If Pastor Keith Loy had to sum up his church planting strategy in a few words, it would be “raise ‘em up and send ‘em out.” Pastor Keith leads Celebrate Community Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which has planted a network of daughter churches that are now planting granddaughter churches and planning for great granddaughters.

Rev. Keith & Kay Loy

With a current church planting network of 19 churches (not counting a couple of campuses and churches in the planning stages), Celebrate has uniquely multiplied — with one exception — by finding the planter from its own members or staff. “The people God needs are in our pews,” he said. “Look within; see them as God sees them. Then release them and let them go.”

Pastor Keith credits much of his planting success to being a loner as a kid, which resulted in his youth pastor paying special attention to him. “He showed me how to play the guitar and the piano. He poured into me like I was a child of the king,” says Pastor Keith. Later, when Keith entered ministry, he wanted to be like that youth pastor, Clyde Teel. When Keith was eventually asked to plant a church, he said yes quickly. “With all naivete I said ‘sure, I’ll do it.’ I figured I’d just love people like Clyde did,” said Pastor Keith, who has been the senior pastor of Celebrate for the past 25 years.

Pastor John & Dayna Semchenko

“This church planting strategy is all part of the Celebrate DNA,” says Pastor John Semchenko, lead pastor of Celebrate Brandon, who in the past 18 months has been overseeing Celebrate’s church-planting network. “A true uniqueness of Celebrate is that we look for planters from within our own organization,” said Pastor John. “And the reason for that is because Pastor Keith has a strong belief that Ephesians 4:11-13 calls him as a pastor to equip the congregation.”

Pastor John notes it is uncommon to choose planters from within because pastors may not witness the fruit of sending your own. But those people “carry the DNA” of the leader who taught them, he said. “And what we really need are more churches, more communities of faith to reach a continent that is quickly moving away from the heart of God.”

The Celebrate church plants stay close to the mother church through weekly check-in meetings. “We were doing Zoom before it was cool to Zoom,” said Pastor John. The key to the network churches’ success, he believes, is that “we all share a passion for reaching people. When that is the focus, we find the gifts of the pastor or the size of the community don’t matter,” he said.

Pastor Monte Gannon

One of Celebrate’s daughter churches — that has already planted a “granddaughter” church and planning for its next — is Meadows Church in Papillion, Nebraska. Meadows Church is only six years old, opening in an Omaha suburb in October 2017. Pastor Monte Gannon, who was addicted to drugs before attending Celebrate, got clean and was brought up through the church as the children’s director and later as a campus pastor. In between, he graduated from Oklahoma Wesleyan University in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and became ordained.

About agreeing to plant Meadows Church, Pastor Monte said, “I did kick and scream, I’m not gonna lie. Everyone we knew was in Sioux Falls and the campus was exploding with growth and life change.” After two years of saying no, Pastor Monte said God worked on his and wife Jody’s hearts. They knew God was calling them. Leaving their comfort zone, they started the church with 12 adults and eight children, which grew to 500 in about six years.

Pastor Casey Comstock

How they did that in a community where they knew no one was to hit the ground running and try anything. “Our saving grace was the core team,” said Pastor Monte. The team met with city officials, held parties in the park, started a life group in a grocery store café section, and invited waitresses and Home Depot workers — basically anyone who would listen — to attend “a weird church in a stranger’s basement” that played YouTube videos for worship music.

After eight weeks, Meadows Church outgrew the basement and moved into the breakroom of a business connected to a church member. After six months, the church outgrew the breakroom. Four years later (after being delayed one year due to Covid) a couple from Meadows Church, Pastor Casey and Amanda Comstock, left to plant Crossover Church, 30 minutes away in Bennington, Nebraska.

Pastor Dave & Tanya Gifford

On this past Easter Sunday (March 31), Meadows Church went 30 minutes in the other direction and launched Celebrate’s second granddaughter church, All Seasons Church in Bellevue, Nebraska, which is pastored by Dave Gifford. “He’s a second career pastor like me,” said Pastor Monte. The philosophy is all about equipping the saints. “I might not do many weddings or hospital visits, but we try to have the body minister to the body. I am called to cast visions, preach and teach and raise up other leaders,” he said.

If we’re not intentional, we can become complacent. “Church can become a spectator sport with people wondering how we can entertain them, and I don’t blame them for that. I blame us for allowing that,” said Pastor Monte. “Celebrate is ruthless, in a good way, about calling people to something bigger than themselves,” he said. A case in point is another Meadows Church plant in the works. This church will be led by a man who just two years ago was a self-proclaimed atheist yet changed because of the church’s love toward him. “It is people who get transformed. That church planter is going to reach people I cannot,” said Pastor Monte. “And because of my story, I’m able to reach people that others may not. That’s the domino effect. They just need someone to tell them what they see in them and then watch what God does.”

Once again, this is Celebrate’s DNA being passed down to another new work. Pastor Keith reflects on an analogy shared by Wayne Cordeiro, founder of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu, Hawaii, “If we are running a race, and we are in the end times, then you understand that in the 4×100 meter relay, the best runner is the last runner. It’s called the anchor leg.” Pastor Keith concludes, “God knows what he is doing. God knows when to birth the best. I want to pass the baton and then I want to cheer them on.”

Pastor Keith believes that every congregation has people God wants to use to multiply. “I don’t believe in church growth; I believe in church multiplication. God didn’t say be fruitful and grow. He said be fruitful and multiply.

Jennifer Jones is a freelance writer and pastor’s wife serving as the North Carolina East District administrator.