Planting Our Church … Again

 Ed Love and Andre Winters

2020/21 has been an incredibly difficult season for every ministry leader. There really aren’t words to describe it. The trials and tests have been all too real and painful for many church planters. Many church planters have wondered, “Am I still called to this?” “Will our fragile plant make it?” “Do I have what it takes to persevere and relaunch?”

Recently, I was meeting with our District Directors of Church Multiplication and we were discussing the heavy realities of the health and status of our Wesleyan church planters. Throughout the meeting, several stories of heartache and hope were shared. After the meeting, Andre Winters, who is the South Carolina District Director of Multiplication and a church planter, shared his story with me. I asked Andre if his story could be shared with other church planters and he said, “Gladly, God gets the glory!” Here is Andre’s church planting story:

In March of 2020 our 18-month-old church plant, The Corner, was nearing a hundred people in weekly attendance and was looking at moving into our first building. Our giving was well over budget and things were going smooth.

Then Covid happened.

I can’t stress it enough. The last 18 months has felt like death by a thousand cuts. Our body went from 100 to just 10 people. Our budget went from over budget to well under budget. One person at a time left. It was a slow loss. People we thought were friends walked away and many leaders I had invested in fell into sin and left the church.

My heart was full of pain and sadness. I became bitter and angry. I was confused and ready to give up.  I remember asking God, “If this is over please make it clear. Please burry us and stop making it feel like it we’re dying one cut at a time.”

One day I was prompted to read the book of Ezra. In Ezra, I saw a leader who pulled people through grieving for the loss of their nation, and in the process, Ezra tells them about their sin of intermarrying with other nations and giving their hearts away.

God told me I had given my heart over to pride and ego. I gave my heart over to comfort. I gave my heart over to my ideas of what success meant and how I measured myself and our church.

God convicted me with these questions:

Why was I angry at people who walked away from Jesus when I should grieve for them?

Why was I feeling defeated even though they walked away from God, not me?

Why did I feel like a failed planter when even though as a small core group we were living out the marks of the church?

Why was I so afraid to feel uncomfortable again when finances were tight, but it was still enough?

Had my methodology of ministry become more important than my ecclesiology?

Why do we think we failed if how we do church changes?

That day I asked God for evidence that he was still in this (much like Gideon).

Shortly after this reflective season, a young adult, who I had been discipling for eight months finally shared with me that he had decided to follow Jesus and wanted to be baptized. How cool is that! Our first baptism since Covid began!

Then, over the course of last few months, we’ve seen a handful of families start coming and joining our church. These were people who came from out of the blue! Plus, we have also seen a few random large donations!

The Corner isn’t what it once was, but I believe God is still in this.

It’s not time to be done. God is still getting started.

Here are a few statements I’ve used to push myself along and others:

“We may be starting over, but our starting line is stronger today than it was when we first began three years ago. Imagine what the next few years will be like!”

“We are living today the story of The Corner that will never be forgotten. I want future pastors and leaders of our plant to see our faithfulness and hope. Imagine how wonderful it will be to celebrate 10 years in 2028!”

“This small moment of loss is nothing compared to the story of God’s redemption and the decades of soul winning that is to come for this church.”

“What if Joshua and the people of God decided to stop marching on day six? It is not a time for us to throw in the towel but to keep on marching because we know day seven is coming and if God is with us then who or what could be against us?”

So, here we are in September of 2021. About to celebrate three years. We’re a solid group of 30-40. We are nowhere near what we thought we’d be and that is ok. We aren’t living for the moment but what is to come.

I tell my wife often that how we live and embody our faithfulness to God right now is what will shape us for the rest of our lives together.

We weren’t merely called to start a worship service and gather a bunch of people. We were called to start a disciple making and multiplying community. So, we will keep moving forward and run this race that God has marked out for us.

“Father in Heaven, right now, we lift up all of our Wesleyan church planters. For the ones experiencing heartache, will you fill them with hope. For the ones feeling jaded, will you give them great faith. For the ones feeling hurt, will you be a Good Shepherd. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”