It’s astonishing that God called me to plant a church. I didn’t even attend church until I was thirty years old!
By Wallace and Linda Mitchell
It’s astonishing that God called me to plant a church. I was not raised in a Christian home. In fact, I didn’t even attend church until I was thirty years old.
My wife, Linda, and I had married right out of high school. Two years later while I was attending college, we had our son, Mitch. After college, I found myself in a devastating situation: no money, no car, no home. In desperation I cried out to God for help. Within two weeks, I had a job, a car and a home. The first night in our new apartment, I tried to grasp how I had fallen into this good fortune. The only thing way I could explain it was that I had called out to God for help. I reasoned that if God could help me, I needed to know who God was.
I went to the library to search for a book about God. Under God’s guidance I found the book, Archaeological History of the Jewish and Christian Faiths, which routinely referenced the Bible. I decided I should read the Bible to find God. My wife had an old Bible that she had received while attending Sunday School as a little girl. I read through the entire Bible in about a year.
In Romans 3:23-25, I came to understand that I was forgiven through Jesus Christ. I accepted Him as my Savior. At this point, I still had not attended a church. I worked for the government and was transferred to Washington, D.C., where we had our daughter, Nicole. Although life became more financially stable for us, Linda and I had deep marriage difficulties and separated for two and a half years.
During that time I started attending a Bible church, which gave me much needed discipleship and ultimately helped restore our marriage. Eventually I became an elder in that church and later an associate pastor. Through that church, I attended a cell group conference where Larry Kreider was speaking. His teaching opened up the world of “cell church” to me, and began to answer questions I had about the spiritual gifts described in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11. With this enlightening at the age of fifty, the Lord stirred in my heart to plant a church in another county. I shared my desire with the pastor and elders who prayed with me, questioned me and encouraged me to put in writing my desired purpose, vision, values, organization, and leadership structure. This was very helpful because it provided documentation that guided us when we eventually planted the church.
Although the whole small-group church concept was different from the practices of my church, the leaders approved the church plant and agreed to pay my full salary and all church planting expenses for one year. The leaders allowed me to present the proposal to the congregation and said they would release anyone who wanted to come with me.
For six months, the church plant met in the existing church’s youth room during the same time as the Sunday morning service. At the end of that time, we moved into a school located in the area where the church would be planted. In six years, due to the support of our releasing church, the faithful giving of our members and a miracle of God, we were able to buy five acres of land in the center of a densely populated residential area. We were able to build phase one of a two-phased building project. In growing the church, I applied the principles I learned from DOVE International. I think I may have been one of the first persons to complete the DOVE Global Leadership & Ministry School.
Our philosophy changed from that of a traditional, community church to a small-group based church. Another change included embracing the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Having the blessing of our sending church and the insight from DOVE International was the greatest blessing for the planting of Broadlands Community Church. This above everything else contributed to our survival and ministry.
Despite this great start, I failed to see the importance of continual association, networking and training with those in a church planting movement. Our former church released us to chart our own course. Due to philosophical and vision differences, I did not turn to them to deal with the issues that surfaced in starting a church. In the beginning, while absorbing what DOVE International had to offer, attending many conferences and training sessions, I did not follow through with the DOVE connection. This hindered my leadership and our growth and ministry. After ten years, I felt isolated and saw the need for more relationship, support and accountability with like-minded brothers and sisters. I called Larry Kreider and asked to meet with him. He was very gracious and helpful. Soon we began the engagement process and now we are very happy to be a partner church with DOVE International.
We are committed to small groups, which form the core of our entire ministry. From the very beginning, we incorporated discipleship into our small groups. This has worked well and people have blossomed and matured in this family atmosphere. We offer book studies and Bible studies in our small groups. Because we focus on small groups, people are ministered to in a variety of ways. We have developed a strong family atmosphere. We encourage our groups to be creative on their outreaches. Every other month one group will sponsor its individual creative outreach, which other groups will be invited to participate in. We use the term easy/easy for these outreaches, meaning the event should be easy to ask people to attend (non-threatening) and easy for people to come to (non-threatening) with the purpose of building relationship. This has worked well and is enjoyable.
Learning from Experience
A lesson I learned from experience is that I attempted to make the groups and events too structured for everyone. You might say I was so ideologically committed to small groups that I missed the principle of family and relationship. We leave each event to the discretion and creativity of the group, and this variety of approaches works well. Basically people meet people based on who they are and their shared unique interests. We also have several church-wide events, which are meant totally to enhance small group participation. Some of these are a Christmas Eve service, Easter Egg Hunt, and Vacation Bible School. Everyone seems to enjoy the church-wide involvement and looks forward to asking their friends to attend. Again, the idea is to build relationships with those without a church home.
My teaching gift worked well in discipleship but not so well in outreach. I taught on outreach more than I participated in outreach. Now I am more conscious of modeling personal evangelism. I also personally facilitate an Alpha course for non-believers, which fits nicely into the cell group vision and encourages outreach and participation in small groups.
Today, we at Broadlands Community Church are still learning and still excited about what God has in store. We believe a great move of God is unfolding and we are in a position to participate. God is faithful!