Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Church Pioneering in the Sportsman’s Paradise—Part 3

One New Church Plant Leads to Another

By Robin G. Jordan

Toward the end of my sojourn with the UMC church plant in Madisonville, I attended a cell group leadership training seminar in Jackson, Mississippi. I had a longstanding interest in cell group and small group ministry. As a social worker I had acquired a working knowledge of small group dynamics as well as had seen and experienced the effectiveness of small groups in encouraging and supporting life change. As a lay reader I had led small group Bible studies as well as taught Bible classes. I had co-led a home group.

I would also contact the pastor in charge of the cell group ministry at a large Southern Baptist church in Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans. This particular church at the time served as TOUCH Outreach Ministries’ New Orleans campus and regularly sponsored cell group leadership training events. I was seeking hands-on experience in starting, growing, and multiplying cell groups.

Since I lived on the North Shore, the pastor referred me to the small group pastor of a Southern Baptist church on the North Shore. The small group pastor, when he learned that I was also interested in church planting, referred me to the founding pastor of a new church plant in Waldheim. He was using small groups as part of his church planting strategy.

The new church plant that he was pastoring by coincidence or divine design held its worship gatherings in a fire station that I passed on the way to my mother’s for lunch on Sundays. Every Sunday the church’s signs dotted the side of the road that I took. Naturally these signs caught my attention and I made a mental note to visit one of the worship gatherings. I was on the lookout for a new church plant that was in an earlier stage of development than the UMC church plant which was about to move into its own building.

I arranged a meeting with the pastor of the new church plant. After that meeting I decided that if my grandnephew was willing to change churches, I would become involved in that new work. My grandnephew was agreeable to the change. At the UMC church plant’s new location the boys were not able to play touch football before the service as they had at the maritime museum. Playing touch football was one of the attractions of the church for my grandnephew and the other boys. While some church leaders and parents may question of the appropriateness of such activities on Sunday morning, they serve a useful purpose. They help to build and strengthen relationships, to instill a sense of camaraderie, and to foster positive associations with church attendance. They also enable some of the more restive youngsters to burn up some of their energy before the service. 

The backstory to this church plant was that the Pioneer Model was used to plant the new church. A local association of Southern Baptist churches had recruited the church’s founding pastor as church planter for the association. Local associations are voluntary organizations composed of Southern Baptist churches in a particular area. The churches are independent. However, they agree to cooperate with each other for the purposes of planting churches, training leaders, and doing missions.

Waldheim is an unincorporated community northeast of Covington. It was in the very early stages of transition from rural to suburban. The area consisted of new housing estates and older subdivisions, interspersed with dairy farms, horse farms, plant nurseries, and tree farms. Most of the people living in the area work outside of the area.

After moving to the area, the church planter conducted a door-to-door community needs survey. The purpose of this survey was to identify any pressing community needs that a new church might meet, gauge level of interest in a new church in the community, and to inform the community of the new work. The church planter was assisted by his wife, a group of seminarians from New Orleans Baptist Seminary, and a team of volunteers from a Southern Baptist church who undertook the project as a part of a short term mission trip. The survey revealed a lack of recreational opportunities in the area for children as well as after-school programs for children who were not performing well academically. A large number of the area’s children were performing below average. Literacy was also an problem in the adult population.

The church planter’s next step was to introduce himself to community’s business and political leaders and to meet people in general. He spent a large part of his day frequenting the cafes, gas stations, mom-and pop grocery stores, restaurants, and other places where the residents of the area gathered and making friends with these residents. He became the chaplain of the local fire department. Starting with a group in his own home, he began a number of home groups that met in the area for Bible study, discipleship, evangelism, prayer, and fellowship.  His goal was to launch the first service of public worship after he had gathered a large enough congregation through his efforts and the efforts of the home group participants.

The church planter, I must point out, was bi-vocational. He cleaned offices at night. His wife worked as the receptionist at a doctor’s office.

The church planter and the sponsoring local association were not on the same page when it came to measuring the progress of the new church plant. He measured progress in terms of growth of the number of people participating in home groups and growth of the number of home groups. The local association measured its progress in terms of attendance at the church’s worship gathering. As a consequence he was required to go public before he met his goal of having gathered a large congregation. He launched the first service of public worship with 60 people in attendance. He had hoped to have had 100 to 200 people in attendance. The congregation of the new church was growing but not at the pace that it might have grown with a larger congregation in attendance at its inaugural public worship service. Churches that start big generally grow more rapidly than churches that start small.

As I previously noted, the new church was holding its worship gatherings in a local fire station when I first became involved in the church. It also rented a small area store front, which doubled as an office and weekday meeting place. The church was offering supervised homework sessions and tutoring for the area’s children, adult literacy classes, and support groups for the survivors of child sexual abuse at this location.

Every Sunday the fire engines were parked outside the fire station, sand was sprinkled where they had dripped oil, and the floor was swept. A projection screen was lowered, a multimedia projector set up, and folding chairs set out. The church’s worship pastor—a seminarian at the New Orleans Baptist Seminary—and the sound team set up an amplifier, microphones, and speakers. The sound system was operated from the same folding table as the multimedia projector.

The church’s worship pastor would invite me to become a part of the church’s worship team. I would assist in worship planning as well sing as a vocalist with the team. After the worship pastor became a full-time student, the pastor’s wife would become the worship leader and I would become the lead male vocalist.

The music mix at the worship gatherings was largely contemporary worship songs with some traditional hymns. “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” was very popular with the congregation. 

The congregation was multi-generational and multiracial. It included a number of former Continuing Anglicans and Episcopalians and inactive Roman Catholics. The last group included a number of divorced Roman Catholics. The church planter intentionally sought to reach and engage this segment of the unchurched population. The church had a Christmas Eve Service and observed Lent.

While I was sojourning with the church, it would purchase an out-of-business gas station and restaurant in Waldeim and convert it into a worship center, office, nursery, and fellowship hall. The restaurant was equipped with a commercial kitchen, which was put to good use. A large trailer home was also purchased, moved onto the site, and used as classrooms.

The church was involved in a number of outreaches to the community. Teams from the church would repair and paint the houses of people in the area who could not do it for themselves or afford to hire someone to do it. The church also sponsored a series of public events at which food was served and which included recreational activities for the whole family. The church made a deliberate effort to build bridges to the community and to form a strong connection with the community. It also sought to have a large impact not only within the community but also outside it. The church was involved in mission projects connected with orphanages in Romania and Zimbabwe.  

The church would offer its building as temporary housing for cleanup crews from Southern Baptist churches around the country in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It also allowed the use of the building as a distribution point for emergency food and water. Hot meals for those without electricity or propane were prepared in the commercial kitchen.

The church continued to grow after I relocated to western Kentucky. The founding pastor would also move on, starting a new church in Madisonville. From what I gather, that church is thriving. 


Austin Olive said...

Hi Robin. I remember that church. I was pastoring at Faith Presbyterian Church in Covington on Bootlegger Road (across from the First Baptist Church) at the time. I remember thinking how clever the gas station idea was. What a small world!

Robin G. Jordan said...

The building which had been vacant for a while got put to a good use. The church took full advantage of the restaurant's commercial kitchen and served low-priced fish dinners on Fridays. The nearest restaurant was the catfish house in Bush but taking the family there could be expensive. The catfish house was also very popular, attracting people from miles around, including New Orleans, and was crowded Friday nights.It was one of the ways the church sought to build bridges with the community.