Church multiplication was not on Pastor Andy Merritt’s radar until approached by District Superintendent Dr. Mark Gorveatte. Pastor Andy had been in youth ministry for seven years when Dr. Gorveatte asked him, “When are you going to plant a church?”

In 2008, Pastor Andy launched Rivertree Community Church in Jackson, Michigan. He admits they did not always know if they were going to make it in those first five years. Afterwards, he felt the Lord leading him to pray for 20 people to be saved, 50 people to join Rivertree’s mission and to get a building rent or mortgage free. The Lord answered those prayers.

Pastor Andy was approached by a businessman about a property he wanted to designate for ministry. This building already hosted a resale business whose income offset rent allowing Rivertree to have a permanent, rent-free home. Rivertree has since bought the building and received the resale business as a gift. Pastor Andy engaged the gifts and talents of some Rivertree business-minded lay people, who took the resale business from $300 thousand to $700 thousand in gross sales annually.

Pastor Andy determined early that if Rivertree was going to get involved in this resale business, 30 percent of the profits would go directly to a church multiplication fund called “Freedom Point.” He explained that Jackson is known for having the largest state prison in Michigan and one of the largest walled prisons in the world, so when naming the church multiplication fund, he asked, “What if we became known not for who is incarcerated, but who we can set free in Christ?”

Reflecting on God’s goodness to Rivertree throughout its 15 years of existence, Pastor Andy notes that now more money goes to church multiplication than their entire annual budget in their early years.

Resale funds have supported 10 church plants located as close as a few miles away and as far abroad as two churches in India. These church plants already have mother churches and districts supporting them, with good networks and trainings; Rivertree fills the “grandparents” niche. “What these churches need is someone to love on them like a grandparent,” Pastor Andy explains. Rivertree annually covers Exponential’s conference costs and a Christmas present and Pastor Andy stays in touch with the various planters. Rivertree ensures the church planters are cared for.

Given the number of church plants supported by Rivertree over the last 10 years, one might assume their budget and attendance are massive. However, Rivertree defies the idea that a church must be large to engage in effective multiplication. In a normal week, between weekend services and a special needs midweek service, overall attendance averages about 220.

How is Rivertree so effective at church multiplication? Pastor Andy leads the charge. He established multiplication as one of Rivertree’s values and keeps that value in front of the congregation in various ways. When there is a church plant launching, Rivertree prays for it as a part of their services. Most visibly, a signpost exists with arrows pointing in the direction and displaying the distance to each church Rivertree has supported.

Pastor Andy also works as the part time church planter assessment executive producer serving with Director of Church Multiplication Reverend Jesse Pratt, Church Multiplication and Discipleship Division of The Wesleyan Church.

 

“Andy has demonstrated that multiplier’s heart and has a great Acts 1:8 plan to engage his church,” said Rev. Pratt. He also recognizes of Rivertree, “They have a laser focus on making disciples in all the contexts that God opens the doors for. All their finances and structures are focused on how to reach beyond themselves.”

Pastor Andy provides advice for churches who want to get into multiplication: “It’s a little bit like having kids, if you wait until you can afford to do it, you never will. If you continue to wait for the right circumstances, you will always be waiting.”

He adds, “Start somewhere. Put one planter on your prayer or missions list. To be involved in multiplication, you don’t have to go plant a church and give away half your people.”

Zephaniah 4:10 is a key verse Pastor Andy resonates with: “God is doing a work, and that just takes time. Don’t despise the small beginnings.”

Rev. Pratt can see the commonalities of churches active in multiplication. “They demonstrate faithful obedience. In all stories, God gives a vision to the leader to go beyond themselves and their community.”

He also encourages changing the scorecard. “We tend to count nickels and noses, and that makes it hard to send things away.” The better question to ask, according to Rev. Pratt, would be how we are changing the lostness in our community?  “If we had 100 Rivertrees doing this stuff, we would be headed in the right direction.”

For more information on Pastor Andy Merritt and Rivertree’s multiplication journey, click here to listen to the Acts 1:8 Podcast.

Jacob Gibson is the senior pastor at LifeSpring Wesleyan Church, Richmond, Indiana, and graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University and Wesley Seminary, Marion, Indiana.