Pastor Dan Swaningson opened the doors of his church plant in a storefront building on Oct. 24, 2010, and four days later, on Oct. 28, he was officially appointed as the senior pastor of Hope Chapel (Red Lodge Foursquare Church) in Red Lodge, Mont.
Red Lodge, situated on the scenic Beartooth Mountain Highway, is dubbed the “Gateway to Yellowstone Park.” This quaint mountain town in the heart of Montana is a popular tourist destination year round, and Pastor Dan believes with all his heart that the Lord called him to establish a church in Red Lodge to be focused on healing, restoration and hope.
Dan’s story begins in 1985, when he encountered Jesus for the first time at Faith Chapel (Billings Foursquare Church) in Billings, Mont. He had a miraculous encounter with God, which compelled him to surrender his whole life to Christ. From that moment forward, Dan has been faithfully serving the church—first at Faith Chapel, for 18 years, then assisting in the church plant of Hope Center (Billings Southside Foursquare Church), where he served, among other things, as the children’s ministry pastor.
Throughout his years of service at Faith Chapel, Dan also attended Yellowstone Valley Bible Institute and subsequently became a credentialed Foursquare minister. He knew in his heart that God was calling him to be a church planter.
In 2007, the Lord began to connect his heart to the city of Red Lodge. Dan describes driving through the tourist town on the way to many of his fishing trips, at first thinking that it would be a very difficult place to plant a church. And yet, over time, this small town of about 2,100 people captured his heart and vision. He began to pray and wait on the Lord.
Three years later, in 2010, Dan initiated prayer meetings in Red Lodge, which quickly developed into a small congregation of committed believers, confirming the Lord’s direction for him to “start feeding the sheep in Red Lodge.” Dan explains that many people had been driving as far as 60 miles away to different towns to attend church and were longing to have a Spirit-filled church in their own community.
Ken Wise, ministry coordinator for the Great Northern District, attests to the need for church planters in the region.
“The Great Northern District,” Ken explains, “is a district of wide geographical expanse, dominated by small communities. It is the desire of the Great Northern District to bring the Foursquare message to these small communities.”
Ken affirms that Pastor Dan and the Red Lodge church plant fit that vision and calling very well. Dan, a Montana native, and his wife, Donna, live in a house they built on Blue Creek, south of Billings, where they raise cattle, horses and hay. Here the couple has raised their three daughters: Cally (21), Jessie (18) and Danielle (15). Dan continues to work full time as a commercial contractor for a local construction company. He is committed to drive 60 miles every week from Billings to serve the people of Red Lodge.
When the Lord first called Dan to Red Lodge, what resonated in his heart was to establish a ministry for “wounded soldiers.”
“I believe the Lord would have Hope Chapel in Red Lodge be a destination church where people come from near and far, as they already do to Red Lodge, to be renewed by the Spirit of our God,” he explains.
The pastor talks with excitement about the incredible stories he is witnessing of lives being transformed and miracles happening, all in the initial months of the church’s opening. He tells of one woman, struggling to recover from the heartache of divorce. She saw the sign in a storefront window that advertised the new church just two blocks away from her house.
“I feel like this church was planted just for me,” she joyfully told Dan, as she shared the miracle of stumbling across this church where she is finding a place to heal.
Or take, for example, another story of a gentleman who was suffering from severe alcoholism. He showed up on a Sunday morning and has miraculously been sober ever since. The church recently celebrated its first baby dedication and recorded salvation, which came as a direct result of this man’s testimony to his own family.
Dan expresses his vision for the church in the language of a carpenter. Speaking metaphorically, he paints a picture of a people who are being rebuilt by the “master carpenter.”
“God will pull out a few nails,” he explains, “square up the splintered ends, and then build a sanctuary for the hurting and tired, where joyful memories are made.”
Dan envisions that Hope Chapel will extend its ministry to eventually become a church that is uniquely Red Lodge, one that functions in the power of the Holy Spirit to lovingly provide refuge and rest for those who are weary—particularly fatigued pastors, missionaries or families who might come to Red Lodge to be refreshed by the warm hospitality of this quaint, historic town.
When Dan looks back at the big picture, he believes that the church in Red Lodge all came together in the Lord’s time. Even when the church plant was just a seed of thought in his own mind, he recalls how the Lord kept working to shape and refine the vision, opening doors of opportunity at all the right times.
He quotes Psalm 127:1—“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (NKJV)—and confesses with a smile, “I feel guilty for having so much fun!”
Dan recently published his first book, To My Girls: Advice and Encouragement From a Father’s Heart, which released in December through Tate Publishing.
By: Amy Swanson, a pastor’s wife and director of women’s ministry at New Life Church in Santa Barbara, Calif.