How I got into church planting…
“God, please let me marry a man in ‘real’ ministry.”
This was my prayer as a college-aged girl. I had grown up in a Lutheran church, attended Young Life meetings in high school, and devoted a lot of time to different college ministries when I attended University of Washington. At this point, I had seen ministries focused on Christ, and ministries focused on everything but Christ. This was a pivotal point in my life, and I begged for God to lead me down a life-long path where I could see His work done in lives. I wanted to feel God’s spirit move, and I wanted to see lives changed.
When I married John, I knew he wanted to be a pastor, but I didn’t know he was going to be a church planter. When we felt God leading us toward church planting, I felt rather shocked. I was surprised, and to be honest, scared.
I had questions.
“You mean, you want to start a church, instead of accepting a job at a church?”
“You’d rather skip the benefits most jobs offer, and branch out on your own?”
“How much does it pay?”
When I learned there would be no paycheck, I had one stipulation.
“I’ll give you three years. If after that you aren’t getting a reasonable paycheck, then we’ll quit.” (I can’t decide whether I was being generous or rude at that point).
We began gathering a team of people to help us in 1998, and the church launched on Easter of the year 2000. After three years, there wasn’t a good paycheck in it, but by that point, we loved it! We carried on in spite of many financial challenges. Our daughters were born in 2001, and 2003. We stayed with our first church plant until 2004, and then moved to California where we planted three more churches over seven years.
Here is a snap-shot of the churches we started.
Church #1: Breakwater Church in Bellingham, Washington
Breakwater Church started in a building downtown. We were close to the museum and a coffee shop, and many homeless people joined us on Sundays. We used to make popcorn every Sunday, and the college-aged people who attended seemed to love this. We had an orange couch pushed up in the front row, just like the popular television show, Friends, and a homeless woman would often sleep during John’s sermons in that couch. Before we moved out of this facility to another location, we had a ledge around the perimeter of the room which held candles. Each candle represented a soul won, or rededicated, to the Lord. There were many lit candles around the room, thanks be to God. My husband passed this church off to our wonderful friends, Rick & Karyn Norris, and they continued this ministry for many years after we left.
Church #2: Chorus Church in Winchester, California
Chorus Church was an exception to many church planting rules. The Sunday we opened the church, over two hundred people showed up. My favorite memory of Chorus Church is how I met so many friends there. In this church, we followed Dave and Elena Reynolds to Temecula, California to start Chorus. Before we moved from Washington State to California, I prayed for friends. God provided. This was the friendliest church ever. Our girls were ages 6 months and two-years-old, and we met many friends the same age. I loved working with Elena Reynolds on Mommie’s Cafe, where moms and kids would get together to play and visit every week. We learned so much from the Reynolds and have taken that learning along with us in our next church plants.
Church #3 & 4: Creation Church (which became Cross Church) & Iglesia La Cruz in Menifee, Calfornia
My favorite memory of Creation/Cross Church is how on our first service in the park on Christmas Eve, over a hundred people joined us. It was a magical service with cocoa, stars, and falling snow (on a huge screen). Brandon and Cory Ferens partnered with us on this, and Brandon’s music was wonderful. Our first Sunday service was a huge letdown after Christmas Eve, but the church still grew up to about 150 people at one point. Our dear friends, Ruben and Elvira Reyes, started Iglesia La Cruz, but due to paperwork, had to go back to Mexico. When the recession hit and other financial and health issues arose, we merged Cross Church back to Chorus Church.
Church #5: Infusion Church in Escondido, Calfornia
Infusion Church was a re-plant. There was a dying church in a building, and God used us to help get a new work started. My favorite memory of Infusion Church is how God brought hundreds of people to our first Christmas Eve service. The place was packed, and the older group of people from the dying church cried with joy. Their prayers for renewal had been answered. They could see God was starting something new. Praise be! John renovated the church, and developed a life-long, symbiotic relationship with Matt Ortiz through the ups and downs of this ministry. After three years, Matt and Shannon Ortiz took over Infusion, and John now works to coach and oversee church planters.
All of our churches had varying levels of success, but there was something which remained consistent, no matter how successful our church plants were — God was in charge, and He was working everything to His glory. The ministry was real because He caused us to be solely reliant on Him.
They say church planting is a roller coaster, and they are correct. There are such highs in ministry. There are such lows in ministry. For some reason, church planting amplifies these typical highs and lows. In our church plants, I was forced to hang on, many times with white knuckles, because the ride was so scary, and so exhilarating at the same time.
This is my story, so far. I have been privileged to be a part of churches, which reminded me of the early churches in Acts where people did life together, and spread the gospel through their words and actions.
Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to have opportunities to do “real” ministry. Thank you for keeping me safe in your arms through the ups and the downs. Please be with the women in this world who are planting churches right now. Let them know they are not alone, and that you are working everything for your glory! Amen!