3 Indications A New Church is Growing Up: A Case Study

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.

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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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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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.

  1. 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.

 

The Art of Church Planting

The art of church planting is like three intertwined rings, like Olympic circles, each related to the others. The first circle, disciple-making, is guiding people to become more like Jesus.one ringThe second is mission, summarized by Jesus’ statement: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” The words “follow me” designate discipleship, and “I will make you fishers of men” is descriptive of mission.

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The third, community formation, is the result–the outcome–of disciple-making and mission.

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Community is inherent in disciple-making and mission. It becomes the arena of nurture, of spiritual maturation.Thus, the art of church planting is learning to make disciples on mission with God, which results in new communities of faith.Disciple-making, mission, community-all three are counter-intuitive to North American society. Our tendency is to emphasize champions over disciples, participation without mission, and attendance with little community.

Mission Training

The process of Mission Training integrates disciple-making, mission, and community through experiential learning processes for the sake of both church renewal and church planting.

Click here to download a Mission Training brochure.

Gailyn Van Rheenen

Mission Alive

Introducing Redland Hills Church planting!

Redland Hills bannerPraise God for new beginnings!  On Monday, November 18, 2013 the Redland Hills Church in Wetumpka, AL held its first gathering.  After months of conversation, planning, and praying, our core families, along with others who have been interested in what we are doing, gathered for a night of worship and thanksgiving.  And we have much to be thankful for!  God has been walking with us and far ahead of us each step we have taken.  We are grateful for the partnership, advice, and coaching from Mission Alive to even get to this point.  We have been blessed with a great space in a neighborhood clubhouse, with even space for a kids program.  We’ll begin renting this space each Sunday beginning in January 2014.  And we’re so grateful for the many prayers and encouraging words that friends and supporters have shared.  It is humbling to begin a new work like this, but so rewarding to see it come to fruition.

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New Missions book…first look!

In late July Becky and I finally finished writing and editing the second edition of Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies.  Completing this missions text is very significant for Mission Alive.  Writing the chapter on “Planting, Nurturing, and Training: An Incarnational Model for North America” (in the context of theMissionsText other chapters leading up to it) has helped to sharpen our thinking and led us to be very intentional in the process of church planting and renewal.  This text has nine new chapters and moves more intentionally from theology to practice than the 1996 edition (http://zondervan.com/9780310208099).  This first edition has gone through 12 printings. Its publication will also be significant for us as a ministry.

In the next few weeks I will continue blogging a few excerpts from this text.  We invite you to read and to respond.

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God’s Ministry through Jim and Julie

Jim and Julie discerned that they were naturally gifted as evangelists and this understanding amplified their interest in missions.  As youth ministers, they felt the calling of God to begin Missional Communities, meaning in this case, Christian relational networks within schools to help searchers know God and walk with him.  With other leaders of their church, they conceived of multiple Missional Communities, embedded in neighborhoods and relational networks, as extensions of their public Worship Gathering on Sunday morning.  The seeds of the communities were planted when they began to pray with Christian student leaders about their schools and to minister with these students during campus activities and in coffee houses.  They were present for many school activities; it was their arena of mission.  Soon Jim and Julie were ministering to a broader group of students who were friends of the core group within the church.  After a student’s death, Jim and Julie were at the school to comfort, counsel, and pray.  They attended many sports events and the coaches frequently asked them to pray for and minister to struggling students.  Jim and Julie attempted to model Jesus’ ministry on earth in their campus environments by teaching, listening, praying, and healing.  Reflecting the ministry of Christ, they also prayed diligently for the students from their church who ministered with them.  After extended prayer, they selected twelve students, six from each of the two high schools in their area, and invited them into two discipling huddles.  The huddles’ focus was to help the students grow as disciples of Jesus and partner with them to be Christ to their campuses.  As a result, within a year missional communities of about 40 students were ministering in the name of Jesus on each campus and worshipping in the church’s public gathering.   Mission had gone out of the church building and into the schools and homes of the community.

What do you think are Jim and Julie’s assumptions about the nature of ministry?

Transformed for Mission

Florence Pohl (Flo) was the quintessential American unbeliever: skeptical of organized religion, lonely and isolated, passionate about helping others, and open to faith and God.

She recently crossed paths with Kyle Mott, a Mission Alive church planter in Wichita, Kansas, with the River City Christian Community.

Flo’s story is about faith, community, mission in the workplace, and not least, transformation.

Through her interactions with River City Christian Community, Flo was transformed by God’s power from a lonely person who struggled to see how God was at work in the world to a disciple of Jesus on mission with God!

Click on the picture below to hear Flo share her story.

Sifted: Powerful Theme, Powerful Conference

Last week the Mission Alive staff attended the Exponential Conference, the largest gathering of church planters in the world.  Every April over 5000 church planters gather in Orlando, Florida, to think, pray, worship, learn and grow.  If you are a church planter or church planting ministry like Mission Alive, it is THE place to be.

This year the conference theme was “Sifted,” taken from Jesus’ words of warning to the apostle Peter in Luke 22:31-32:

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

In each session speakers and couples took the stage to testify how Satan had sifted them.  They spoke with surprising honesty and vulnerability, something not usually seen at conferences like these.  Some confessed to pornography, others to adultery, others to ignoring their families while they poured all their time and effort into their ministry.  Darrin Patrick, church planter of The Journey church in St. Louis challenged church planters not to walk away from their calling at the first significant challenge.  He said, “If we are going to talk about [our] calling, we are going to have to talk about faith.”

Each speaker exhorted the audience to have courage, perseverance, integrity, deep dependence upon God, obedience, and much hope.

The final session focused on healthy rhythms and boundaries for church planters and their families.  Dave Ferguson interviewed Bill Hybels, his wife and two adult children about how they maintained a healthy family as they ministered.  Amidst his many wise thoughts Hybels said, “In ministry you’re going to disappoint someone.  Try not to make it your kids.”  Great advice for every Christian trying to live by faith and raise a family in the midst of such busy lives!

Most church planters and church leaders understand the importance of personal development, soul care and family care, yet these are often lost in the frenetic activity of church leadership which results in a life and family unprepared for the inevitable sifting.

Jesus’ words of warning to Peter echo far and wide throughout Christian history.  Satan has indeed sifted many missionaries, church planters, ministers and preachers.  Today we can be sure that he is preparing to sift a new generation of Christ’s servants.

Join us in praying for God’s blessing and protection on Mission Alive church planters on the front line of the Kingdom of God.  If you would like to join our Prayer Team and receive weekly prayer updates, contact Holly at holly@missionalive.org to be added to the prayer list.

Tod Vogt

Mission Alive-Director of Equipping

Learning to Pray

“Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1)

Prayer, like conversion, is a turning to God.  This turning to God is very difficult for human-focused, individualistic Euro-Americans and those culturally influenced by the secularism of traditional Western education.  We are taught to rely on ourselves rather than on God.

How then can we learn to pray, to turn to God?  The answer is imitating others who depend on God, modeling their examples.

Prayer – Imitating Jesus

The early disciples learned to pray by watching Jesus.  They watched him go to a solitary place to pray (Luke 4:42).  They witnessed that he “often withdrew” from proclaiming the kingdom of God and healing the sick “to lonely places” to pray (Luke 5:15-16).  They learned that before Jesus selected twelve of them to become his apostles that he “spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12-15).  They heard his prayers before his death, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you!” (John 17:1), and his death had the power to give them “eternal life” (John 17:2). They did not fully understand this prayer, but the words stuck in their minds.

But the journey to his death was not easy.  He urged his disciples to pray that they would not “fall into temptation” (Luke 22:39-40) and then withdrew “a stone’s throw away” and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:41-42).  Luke says that he prayed so earnestly that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (22:44).  This took place in the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives, where Jesus habitually took his apostles to pray (Luke 22:39).

Jesus’ journey was typified by prayer to His father and was witnessed to by his disciples!

Prayer and Disciple-Making

Learning to pray cannot be done merely by studying prayer, telling people to pray, or teaching the components of prayer.  It is best done by imitating those who are walking in a dependent relationship with God.  Learning by imitation thus becomes an inextricable part of our disciples-making.   Expectant prayer must be modeled in both community and ministry.

I am currently learning how to more effectively huddle church planters and ReVision church leaders for the purpose of disciple-making and leader-equipping.   In this process I am like “a sheep from the front and a shepherd from behind” (p. 40, Building a Discipling Culture – Huddle Guide by Mike Breen and Steve Cochram).  In other words, I am following those who disciple me while simultaneously guiding others on the road to becoming mature disciples and leaders.   In these various huddles I am learning prayer both from the vantage point of a follower and a leader.

Currently I am honored to facilitate a huddle for the leaders of a church in the San Antonio area, who are going through the Mission Alive ReVision ministry.  This weekly huddle takes place via conference calls because of distance.   As church leaders, we recently spent two weeks disciplining ourselves to pray.  We concluded during this time that it is easier for us to talk about prayer than to discipline our lives to commune with God in prayer.  We, like the disciples in Luke 11, requested “O Lord, teach us to pray!”

The obvious beginning point is the Lord’s Prayer, his model prayer, in Matthew 6:9-13.  This prayer, given specifically to teach us to pray, has six elements, each teaching us an important truth about the father (Breen and Cockram, Building a Discipline Culture, Chapter 11): Continue reading

Oikos

Missional church planting is gathering people together to become an extended family of God’s people.  It happens incarnationally, life-on-life, through interpersonal and compassionate connection.

Last night Becky and I went to Roman’s Hair Salon to get our hair cut.  We were Roman and Lee’s last customers of the day.  Roman cuts Becky’s hair and Lee does mine.  As we were waiting, we heard Roman speak powerfully into the life of another customer whose daughter had recently come out of a deep coma.   Roman was encouraging her not to fear but to rely on the Lord for healing.  After the customer left, I kidded Roman that she is a counselor and should call her business “Roman’s Hair Salon and Counseling Service.”  She laughed and blushed!   It was evident that she was honored.

Lee was soon cutting my hair (basically cutting it all off and trimming my eyebrows as she does every two weeks!  The best kind of hair cut for an old man like me!).  Lee asked how often Becky and I exercised, and I then asked her about her exercise as well.  In our conversation I mentioned that there were two types of exercise, exercise of the “body” and exercise of the “heart.”  She paused and then asked what I meant by the “exercise of the heart.”  I described God forming our inmost being so that we think and behave like Him.  For the rest of the haircut she talked and talked about her understanding of this and how it was touching her heart.  Although speaking with a deep Vietnamese accent, I was able to hear most of what she was saying.  She wanted to know more about “heart exercise.”

In the meantime Roman was describing to Becky her role as a counselor.  “I love my customers,” she said.  “I believe God gives me a gift of hearing and advising them.  I am bold in my speech.”  Becky asked, “Who is your counselor?”  She paused, thought for a while, and finally said, “I guess God is.”  She also testified that a doctor helped her mother, a refugee from Ethiopia, with glaucoma surgery and only charged her $500, which her family was able to raise.   Becky reflected later that perhaps hair stylists are like proverbial bartenders:  When asked, “How are you doing?”, customers may likely respond, “I am having a terrible, horrible, very bad, no good day!”  People sit with aching hearts and words just come tumbling out.  The server listens and gives words of hope.

After our haircuts Becky and I congratulated Roman on new décor of her beauty salon.  With tears she began to tell us her journey over the past six months.   She almost lost the salon because of high rent and lack of customers.  She told how the owner, believing in her, reduced the rent; how an exceptional 25-year-old resource person through Groupon taught her how to advertise; and how a new friend had unexpectedly decided to redecorate her salon as a special favor to her.  “I know it was God,” she said, pointing up.  We were touched that these searchers with little Christian community were yet acknowledging God in their lives.

We began to talk about how lonesome North America is, how we live in proximity to many people but without neighborliness, and yet how we need each other to live and survive in this world.   As we shared, we asked both Roman and Lee to become part of our extended family, our “Oikos,” and begin a spiritual journey with us.  Becky and I gathered Roman and Lee in a small circle and prayed with and for them.

We are learning that people-gathering is done relationally, heart-to-heart, with prayer, calling people into community and allegiance to God.   We are on a journey . . . .  Pray for us.

The Celebration

“Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice” (Psalm 105:3)

The Mission Alive Celebration was filled with stories of God’s work— the story of a searcher coming to Christ in Mesquite, the story of church renewal in South Carolina, the story of church planting in Denver, and the story of equipping for church planting and renewal through Mission Alive.  Chris Altrock, Mission Alive board member and preaching minister of the Highland Church of Christ in Memphis, who also emceed the program, called these “remarkable stories of God’s breakthrough.”

“My favorite part,” said church planter Charles Kiser, “was when Corey Rose, a member of ONEcommunity Church of Christ, spoke about his participation in that Mission Alive church planting by saying, ‘It’s like I’m a minister or something!’ People like Corey are coming out of darkness, into the light, and being equipped and released into God’s mission . . . .  Praise God!”

Mission Alive board member Allen Close, unable to attend because of a skiing accident, gave a video testimony about the renewal of the Lexington church near Columbia, South Carolina through ReVision.   He tells of multiple conversions of college age students, outreach among Hispanics, and young people who not only raise money for the poor but also minister personally in their contexts of brokenness.  Allen said he had sometimes felt “like an Old Testament prophet carrying an unpopular message” but the church has undergone a mighty transformation.  Listen to Allen’s testimony of transformation through ReVision:

Robbie James’ journey to church planting in Denver was the story of how God worked in several “living rooms” over a decade – from the Van Rheenens’ living room in Abilene to living rooms in Denver.  He focused on the role of prayer and reliance upon God.  “Prayer is not the means to an end,” he declared. “It is the end!”  He reminded us:  “God loves you!  He really loves you!”

Gailyn and Becky Van Rheenen told the story of Mission Alive from its inception.  “Equipping kingdom communities on mission with God” has become our core identity leading to the planting of 20 churches in 18 cities in 9 states/providences of the United States and Canada; renewal of 7 existing churches through ReVision; and the training of 47 certified coaches working in 35 churches.  “To be faithful to God and his kingdom,” Gailyn said, “both existing churches and new church plantings must become disciple-making cultures on mission with God.”

 “If   you set out to make disciples, you will eventually build the Church. If you   set out to build the Church, there is no guarantee you will make   disciples.  It is far more likely that   you will create consumers who depend on the spiritual services that   professionals like yourself provide for them” (Breen and   Cockram, Building a Discipling Culture,   p. 6-7).

Becky concluded their presentation by saying, “We invite you to go on mission with us!  We may not have all the answers to ‘Where?’, ‘When?’, or ‘How?’ as we start.  We will find the answers as we journey together.  It’s too big for any of us, but together with God’s help we can do it.  Let’s go on mission together!”

We are thankful for the 205 people who gathered at the Riverside church building in Coppell for the event and graciously gave over $21,000 to God’s work through Mission Alive.