SNYDER—Toting a gun in one hand and a Bible in the other, a group of men gather on a ranch right outside of town. The pistol-packing group meets for fellowship and spiritual growth—with a little target practice in between.
The men, part of the small group initiative at Colonial Hill Baptist Church of Snyder, meets every other week to practice their gun-handling skills, participate in competitive team-shooting, fellowship with Christians, be challenged by Scripture and eat freshly baked cobbler.
“One of the things we wanted to do is to have a place where men can come and build relationships with other men,” said Clay Giddens, minister of education at Colonial Hill Baptist Church.
When Giddens introduced the small-group initiative to the church a year ago, he looked for natural connections to form groups focused on encouragement and spiritual growth. Since then, the church started five small groups.
“When I came here in August 2007, I met Mac and Barbara Ashby, a deacon and his wife, at the church who were involved in competitive pistol shooting,” Giddens said. “He invited me to come out and shoot at his homemade gun range. Others began to join us, and we incorporated that small-group concept to our shooting group.”
The group began meeting in March. It draws about 15 men of all ages, including some church staff, a former pastor, a retired Texas Ranger and college students working in the area. Most of the men have been members of the church for years but desire deeper fellowship. They also use this group as an outreach to other men in the community.
“There are people from other churches and our church,” said Mac Ashby, group member and owner of the shooting range. “We invited people who we think might be interested. We show them a good time. … It opens up the opportunity for building relationships outside of the conventional church environment.”
After the group spends an hour or two in target practice and competitive shooting, the men sit down to talk about life and their walk with God. During the last 13 weeks, the men took turns leading discussions and lessons on relationships.
The casual atmosphere allows men to be themselves, showing their personalities while deepening their relationships with each other.
“Normally the environment is such that they open up pretty quickly,” Ashby said. “There is a lot of good-natured harassment.”
After taking part in the group, the men have something interesting to discuss when they see each other in town or at church or at work, Ashby said.
Since the men meet on Tuesday nights, it allows church staff and leaders who are typically serving in other capacities on Sundays to participate.
The group “helps me have contact with other folks,” said John Billings, a small-group member. “Since I am a Sunday school director, I haven’t been apart of a class in years because I have to do the paperwork.”
Since the beginning of the small-group initiative, Giddens has encouraged church members to discover the activities they enjoy. Then he said to use them to start a discipleship group.
“Any outreach and discipleship tool is trickle-down enthusiasm,” Giddens said. “I’ve really been excited about Mac’s excitement—the fact that he can take something he enjoys and use it to grow the kingdom.”