From house to house in a multi-ethnic vibrant city
Church planting in Pennsylvania, USA
Craig and Tracie Nanna
Our story is more about stepping out in faith than a step-by-step text book on “this is how you should plant a church.” The church planting vision was sown in our hearts during college when a group of friends gathered to pray and talk about church planting in the northeast United States.
Immediately after college, I accepted an associate pastor position in my hometown in western Pennsylvania. Four years later, my wife, Tracie, and I received a call to serve on the mission field in Peru. During our training for Peru, I had a vision of a church plant in an ethnically diverse city somewhere in northeast U.S. Because we were on our way to Peru for what we thought would be three years, we tucked this in our spirit as a prayer assignment. Little did we know that our time in Peru would only last six months.
We knew we had a call from God for ministry and did not quite understand the turn of events. With two toddler boys and another child on the way, we returned to the States. In desperation, I set my heart to hear from God. During those days of prayer and fasting in a tent on my grandparents’ farm, it became clear that the vision I had during our missions training was for now.
My cousin just happened to be visiting the farm during that same time and mentioned Reading, which is an ethnically diverse city of great need in eastern Pennsylvania. After a few prayer journeys to visit Reading and some major confirmations (like a house for our family), we took the leap of faith and moved to Reading. Our home church in western Pennsylvania did not have vision to send us out as church planters, but we knew we had to obey God and trusted Him to bring us under authority with those of like vision.
We had a vision to plant a cell-based church, but not having any connections, we started by renting a neutral space in a local fire hall to begin an evangelistic small group. Very quickly we found a more suitable outreach location using the aerobics room of the local health and fitness club. We had favor with the owners. The owner’s wife eventually became a Christian and they allowed us to advertise on their doors and walls. We read a church planting manual that advised doing a mass mailing in the surrounding community. We also hung up flyers in nearby public places. One person came as a result of the mass mailing. However, that one person introduced us to her family members, and God began to do a work in each one of them. In the early days of building, we saw the Holy Spirit do that often. He is still doing that today—divine connections, word of mouth—people whose lives are being changed are now bringing their family and friends, and, as a result, households are being saved!
The first years of the church plant were definitely challenging and required great sacrifice, especially financially. At first, I thought we could be fully supported missionaries to Reading, but our international support seemed to dry up, except for a few faithful people who continued to partner with us in prayer and finances. But God had other plans. His provision was through a full-time job in a social agency that took me into homes, schools and streets of Reading. Soon, this city where we knew no one, became “our city” with real faces, real brokenness and real opportunity for the Gospel.
We also saw the clear hand of the Lord helping us in that first year with a divine connection with DOVE International. We were not alone anymore—we now had a spiritual family with the same heart and the same vision for advancing the Kingdom of God through church planting. Through DOVE’s oversight and relationship, we soon met a group of believers in the Reading area who were traveling to the next town for church, but were praying for a church plant in Reading. This small group of believers became a vital part of our new church plant, and some became our first leadership team. Most church planting manuals necessitate having a church planting team when you launch. My wife and I did not have that—we were the team with our three kids! But God heard our cry and gave us a team that was already waiting for us here in Reading.
After a year, we had the team in place to begin to meet for corporate worship. We began to meet in homes during the week. The church was planted and the vision was coming to pass. Through much prayer, spiritual warfare and team growth, we are now, by the grace of God and for His glory, a multi-ethnic vibrant church, transforming Reading house to house! (Our church is called Reading DOVE Christian Ministry Center.)
Read Chapter 6. Why I love planting churches here