By Bert Crabbe
Of all the natural wonders of the world, one is constantly in motion—Niagara Falls. And when I say in motion, I don’t mean the water. The rim itself is being eroded about one foot per year. Niagara Falls is in perpetual motion, but technically, it’s moving backwards.
That scenario describes the world of church planting as I understood it—at least up until several months ago. Lots of potential energy, constant movement, but any progress at all seemed to be made in the wrong direction.
I had read the books and been to the conferences, but it all had become a bit predictable. It was always some guy with a gymnast’s build and perfect teeth talking about how he had planted a church 10 minutes ago and now 6,000 people were attending. Then somebody else would share that the Gulf of Mexico was the only body of water big enough for his church’s first baptism service.
As a native New Yorker, I found it hard to suppress my instinctive skepticism. Most of what I was hearing had to do with success stories from the South or the Midwest or Southern California—places that (to me at least) seemed pretty church friendly. Would any of that work up here? Does anyone know how hard it is to do that stuff on Long Island? Does anybody get it?
Thankfully, someone does. Quite a few people, actually.
Last year I ran into an old friend at a retreat in Pennsylvania. Terry had recently planted a church in Michigan, and the Lord was blessing the work big time. I shared my frustration with him, and he suggested I spend a weekend at an assessment center before planting a church.
I had never heard of such a thing, and was again skeptical. After all, I don’t have perfect teeth or a gymnast’s build. I totally don’t fit the mold. Plus, I didn’t want some midwesterner telling me how to plant a church in my hometown—a place he’s never been and doesn’t understand and wouldn’t last five minutes in without a pit bull and a flamethrower.
Thankfully, Terry was a lot more persuasive than I was skeptical. Plus, he believed in me enough to pick up the expenses for the entire process. It was a hard offer to turn down. A few months later, Jen and I were on our way to Johnson City, Tennessee, for three days at the Church Planting Assessment Center.
It was a three-day period that affected us deeply. It’s unnerving being put under a microscope and having your words and behavior so closely scrutinized, but the outcome was amazing. We learned a lot about ourselves and about the difficult task ahead of us.
Enter the Orchard Group.
Brent Foulke, one of the assessors, approached us right after our exit interview. He said that Orchard Group had been looking for some people to focus on Long Island, and according to their experience, natives had the best track record.
Orchard Group once had an office a few towns over from where I live. Brent wanted to introduce me to Paul Williams so we could discuss the possibility of partnering together in the church plant. Brent had plans to be on Long Island in just two days, and wanted to know if I was free for breakfast. I said “sure,” and asked him where on Long Island he was coming. Brent whips out his Palm Pilot and says, “Port Jefferson Station.” My hometown.
Forty-eight hours later I was at a diner with Brent and Paul, hearing for the first time about the “independent Christian church” movement—the history, the stories, and the plan. With a proven track record, here was a workable system harnessing all this potential church planting energy and actually getting something done. I left the diner thinking, These guys got game.
There was an invitation on the table to jump on board and join the movement. So, I spent the next few months trying to figure out who these people were and what this whole thing was about. Know what I found?
A simple, focused bunch of regular guys (and gals) doing God’s work for God’s glory. The organization had all of the benefits of denominational fellowship, without all the bureaucracy and red tape. No pretentious presentations. No “experts.” No perfect teeth. Just a bunch of people who had decided to join arms to do something greater than any individual member could accomplish alone—and doing so with honesty, authenticity, and transparency.
So where am I now? Standing on the edge of Niagara Falls. But I’m not some useless bundle of potential energy moving slowly in the wrong direction.
There are people coaching me on how to jump in and survive the falls. And I’m in touch with a lot of other guys who are jumping in with me. I guess it’s not like the old days where most people got killed in the process. Seems they’re building the barrels better and better these days.
True North Community Church (an independent Christian church) launched in September 2005. Each day the roar of the falls comes a bit closer. Honestly, I’m terrified. But I’m not alone. And for those still on the shoreline, I’ve learned this much:
Conference on church planting: $395 plus travel and lodging.
Books by guys with perfect teeth: $29.95 each.
Being a part of a movement: Priceless.
Bert Crabbe ministers with True North Community Church on Long Island, New York. The congregation welcomed 350 to its first services September 18.