The following post comes from Katelyn McWilliams and was originally featured in the October/November issue of fellowship! magazine. This post is part of a series on CBF church starting and church starters. Check back throughout the week for posts about individual church starters, starting a church through CBF and how to support church starts. Visit www.thefellowship.info/churchstarts to learn more about CBF’s New Church Starts Initiative.
Every Sunday night, a group huddles around a television to watch their favorite show, “The Walking Dead.” These friends meet in the living room of Andy Hale, pastor of Mosaic of Clayton in Clayton, N.C., and a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship church starter. One zombie at a time, Hale and Mosaic members connect with each other and their community.
CBF – through the New Church Starts Initiative – provides resources to those who feel God’s call to start a new congregation. Church starters take part in a 10-week discernment process and online cohort, and CBF provides coaching to church starters and facilitates a network for additional support.
“It’s been affirming to have the backing of a fellowship that will say they believe in me and want to support me in this endeavor,” said Wesley Craig, a CBF church starter commissioned at the 2013 General Assembly.
Craig recognized the need for a different expression of church life in Southtown, an extremely diverse urban community in San Antonio, Texas, with residents of differing socio-economic statuses. “There was something pushing me to explore the possibility, and as scary as it was, my heart and mind were set on it,” Craig said.
That “something” was God. After many conversations and much prayer, Craig began a church, still unnamed, that he felt best reflected Southtown. Nontraditional, this ecumenical union church identifies with two Christian groups – the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the United Methodist Church. CBF’s willingness to partner with a non-Baptist group was exactly the support that Craig needed.
“We value and need a larger community. These are two traditions we feel naturally connected to,” Craig explained.
Harry Rowland, missional congregations director for CBF, is a strong advocate for church starting and mentor to church starters. Rowland understands the desire of ministers to be able to respond to their call to start a church.
“If we are truly serious about building and growing the Kingdom, it is going to take new churches,” Rowland said. “New churches reach new people – people who are not attending and will not attend an existing church. CBF’s church starting strategy encourages creative church starting.”
Creatively building community
The word “creative” accurately describes Mosaic of Clayton, a church start located in a community that is moving beyond its agriculture-dominated past to embrace new businesses, hospitals, recreational opportunities and other economic development. With affinity groups designed to build candid relationships based on shared mutual interests ranging from Pinterest to books to beverages, members experience community with one another on a weekly basis.
“Our desire is to reach the people who don’t want to go to a traditional church, both the dechurched and unchurches, through genuine community,” Hale said. “Our hope is to be a Christ-centered community for all ages and socio-economic backgrounds. We hope to serve as an authentic Christian community for those who have not realized the full potential of their relationship with Christ and for those with a jaded perspective of Christ and his followers.”
Halfway across the country in west Texas is new CBF church started Robert Cheatheam, pastor of Pleasant Hills Country Church in Abilene. Cheathean was driving one day on the north side of Abilene when he noticed a mobile home park. “I had driven by it many times,” Cheatheam said. “It seemed to be a ‘drive by’ and avoided area. I knew this was where God wanted my wife and me to start a new church.”
Cheatheam felt led to start a congregation that ministers creatively to the outcast and marginalized, letting them know they are accepted and loved just as they are. The average person that Pleasant Hills seeks to serve is hard-working and blue-collar; many juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet.
“Ten years ago, we lived in a mobile home park for a period of time,” Cheatheam added. “We understand the deep prejudice and judgmental attitude people have toward mobile home dwellers. We feel strongly about living on the ‘mission field,’ on so we have moved into the park.”
Being and serving “in the world”
Two hundred miles southeast of Abilene is Williamson County, Texas, where Kyle Tubbs, pastor of Grace Baptist Church and CBF church starter, serves a more traditional, albeit progressive-minded congregation. Tubbs and Grace Baptist minister primarily among commuters to the nearby Austin area.
Tubbs says the lack of congregational traditions and formal history is a great advantage to starting a church. “You get to set the culture. You get to create with God from nothing,” Tubbs explained.
Many church starts rent rather than own a building, which some might see as a disadvantage, but Tubbs views renting as a perk in that his office is out “in the world” among the people he serves. “I am out in Williamson County every day. I spend much of my time having coffee, eating meals and getting drinks with people in the community.”
When Andy Hale is not discussing zombies over an episode of “The Walking Dead,” he too spends much time “in the world” – in restaurants, coffee shops and outdoors in Mosaic’s community garden.
“For many, the day and age is gone where people will simply come walking up to your church out of interest,” Hale noted. “Instead, people want to connect through relationships. The majority of people who have connected to Mosaic have been the result of someone investing time into that person’s live.”
A mother and daughter found Mosaic’s garden while walking down Main Street in downtown Clayton. Designed to be a place for physical, emotional and spiritual renewal, the garden is home to 10 agricultural beds and a place for prayer. Upon discovering the garden and learning about Mosaic’s vision, the mother and daughter began sponsoring a bed. Through their involvement, a member of Mosaic invited them to church, and the entire family attended the following Sunday.
“The Raper family has fallen in love with Mosaic, and we in turn have fallen in love with them,” Hale said. The mother now serves as Mosaic’s part-time accountant.
In Abilene, Cheatheam and the Pleasant Hills congregation hope to connect with people through country dancing. The surrounding area lacks venues that offer a clean and safe environment, but the people love to dance.
“We plan on hosting dancing here in Abilene,” Cheatheam said, joking. “Who has ever heard of a Baptist church hosting a dance?”
All four of these CBF church starters look for opportunities to creatively and effectively serve their communities. For Craig, an outing to the local farmer’s market, where he met the coordinator of the market’s weekly bazaar, resulted in an idea for an outreach opportunity. In October, Craig’s church will provide a canvas and ask those passing by to express their relationship with God through painting.
“Some might walk across it while others might dance or stomp. It is up to them to decide how they want to express themselves,” Craig said. After a passerby paints the canvas, the church will offer to wash the person’s feet and say a prayer.
More than money
Congregations often partner with new church starts financially, but more than money is needed. Gifted volunteers are needed too. According to Cheatheam, “The biggest challenge for us is getting musicians to come help us with worship.”
These church starters emphasized that young churches need volunteers willing to help when specific needs arise, from donating chairs to helping network. While the target audience for many new church starts is not regular churchgoers, mature and committed Christians are still a necessity.
“We need Christians who have a solid background and maturity to their faith, so we do need people who are churches, even though that’s not who we are trying to reach,” Craig said.
Rowland stresses that church starters need partnerships both with churches and individuals to meet their diverse needs. “CBF church starters are courageous people. They journey forward in faith, facing challenges such as being bi-vocational, having limited resources, lack of facilities, transportation and even the infrastructure to facilitate a block party.”
“The only thing more difficult than facing hard challenges and making tough decisions is having to do so alone. Each CBF church starters needs other churches and individuals to partner and help with finances, volunteer to lead music or teach a Bible study class and let them periodically use church facilities, the church grill or bus,” Rowland said.
“Prayers are needed and those who will follow those prayers with partnerships, reminding church starters they are not alone.”