“T-minus Six Months and Counting”

          This week, I want to step away from our study in Galatians to revisit the issue of our church’s ongoing vision to be a church that plants churches.  This message will not be a verse by verse study in Scripture but is more a time to share what God is doing here at Mount of Olives.  Since the church voted to plant a church several months ago and approved the funding for Mount of Olives to begin planting churches, a great deal of work has gone on behind the scenes toward making this goal a reality.  In April, Erik Reinertsen, our current Director for Youth and Young Adults and his wife Jess attended an intense, four-day church planting assessment center that examined their readiness to plant a church.  They did very well and were recommended as church planters by this respected group of about 20 evangelical church planters.  Our leadership has discussed and provided oversight on this process on multiple occasions.  Erik has done much research in this area of ministry and he and I have secured personal church planting coaches.  These are seasoned church planting pastors who, along with other church planters we have consulted, have been enormously helpful to us as we seek to be faithful to God and avoid as many pitfalls as possible in the birth of this new church. 

Erik and Jess have spent much time in prayer over this and just last week spent a final few days secluded off by themselves to seek God and finish hammering out the vision for this new church plant.  We have now come to a point in the process where we as the mother church need to be brought up to speed on this process.  Let’s approach that the way a journalist would--by asking the who, what, when, where, how and why questions pertaining to this endeavor.  The “what” question has been answered broadly already—what we are doing is planting a church by God’s grace under the pastoral leadership of Erik Reinertsen.  The name of this new church will be formally announced by Erik as soon as that is finalized.  The name for a new church plant is typically given by the founding pastor. 

Let’s go to the “why” question next because in the kingdom of God if the why question is not answered correctly—that is, if the right kingdom motives are not in place, then the other questions are irrelevant.  We covered this question of “why” in some detail in March of 2007 and copies of that message are available at the Welcome Center if you are interested.  For this morning, we want to stress that the most important Biblical, truth-driven reason to plant a church is to honor God by the expansion of his kingdom through the conversion of sinners to Jesus Christ.  As we laid out in the vision a year ago last March, the Twin Ports area is a spiritually depressed area with only 14% of people surveyed reporting they had in the last 12 months participated in a religious group.[1]  That is far below the national average of 21% who had attended a church in the last 12 months.

          If you were here for that series of messages, you may also remember the repeatedly confirmed finding that new church plants are far more likely to reach the lost for Christ than established churches.  According to one study by Barna, in a church that is older than ten years, it takes 89 church attendees on average to reach one person for Christ.  If the church is between three and ten years old, it takes seven attendees on average to make one convert.  For those churches zero to three years old, it takes three attendees on average to reach a person for Christ.  We discussed why that was a year ago March.  The point is—new church plants on average are about 30 times or 3000% more effective at winning unchurched people with the gospel than established churches.  That pattern has also been found by people like Tim Keller who says that in new churches 60% to 80% of the growth is conversion growth—people becoming Christians, where in churches 15 years and older, 80% to 90% of the growth is transfer growth—existing believers transferring from one church to another. 

We know that God is not circumscribed by those statistics and it is certainly possible (and we trust an increasing reality) for established churches like Mount of Olives to effectively reach the lost.  What we should hear from those figures is simply this:  it is very wise and consistent with the Great Commission to plant new churches.  As one of those established churches, we must trust God and continue to repent of our own sinful pattern of neglecting to reach our Jerusalem on many fronts.  One way is by God’s grace, to make the sacrificial commitment to plant new churches and my hope is that our decision to plant this new church is part of the fruit of repentance in this area of neglect of which we have been guilty as a church.  That’s the central answer to the “why” question.

          Now to the “when” question about this new church.  When will this process begin in earnest on a church-wide scale?  The answer is—next week.  Beginning next week, Erik will begin a recruiting process for the new church plant that has been approved by our leadership.  We will talk more about that a bit later, but Erik hopes to have all those who will be part of this new plant to formally commit to that by the end of October.  After the launch team is recruited, their first group meeting will be Sunday evening, November 2nd.  These people will also at this time be ministering at Mount of Olives.  Those Sunday night meetings will continue until a few weeks before the launch.  The purposes of these meetings are manifold.  These will be team-building times—times when the new church will begin building community.  These will be teaching times as Erik reinforces the truth-driven vision for the church he first shared with them when they were recruited and trains the launch team to do ministry in ways that fit that Biblical vision.

          Another reason for these initial meetings is to help the new church to begin to identify themselves as distinct from Mount of Olives.  God is at work at Mount of Olives in many ways, but we are praying that God will especially use this new church to win people for Christ.  That’s why this plant is being launched and it is why both churches are willing to endure the challenges this process will bring.  It’s very important for the new church to establish its own truth-driven DNA that will be distinct from Mount of Olives.  We do not want to produce a carbon copy of Mount of Olives. God will be making a new daughter with new qualities and potential in Christ.  This new church will be both unnecessary and in many ways a failure if it is essentially a copy of Mount of Olives.

          Many wise church planters have advised us that one of the essential measures that must be taken to allow the church to establish its own identity is that at some point before the launch the two churches must completely separate from one another.  There must be a point well before the launch date when the people on the launch team will no longer attend or minister within our church.  That date of separation in the case of our daughter church is January first, 2009.  As of January first, the people who have agreed to be part of the new church, and who have been ministering in both churches, will no longer attend or participate in the ministries of our church.  This will be hard, but we don’t want to impede God’s work in creating a church that is new.  Isaiah 43:19 says, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  We must get out of the way of what God wants to do in this new church.  We must remember that as the mother church, we are not giving life to this church—only God can do that through his Spirit.  Only he can create a new living, vibrant spiritual body for his glory.  All we are doing is giving back to God his people so that he can use them for his glory in a new expression of Christ’s body here in the Twin Ports.  We must allow God the freedom to do this and that means separation.

          About two months after we have sent the folks off from our church, and three weeks before the formal public launch date, the church will begin to meet together as a church on Sunday mornings for what is sometimes called “preview services.”  These are not practice worship services.  They are non-publicized gatherings where this new church celebrates formal worship services.  These three services provide the new church an opportunity to work through any Sunday morning ministry challenges that need to be addressed.  When a group of believers that have never met together as a group begin their formal worship services, a number of first-time decisions will need to be made and tested.  How will visitors be made to feel welcome?  What does that look like and who is in charge of that?  What does the worship service look like?  How will child care be given and who will be staffing it?  Those kinds of issues will be resolved during these three preview services.  The formal public launch date for this new body of believers is set for MARCH 15.  That date was chosen because it gives the church an opportunity to gather a few times before Easter Sunday which falls this year on April 12th.   That should be a wonderful time, not only to celebrate our risen Savior, but it also provides a great opportunity to invite unchurched people on a day when some of them would be more open to visiting a church.  The March date also gives the church a chance to build a few months of Holy Spirit-induced momentum before summer comes to Duluth.

          That brings us to the “where” question.  The precise location for the new church has yet to be determined, but all of those in leadership agree that Duluth is the place for this first plant.  Erik and Jess have grown up here and are well established and known here.  We don’t want to ignore the favor God has given them in Duluth by planting the church in one of the surrounding communities.  Those needy areas will definitely be up for prayer and discussion when, Lord willing, we plant our next church and/or when our daughter church plants their first church.  Erik’s personal preference is to plant back in the Piedmont Heights area.  We’ll see if God will work out those details.  Recent church plants in Duluth and their search for places to meet have indicated that location is not a deciding factor in the fruitfulness of a church up here.  Duluth is a small enough community that many locations would provide sufficient access to a large percentage of the population.  Although there are clear psychological boundaries in Duluth, the Lord will be faithful to provide just the right location and facilities as his people pray.  Two recent church evangelical plants that God has blessed in Duluth have moved a considerable distance away from their original locations.  God is the ultimate real estate Broker and as we pray, he will provide the right location and facility for this new church to gather. Finally, because the vision of the church is very much outreach oriented, it would inconsistent for the building and the location of the facility to play the deciding factor in the church’s ministry. Much of the vital evangelistic activity in any healthy church should not be done within the walls of the church, but out where lost people live, work and play.

          Next, the “how” question--or more precisely—“how is this new church going to be put together?”  First, we trust that God will work through and (when necessary) override the process that through prayer and the counsel of many the leadership has decided upon.  We don’t presume to build this church.  Jesus says in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” We are trusting that Christ will build his church, but he uses various means to do this.  We have prayed and discussed and sought informed, seasoned counsel on the best way to do this and are confident of God’s leading.  The leadership has asked Erik to submit a list of names he feels the Lord might want to be part of this daughter church.  We have worked with Erik to limit the total number of people who leave Mount of Olives for the new plant to 50.  That is slightly more than ten percent and we felt a tithe was as close to a Biblically rooted number as we could arrive at. 

We have also heard from several church planters that 10% of a church our size is a number that would provide the new church with enough resources to begin ministry, while at the same time compel them to trust God to provide their needs as they feel the real need to do evangelistic outreach.  It’s good for any church to be a bit hungry—this will establish the need for the church to trust God from the beginning.  The ten percent figure will also mean a sacrifice for Mount of Olives because most of these people are now active in ministry here.  For the sake of the kingdom, we will be surrendering to God their financial support and the ministry they do here.  As any mother will tell you, childbirth is painful and in church planting, there are no epidurals or other medical wonders to reduce that pain. 

Separation is hard and we are grateful that as we experience this pain, we can offer that to God as worship.  Christ and the expansion of his kingdom are worth any price we must pay.  The leadership has prayerfully worked to determine the line between, on the one hand, the pain and sacrifice that are simply inevitable in this process of separation--that’s a redemptive thing, and on the other—the bad thing of an exodus so large that it will cripple the mother church.  No mother expects childbirth to be pain free, but it should not be crippling to the mother church.

Not all churches seeking to plant daughter churches are confronted with the possibility that too many people will leave the mother church.  Often the church planter has to dig and scrape for even a small core group of pioneers to begin with.  In many of these kinds of plants, the mother church barely feels the loss.  In our case, with a church planter who has been on staff for five years and who, along with his family, is justifiably much loved, we must be careful not to release too many people.  That is a GREAT concern for us to have!  But it is a challenge we face, so Erik and the church leadership have worked hard together to craft a process that will end up blessing both the mother and daughter churches.  Fifty people is the maximum number of people we feel is advisable to go with the new plant.  The leadership just this week approved the specific list of people Erik will initially be asking.  Assuming 50 of them will sense God’s call to go, this will mean sacrifice losses to many areas of our ministry and finances, but we do so in faith believing that God will honor our desire to expand his kingdom.

The reason I mention the sacrifice involved is not to make anyone feel guilty for leaving to go with the new church.  On the contrary—we praise God for the privilege it is for Mount of Olives to give back to the Lord what he has given to us.  These people do not belong to us, but to Christ who purchased them.  The reasons I mention the sacrifice are manifold.  First, because the leadership wants you to see that we cannot afford to lose more than these 50 adults and children without significantly crippling our ministries here.  If you are asked to go, we urge you to strongly consider this—pray it over and see if the Lord is in this for you.  However, if you are not asked, please know that we need your ministry here at Mount of Olives.  If the new church reaches its goal of 50 people and you are compelled to go, and you have not been asked, then we ask that you wait one year before you go to the new church.  That will enable you to continue to serve here while the new church stays effectively lean for ministry and as we by God’s grace gradually rebuild the ministry and financial giving here. 

Another reason I mention the sacrifices that, Lord willing, we will be making is to inform us who remain that we will need to re-dedicate ourselves to the ministry of Mount of Olives and be especially active in ministry here.  If you are not asked to go to the new church and have not been involved in ministry, you will be asked to be involved.  This is a time not only for the new church to trust God to raise up people, but also for us to trust that he will raise up a new group of sacrificial givers and leaders to emerge from our own ranks.  Let me give you one example.  Right now, if everyone who is asked agrees to go, we will be short 19 children’s church and nursery workers.  Even though we will be sending some children within that age group to the new church, that will in no way enable us to shrink our staff by 19 workers.  We will need people who have never ministered in that area to step up.  Other ministries will need new people to serve as well.

Another part of the how question is—“how are the two churches going to relate to one another?”  We touched on this earlier, but the two churches will be entirely separate from one another.  That will enable the new church to form its own identity and cut the apron strings from the mother church.  Those who leave Mount of Olives will be separating themselves from all our ministries.  In planting this church, we do not want to reinforce a consumer mentality that communicates, “I will attend this new church, but I want this to continue to use ministry and this ministry and this ministry from Mount of Olives.  That is unhealthy on many fronts.  The church is not a smorgasbord of ministries from which you pick and choose.  It is a body of believers with which you make a covenant commitment.  The new church, by God’s grace will formulate those ministries for their children, youth and young adults that are consistent with their vision. 

There is cost involved to both the new church and the mother church.  Our selfish indwelling sin does not like paying any cost or making any sacrifice, but the Bible and church history plainly reveal that this is simply the way God chooses to advance his kingdom.  God is honored as his people make decisions that will temporarily cost them for the sake of Christ.  Those sacrifices communicate that their treasure is not in their kids or their social lives or their bank accounts—it is in Jesus for whom we are called to die.  Jesus says in John 12:24-26, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  25Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  26If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”

If both Mount of Olives and the new church are to bear fruit we must die and in this case, that means the pain of separation. Our kids might have to say goodbye to their best friends in Sunday school or AWANA.  New teachers and leaders will need to arise here out of comparative inactivity.  People in the new church that have never had front-line leadership ministries here will need to adjust to new and exciting ministry roles.  This is difficult, but the question is—do we want to bear fruit for the kingdom?  Do we want to be fruitful churches with fruitful disciples of Christ?  Do we love Christ enough to hate our friends and our ministry comfort zones?  We can bank on the promises of God that God’s blessing will greatly outweigh that the pain we may feel.  Jesus in verse 26 says, “Where I am, there will my servant be also.”  If you want to know Christ more intimately, be where he is and where he is where people are losing their lives, stretching their faith, risking their relationships, fighting the fight of faith.  Our flesh doesn’t like being that far out on the end of the limb, but as someone has observed—the fruit is always out on the end of the limb.  If you’re not out on the end of the limb for Jesus, there is no fruit in your life.  Jesus says “the Father will honor” those people.  How good is that?—for sinners who are utterly undeserving of honor—the Father promises to honor those.

At the end of the day—whether you go or stay, this season in our church provides us with a great opportunity to ask, “Do I want to bear fruit for Jesus.  There may be people who are asked to be part of this plant who are genuinely not called to go.  The leadership makes no claim to divine inspiration on the list of people who will be asked.  We would however ask you that if you are asked to carefully, prayerfully consider a move before you decline being a part of the new church.  You don’t want to miss out on the great blessing in this life and the next that is always given to those who follow Christ faithfully.  Jesus says in Matthew 19:29, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” 

Another “how” question is, “how is the new church going to be funded?”  As a church, we approved money to come from the sale of the Decker Road property and for this plant we will be using $50,000.  How and when that will be disbursed will soon be determined.  Additionally, one of the requirements for the people to be on the launch team will be to tithe their income.  We want the new church to begin practicing good stewardship from the beginning and their giving will be a crucial funding source.  Additionally, the Minnesota Baptist Conference will give a one-time gift of $15,000 at launch and on the counsel of every church planter we have consulted; we have asked Erik to raise an additional $15,000 in personal support.  We are trusting that God will add to those resources to fund the church for his glory.

One final question relate to “who.  That is, “who will take Erik’s place as Director of Youth and Young Adults.”  God has provided here in a wonderful way.  As the youth parents already know, the Church Board will be recommending for church approval the calling of Eric Svoboda to step into this important leadership role.  Eric is a man of God who has sensed a call to church ministry on his life for some time.  He watches his life and doctrine closely and the leadership senses God’s hand upon him for ministry.  He is a gifted man and our young people have responded exceptionally well to him in his current youth ministry.  The leadership feels very blessed to have Eric and Jen in our fellowship and ministering on staff, pending church approval.  Eric Svoboda intends to begin his new ministry here near the end of October as Erik Reinertsen is finishing up his recruiting for the new church.

That in brief is the who, what, where, when, why and how of this exciting new chapter in Mount of Olives history.  I have one point of application as we close and that is simply—Pray!  Pray for Erik and Jess as they begin recruiting next week.  Pray for clear guidance from the Lord in the lives of those who are asked to go.  Pray for protection from the enemy.  Transition times cause churches to be vulnerable to division.  We must be on guard against the enemy.  He is definitely NOT in favor of any initiative that will result in the kingdom of God impacting his kingdom of darkness.  The adversary does not give up his children easily.  Our vulnerability during this time should cause us to be both prayerful and vigilant against the wiles of the devil in our own life.  We must also pray for God to provide finances to both churches in this time of faith stretching.  Pray for the leadership of both churches to make God-honoring, God-dependent decisions.  Finally, pray that God would use this new church in an exceedingly abundant way to win people for Jesus.  May God give us the grace to trust him in this and work together as mother and daughter churches for his Name and fame in the Twin Ports and may this daughter church be only the first-fruits to be born for his glory.

[1] Duluth News Tribune, March 14, 2007

Page last modified on 9/29/2008

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