By Rick Grover
Church planting can be described as a high-octane, caffeine-pumping, roller-coaster-riding, faith-testing, prayer-building, life-changing experience. If conventional church life can be likened to espresso, church planting would fit the double-espresso category followed by a “chaser” of Red Bull.
Journey Christian Church launched October 6, 2002, with 212 people (40 of whom were “well-wishers”). We experienced the roller-coaster ride of dropping down to about 100 people with the gradual climb back up to about 200, the development of a discipleship process, small groups, and the beginning stages of an eldership-study process. Within three years things were moving along pretty well . . . and then . . .
After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, we were left with a core group of about 30 people, and we were faced with a relaunch situation in addition to networking with others locally and nationally to provide relief and assistance to the tens of thousands of people affected in the wake of destruction.
OVER OUR HEADS
We were literally in way over our heads. But God provided.
We needed people to provide oversight for volunteer team management, and we had no clue where to find them. But God provided.
We needed warehouse space, a warehouse manager, and project managers, and we had no idea where to even begin looking for such resources. But God provided.
We needed housing for volunteer teams, ways to feed these hundreds of workers, and places for them to shower. And God provided. Every step of the way God provided in this radically altered ministry landscape of our double-espresso church plant.
Today, three years later, the church has redeveloped its leadership base and ministry infrastructure. Journey has only about 30 “pre-Katrina” people left, but more than 170 new people have become a part of Journey since the storm. Most importantly, Journey has seen people work through crises of faith, and many others came to know Christ for the very first time.
One of our couples, John and Sydna, lost everything in Katrina, but rather than leave the area, they joined in the rebuilding efforts and served through our ministry to help hundreds of other individuals throughout New Orleans. James is a newcomer to Journey who was invited by one of our church members. He hadn’t been to a church for years, and he has now committed his life to Christ and is ready to be baptized. Kim had come out of a lesbian relationship and was in the drug culture in New Orleans and recently gave her life to Christ and was baptized.
GOD IS MOVING
In the midst of tragedy, God still moves. I am reminded of Psalm 9:9, 10, “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” The tragedy seems to have brought more openness to the city: people are seeing the gospel through the hands of believers who come and serve and then they are open to hear the gospel through the words and witness of his people. More people are seeking God these days in New Orleans, and this has led to more double-espresso church plants.
Matt and Andrea Woodward moved to New Orleans from Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix, Arizona. They came with committed hearts to serve the people through CrossRoads Missions. Their long-term commitment was to plant a church in the very soil that had been ravaged by Katrina. A year after their arrival, they developed a community of faith that moved into the St. Bernard Parish area, right outside of New Orleans, and now they are developing a community center out of which a new church, The Gathering Christian Church, is being born. Partner churches and Stadia united to assist in this plant. God provided.
Eric and Jennifer Fillinger moved to New Orleans from Discover Christian Church in Dublin, Ohio, with the same passion and commitment to serve the people devastated by Hurricane Katrina. They, too, ministered through CrossRoads Missions, which led to a new church plant called Hope Christian Church in another area of devastation of our city called Lakeview. The Louisiana Evangelizing Association, Stadia, and partner churches are working together for this church plant. God provided.
A third church plant is underway in New Orleans East as a result of the great ministry of Building Better Communities. This is our first church plant that includes a partnership between a cappella churches of Christ and Christian churches. Richland Hills Christian Church (Austin, Texas), Southland Christian Church (Lexington, Kentucky), and Central Christian and Westlink Christian churches (both Wichita, Kansas) are partnering together to plant an urban, African-American church. We are amazed at how God is bringing reconciliation and healing across racial and “instrumental” lines through this church plant! God provided.
A fourth church plant is launching in Pearlington, Mississippi, near the Gulfport/Biloxi area, as a result of the outreach of churches all across the country who have sent work team after work team to rebuild this area. People have definitely “seen” the gospel through these Christian workers, and they have been receptive to hearing the gospel as a result. God provided.
A fifth church plant is in the formative stages for the Central City neighborhood of New Orleans, the roughest part of the inner city with the highest murder/crime rate per capita in the entire city. A partnership with Team Expansion is moving forward with this church plant. God provided.
Here we are three years after Katrina and God has already provided the seedlings for five new churches in our area in addition to the growth God has given us at Journey. This truly is a double-espresso church-planting experience where we recognize that God has provided.
Dr. Rick Grover was lead planter of Journey Christian Church, New Orleans, Louisiana. Late this summer he moved to serve as minister with Owensboro (Kentucky) Christian Church.