What's Next for Home Missions?
GPS: New Directions in Church Planting
by Howard Gwartney
Have you ever been driving in a strange city, encountered a roadblock or construction detour, and tried to navigate an alternate route? Traveling in unfamiliar territory can sometimes be nerve-wracking, difficult, exasperating, even downright frightening, and it is always helpful to have a GPS unit—or at least a good map—to help you find your way. Church planting can be that way sometimes as well.
Meeting in rented facilities can create some problems, especially if you set up every Sunday from a ministry truck or trailer. You arrive at the location (a school in our case) and perhaps the custodian isn’t there to let you in the building, or maybe the building is filthy from an activity the night before. Once we were told we couldn’t continue meeting in the school after a certain date and had to scramble to find another location. Sometimes you have to turn in a new direction.
Not only is the meeting place an issue; ministry personnel can create a roadblock and force your ministry in a new direction. We have been blessed with great lay leaders. Pat Thomas, Nathan and Brooke Cowan, Drew and Ashley Bigley, Seth and Jeremy Patterson, Bob and Shirley Carr, and Dale and Sandra Belcourt have all been vital to the work in San Tan Valley. What an encouragement to have people you can count on week after week.
Certainly the place you meet and the personnel you have affect the program you provide. I have often referred to Christ’s Church Free Will Baptist as “high-tech traditional.” We have a band, a worship team, and use computers, tablets, cameras, video projectors, and big screens, and we sing hymns as well as some of the new praise choruses. We are extremely selective and purposeful in our music. Too often, churches target a certain demographic, and in doing so, they exclude people.
Our building lease limits our program. Currently, our auditorium seats 175, with two restrooms, a nursery, and a foyer. We don’t have a classroom or even a closet! Consequently, we don’t have Sunday School, and children’s church meets in the foyer. We are in the process of moving a portable manufactured building onto the property for classroom space.
In spite of all the twists and turns faced in a church plant, the work is about reaching people. When I applied to the Home Mission Board a second time, after planting East Valley FWB Church in Mesa, Arizona, we hoped to go to southeast Mesa to begin our current work. I was shocked when I received word that the board wouldn’t send us to southeast Mesa. They reasoned that it would be too close to the East Valley church, and people might leave and come to the new work.
At the time, I thought the decision was shortsighted and limited. After all, Free Will Baptists have 20 churches in the Nashville area, and its population is only 650,000. Mesa has a population of 480,000! Surely, a town that size could have two Free Will Baptist churches. To be honest, I was appalled.
After a trip to the area that is now San Tan Valley, after some soul-searching and prayer, I knew if I was going to be a Home Missions church planter, I had to submit to their authority, and I let God point me in a new direction.
Now, I cannot imagine serving any place else. God has given us wonderful people with whom we serve. Every Sunday, we have lost people in our services, and we hope to see them saved soon.
Today, another Free Will Baptist church is close to being self-supporting. No, we do not yet have our own building. We are still leasing with an option to buy the property where we meet now. Will we be here a year from now? We hope so, but perhaps not. The Lord might just lead us in another new direction. I just want to be willing to go where He leads.
About the Writer: Howard Gwartney pastors Christ’s Church Free Will Baptist in San Tan Valley, Arizona. Learn more: www.christschurchfwb.org.