. I love the noise. But more than anything I love what God is doing in this city.”
Rooted in Colossians 2:6, the
name of WALK Church points to the foundational directive to walk in the ways of Christ. The church launched in September of 2015 in the middle school Ratner once attended. The number of believers who gather in the school each Sunday is growing, currently averaging around 180 to 200 each week. But WALK Church does more at Schofield Middle School than simply lease space. The church members have turned it into a community by hosting cookouts, tackling improvement projects, and starting a food pantry.
A Tennessee congregation (Thompson Station Church, Thompson’s Station) played a role in helping to start WALK Church. Thompson Station provided $5,000 in startup funds and gave a monthly contribution to the ministry for about 18 months, recalled Tom McCoy, pastor of Thompson Station Church.
“Heiden and Neena are so gifted and so passionate about reaching Las Vegas for Christ,” McCoy observed.
“It was a great joy for Thompson Station Church to partner with Vance Pitman and Hope Baptist Church to help WALK Church get started. It was a great way for us to teach our TSC people about reaching our nation (Samaria) for Christ,” he added.
WALK Church is all about getting out into the city. Their small groups are dubbed “Charge Groups,” and they meet in homes around Las Vegas throughout the week. People are charged to get involved in the areas about which they are passionate. For Neena Ratner and many members, that includes working with children; for others it’s connecting with teens, hotel workers, and the list goes on and on.
One of the dreams for WALK Church is to have a building that serves as a facility to meet and worship and also provide a gym for people to connect and exercise. “We think that’d be an awesome opportunity to really engage in an effective way in our city and would allow us to use our domains and passions for the glory of God. We trust that God’s going to provide for us as we take those steps of walking in him,” he said.
Every move the Ratners and WALK Church make is about expanding the gospel into the “Sin City” of Las Vegas. They want to plant more churches in the city, meet more needs and give lost, hopeless people a place to find support. They’re learning how to raise up leaders and develop strong teams. In the midst of mesmerizing sights and sounds and the influx of millions of tourists, this church is on a mission to make Jesus known