As The Wesleyan Church (TWC) sees new expressions of church take shape around the world, the denomination needs training that equips, empowers, and stays connected with laity and clergy as they begin the hard work of planting new communities of faith.
In 2018, Ransom Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, developed one of the first church planting residency programs. Now a collaboration of 17 Wesleyan churches, the church planting residency exists under “The Awaken Network.”
The one-year program features focused learning, peer-to-peer relationships and intensive coaching with a church-planting mentor. These are not just ingredients in the training process, however; Ransom is intentional about staying connected to those they “send” long after the on-the-ground ministry begins.
For Rev. Mandi Smith, “Awaken” and residency pastor at Ransom Church, the most satisfying element of the program is seeing those The Awaken Network has “sent” thrive in their next placement. “The power of the cohort model is that it acknowledges our need for a tribe. We say this about Christians in general: ‘you need people.’ But then sometimes as pastors we hold ourselves to a different standard — we pretend we can do it alone. We can’t and we weren’t meant to.”
Having a cohort allows for a natural community of people who can encourage and support one another, who can share ideas, wins and failures together. In addition to other church planters being in the cohort, the collaboration that exists between the 17 church partners provides a unique environment. Instead of one leadership voice, they receive leadership training from multiple leaders in the field. Instead of one church trying to fund multiplication, all the churches come together to share the load and can see more sustainable Kingdom impact than if any one church or leader tried to do it alone. “We aren’t here to build a castle; we are here to build his Kingdom!” said Rev. Smith.
Rev. Jake Thurston, a church planter in Vermilion, South Dakota, and an alumnus of the “Awaken” cohort model, says Ransom’s approach has helped him walk into church planting not only with a better model for success, but with a vision of wholeness in Christ that has helped him keep his footing amid the pace of church planting.
“I’ve internalized Ransom’s culture of excellence; and the belief Ransom has that success is measured by obedience. That helped lock in my focus: this journey isn’t just about how big our launch is, or how fast we’re growing — it’s about listening for the voice of God and being the best church for the city,” reflected Rev. Thurston. He was also quick to share that Ransom’s approach to practical concerns (gathering a core team, fundraising and systems management) has allowed him to move into church planting with a vision of a flourishing life and congregation.
For Rev. Jesse and Aimee Pratt, directors of New Church Development at TWC headquarters, programs like Ransom’s exemplify the best in what’s possible when local churches focus on reproducing not just churches but lay and clergy leaders.
As the Pratts develop, share and refine the denominational church planting residency pathway, four key focus points rise to the top:
- church planting knowledge (the nuts and bolts of church planting)
- pastoral leadership (learning best-practices of leadership toward the congregation and community)
- personal development (assessing, identifying, and targeting areas of strength, growth and blind spots), and
- hands-on experience (leading and learning in a wide range of experiences from fundraising to teaching to conflict management).
Some churches — such as Calgary Wesleyan in Alberta, Canada — are launching a church planting residency program in the coming months. The key ingredient for churches who would be a good fit, says the Pratts, are those who “focus more on their sending capacity than their seating capacity.”
“Churches that thrive in this area are praying and believing for a fresh move of the Holy Spirit to call out men and women to pursue a Kingdom calling,” Rev. Pratt continued.
The Pratts also shared that healthy “sending” churches have the following four practices in common:
- Pray for God to call out multipliers.
- Change their scorecard to reflect sending as a win.
- Regularly invite the congregation to consider how God wants to use them individually.
- Celebrate and resource people who courageously go.
Congregations like Ransom and Calgary Wesleyan are leading the charge in church-planting residencies; but behind them are a wave of other churches who are coming alive to the idea of sending others into the community and around the world as everyday missionaries.
Rev. Mandi Smith offered one example: Starting Line Church in Ridgeville, Ohio. “They planted in the thick of COVID, and yet they built community through game nights online. People who started attending weren’t looking for faith; they were just looking for people — and their core team decided to meet that need, and to stay curious about where God would lead.” Now, a few years into their plant, Starting Line is seeing people who attended those game nights find wholeness in Christ.
At its best, every congregation (old or new) can approach their neighbors with curiosity, witness and humble service; but some of our best examples in this work are emerging from a constellation of new congregations God is planting through “teaching churches” who see sending as central to their mission.
For more information about how you or your church can get involved in sending laity and clergy into the work of discipleship, visit wesleyan.org/CMAD.
Rev. Ethan Linder is the pastor of discipleship at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and contributing editor at The Wesleyan Church’s Education and Clergy Development Division.