Angie and I were both raised in Christian homes. Our dads were pastors, and we decided to follow Jesus at a young age. We attended Elim Bible Institute in New York for a year and married at the young age of 19 and 20. Rather than return to Bible school, we were led by God to move to McMinnville, Oregon and invest our time and energy into a local church.
In our early twenties, we began to sense the first shades of a desire for church planting. Our church was transitioning into a cell church, and we were finding great fulfillment and success in developing the youth ministry totally around cell groups. Yet I realized that there were many leaders that had a pastoral calling that were called to lead a larger number of people than a cell group and find fulfillment of their calling by being the elder in an actual church. Hebrews 13:17 became very meaningful to me as I pondered how to develop a church structure that would release as many elders (pastor-shepherds) as possible, who had the authority, passion and character to “watch over peoples’ souls” and give an account for those souls before the Chief Shepherd. At the time, I was drawn to house church networks.
After twenty years of building houses, directing a discipleship school and raising a family, we begin to sense God leading us towards planting a church. We were blessed to be a part of a community of persons with the same passion. In 2010, the board members of The Mandate Discipleship School sensed God leading us to venture out in faith into this new endeavor. We decided to sell our homes and relocate to a new town where we could work together in church planting. The Holy Spirit led other families and individuals to join us, moving from various towns in Oregon.
I personally struggled with doubt and fear. Are we hearing God correctly? What if folks sold their homes and moved, and it didn’t work out? Angie, along with other leaders in my life, were a constant source of support and encouragement and regularly affirmed that we were to move forward. We realized God’s call on our life and were compelled to follow His lead despite the risk.
We planted The Hive micro-church network in Corvallis, Oregon and joined DOVE International for our oversight. We feel God led us to DOVE because of their focus on being a church planting movement with some of the same values as The Hive such as Anabaptist roots, the Holy Spirit empowering, apostolic oversight, building and planting “underground churches” and reaching the nations.
Corvallis is a college town with a population of more than 50,000, and has a large foreign student population, many from countries that are closed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Some of the reasons we chose the micro church network model, where churches of 30 to 70 persons network together, is because it enables the following:
- leadership development with the planting of new churches
- structure is lightweight and easier to reproduce and lead
- churches can meet in large homes or rented facilities
- group is large enough that each age has someone to relate to but not small enough to result in homogenization
- size enables greater participation for people to offer a Psalm, prophecy, teaching, etc.
- elders can lead the church and still work ful-time, thus not needing paid staff.
Some things that God has been teaching us include the following:
- Set up oversight: We did not want to build our church with folks who were ungovernable and anti-authority. As leaders, we sought to deal with that attitude in our own lives. Choosing to have functioning oversight embedded that principle into our community and is bearing good fruit.
- We wanted to reduce activities that did little to contribute towards evangelism and discipleship. People are overwhelmed with life and busyness, so we eliminated all but the most essential. We guard against too many inward-focused meetings that crowd out connecting with non-believers and one-on-one discipling and mentoring.
- We promote gatherings of twos and threes for accountability, discipleship and mentoring.
- We welcome people to live with us and observe our lives. This principle seems to be one of the most effective strategies for evangelism and discipleship in our day. “God sets the solitary in families” (Psalm 68:6).
- If a church planter is not apostolic, they need to get under the regular influence of this gifting.
- Use a wide range of persons to teach the Scriptures on a regular basis. We don’t want everyone going off on their own little “personal talking tangent.” Therefore, all of our micro-churches teach on the same book of the Bible.
- Actively promote worship that is participatory, celebratory, focused on Jesus and not introspective.
Alas, we are not yet seeing people making first- time decisions for Jesus to the degree that we had hoped. This is probably our biggest weakness. We pray for it, we equip for it and trust that the Lord will honor our efforts.
A large part of our focus is to send folks to unreached places in the world that have never heard of Jesus. In Corvallis, we put a lot of effort into our discipleship school. The Mandate Discipleship School has become an engine of growth and has assisted in drawing a number of singles in their early twenties to Corvallis to be a part of a spiritual family. Those who are not in the discipleship school live in community and become involved in accountability groups and in mentoring relationships. God has blessed us with a lot of healthy marriages and families and we want to leverage this opportunity by welcoming those who do not have a family into our families and church community.
Read Chapter 22 USA house church grows into international movement here