As I plan another meeting with my counterparts in the Church of the Brethren district organization in Ohio, I have been reminded of the variety of ways that church planting can happen. This current conversation was precipitated because the Church of the Brethren as a higher concentration of existing congregations along the southern portion of the I-75 corridor in western Ohio, and we have a higher concentration of congregations along the northern portion of this interstate highway. Both of us are aware of a substantial Hispanic population in this region that is fairly stable, yet unchurched. Can we work together to consider planting several churches along this corridor?
Several months ago in The Grapevine I reported on an initial meeting with a Vietnamese Mennonite pastor who was temporarily in the Cleveland area and surveying the area for a possible church plant. In that case an individual came in and began working on his own, making contacts and seeing the need for a church to minister to the Vietnamese-speaking population. But as we consulted with Vietnamese leaders here in North America, it became clear that now may not be the “fullness of time” according to God’s timetable to begin something in Cleveland.
Building on the success at LifeBridge in Dover, Conference and a strong core of regional congregations are seeking to duplicate the church planting efforts at Dover in the Strasburg area. Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, is their first public evening service. Please be in prayer for that event if you are unable to attend.
Lee Heights and this same core of congregations are initiating a church plant in the Solon area of greater Cleveland. This grew out of work that Larissa Moore has been doing in a nursing home!
My first pastoral experience in southern Indiana was with a group of health care providers who simply sought to provide medical services to a chronically underserved region of the state. They had no intention of planting a church; there were already a sufficient number of congregations serving that area. But they soon discovered there were no congregations with any kind of Anabaptist flavor, so they were encouraged by their sending congregation (First Mennonite, Indianapolis) to consider planting a church. That’s where I came in. Our initial intentions were not so much to grow a large congregation, but rather to meet the needs of like-minded transplanted Anabaptists. However, we soon discovered that simply being hospitable to other transplants who wanted a friendly Christian home (or sometimes simply wanted friends, never mind the Christian part!), people began coming to our fellowship. We soon discovered a two-fold task: making Christians out of those who professed no faith, and making Anabaptists out of those who did profess faith, but knew nothing about Anabaptists.
All of this is to say that there are a variety of ways that churches get started. And of course, not all initiatives succeed. But it seems that flexibility, opportunity, and hospitality are three key components that are necessary for churches to grow and thrive. Different communities have differing needs. Yet when sincere Christians keep their eyes open for opportunity, it usually reveals itself. When caring Christians demonstrate genuine hospitality, it is infectious. And being flexible allows everyone to respond to the needs of the community in meaningful ways. While these characteristics are essential for successful church plants, I don’t think this is unique to church plants only! Perhaps all of our congregations could demonstrate these qualities and see what might happen. May it be so!