One of the best things about working with a church planting ministry is getting to watch new churches come to life. Every new church starts as a stirring in someone’s heart. When the Holy Spirit empowers that stirring a faith community is born. Yet starting is the easy part. The hard work of church planting comes in the months and years after the initial launch.
I recently had the pleasure of spending a couple of days with the Redland Hills Church, near Montgomery, Alabama. Wes and Amanda Gunn and their team started the Redland Hills Church, a Mission Alive church plant, in 2014. Since its inception, the church has become well-established in its community and seen several people come to faith. Throughout 2016 an average of 80 people have gathered each Sunday morning in a neighborhood clubhouse. They come from a variety of backgrounds but have all found a home at Redland Hills.
At a time when many new faith communities struggle to maintain their momentum, the Redland Hills Church is thriving. During my recent visit with them I realized that the Redland Hills Church is a case study for how new churches transition from church plant to established congregation.
New churches are naturally fragile. They typically start with limited human and financial resources. What they have in abundance is excitement and momentum. The challenge is to transition the excitement and momentum of the launch into healthy ministry rhythms that will sustain the life of the church over the long haul. At the Redland Hills Church there is still plenty of excitement but 3 practices are emerging which are helping them make the transition into an established church.
- Caring for People
During my time with the Redland Hills Church I clearly saw how God was extending His grace into the lives of hurting people. The team shared with me some of the challenges they have faced as they try to do this. Like most communities, theirs has its share of family crises, health challenges, addiction and parenting issues. Wes, Amanda and the rest of their team have all been thrust into many of these demanding situations.
Early in the life of a new church nearly all the energy gets focused on the mission. Yet for a new church to transition and become established within its community, it must add pastoral care to its strong sense of mission. The Redland Hills Church is certainly doing that. We can support them by calling upon God to strengthen them and make them wise as they extend God’s grace in their community.
- Engaging the Community
Soon after they launched, the Redland Hills Church hosted an appreciation dinner for the local volunteer fire department. As a result, Wes was able to develop several friendships among the volunteers. More recently Wes completed ‘fire school’ and is now a certified member of the department. I had the privilege of touring the fire station with Wes and meeting several of the other firefighters.
His role with the department has allowed Wes access to the community on a deeper level than he would have had otherwise. Whenever there is a car wreck, house fire or medical emergency, Wes is one of the first to arrive. His commitment to the community is tangible. Even more exciting, it is not just Wes engaging the community. On several occasions Wes has alerted members of the Redland Hills Church who have responded with care, food, clothing or whatever was needed.
Wes and the Redland Hills Church are a model for how Christians can bless their community. Not that every church should join the fire department but every church should seek opportunities to engage their community in redemptive ways. We can ask God to keep Wes safe and give him and the Redland Hills Church opportunities to extend God’s care to those in need.
- Developing Leaders
During my time with the Redland Hills Church I had the pleasure of spending an evening with the leadership team. We ate together and talked about some of the challenges of church planting. The main conversation focused on how the Redland Hills Church would identify, equip and ordain new leaders.
Most new churches start with a small group of committed leaders dedicated to the hard work of launching a new church. Frequently, this is called the Launch Team. The Launch Team must eventually transition into a Leadership Team as they church becomes established. Making this leadership transition challenges any new church.
The Redland Hills Church is handling this well. Since its inception in 2014, several members of the initial Launch Team have needed to transition from leadership. The time has come to develop new leaders who will lead the Redland Hills Church into its next season as an established church. We can pray for Wes and the rest of the current leaders as they develop strategies for identifying and equipping the leaders who will guide the Redland Hills Church into the future.
For any new church to transition into an established congregation it must develop ways to extend care to the church and community. It must develop methods for cultivating new leaders. We in Mission Alive are excited to work with gifted leaders like Wes and Amanda Gunn. If you want to keep up with the Redland Hills Church, you can check out their website at www.redlandhills.org or take a look at their Facebook page www.facebook.com/redlandhills/ . Please join us in praying for them, their church and community.