The Journey So Far
I was at a church growth conference 30 years ago, where Rick Warren said “we need all kinds of churches for all kinds of people.” I loved this idea of diversity. I loved the idea of helping many kinds of churches get off the ground and running. I was hooked.
Now, decades later, I have learned a few things. Some lessons were learned the hard way. Others were learned through the amazing men and women that God has brought to my life to teach me. Some lessons were about God and his ways. Many were about my own weakness.
But, here is what I know: there is something powerful about people uniting. Sweeter than doing something on my own, is the phrase: “we were able to do this together.”
Here are some highlights from my church-planting journey:
EACH AND DETROIT
In 2011, a visionary leader in metropolitan Detroit began with the dream to reach everyone with the gospel. It was called Everyone A Chance to Hear or E.A.C.H. and it was an amazing movement of God’s Spirit. What started as an evangelistic crusade became something more. I had not seen a city-wide gospel effort like this since Billy Graham was in Detroit in 1976.
God was working on Bob Shirock, founder of Oak Pointe church, to fan into flames the conviction that each day he drove by the houses of neighbors who need to know the love of Jesus Christ. One day he thought, “Why do I drive by lost people every day to be with the people at my church and why don’t I have a strategy to explain the gospel to the thousands of people I pass every day?”
We saw a city-wide collaboration of churches that maybe has never existed before. This new cooperation was between large churches and small, black and white, urban and suburban, and churches representing all denominations.
One of my favorite moments was when we were doing the preparations to have about 500 churches all do a common preaching series. The rally for the sake of both planning and a show of unity had thousands in attendance. My friend, Scott McKee, of Ward Presbyterian Church, asked the crowd how many churches were represented in the room. The lively crowd began shouting guesses as to how many hundreds they believed were in attendance and Scott quietly raised up one finger and said nothing for awhile. He then said, “There is one church represented here today. Just one. We are all the one church.”
WALLY’S OPEN HANDS
It was a little over 20 years earlier that the spirit of collaboration was indelibly burned into my heart and forever became part of our philosophy of ministry here at Kensington.
When Wally Hostetter called me to work with Faith Church, he had a multiplication mindset from the first conversation. In 1986, he said to me “come for three to five years and help me build this church. Then I will send you out to start something fresh. We will reach 10,000 people through church planting.”
I remember being moved by Wally’s faith. And inspired by his ridiculous prediction. Ten thousand was an audacious number as the largest church in Michigan was four thousand people in the late eighties.
In 1989, Wally asked me to start building my core team.
I asked him, “Who can I recruit from the church?”
Without hesitation, he answered, “Everybody.”
GIVE IT ALL AWAY
Jesus said that whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it (Luke 17:33).
The statement is thick with meaning, but the application for me has always been to open my hands. I want to live with the recognition that I do not own nor control anything – even when I wish I could or think I do. My life is not my own. Churches don’t belong to anyone but the Lord. I may be the caretaker and investment advisor – but I am not the owner.
So, for a few decades we have continued in the spirit of the open hands that gave me the people and resources to start a church near Detroit.
How do we get this upside-down truth, the give-it-all-away mindset into our strategy? It requires a handful of changes, but in short, it requires these commitments:
We have nothing to lose – Jesus gave it all. Jesus held nothing in reserve. He risked everything to bring us home to the Father. This makes us completely loved and called into this family of risk-takers. Why wouldn’t we? Why shouldn’t we be the most fearless people in the world? We have nothing to lose.
We need to reject fear and protectionism – fear motivates most of us most of the time whether we choose to admit it or not. I speak from experience. The older I get, anxiety becomes more palpable in the dark night hours. It is that fear which tries to crush faith, risk and adventure for the believer and leader in the kingdom.
We commit to having nothing of our own – stop believing the lie that our churches and people “belong” to us. We own nothing. Holding on to something that doesn’t belong to us is a tool of Satan as well. Stop saying “my congregation” or “my church” or “my staff”. Our call is to join Jesus in becoming nothing. Excel in the gift of giving. (2 Corinthians 8:7)
We believe abundance – have you heard of “abundance mentality”? The opposite is scarcity mentality. Scarcity says that there are a limited amount of resources and people who will participate in church, so giving something away always means loss for one and gain for another. What about a win-win? What about the idea that God wants to multiply his church and build his kingdom in unfathomable ways?
We think church planting should be normal – after helping over 60 church start-ups (in the U.S. alone), we have seen thousands of people come to faith in Jesus because these churches exist. We, of course, had nothing to do with these conversions other than a little helpful push at the beginning. What a privilege!
These are snapshots taken at our last Church Planting Event which we Kensington regularly hosts in order to encourage and equip those who feel called to plant a church. Want to read more about Church Planting, check out a previous blog by Greg Gibbs, here.