In Acts 1:8, Jesus told His disciples that they were to be “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
For Christ’s disciples today, “Jerusalem” refers to our local area—our people group. “The ends of the earth” refers to all the nations of the world. But where are our “Judea and Samaria”? They are the cities and states near us. We are to be witnesses there, as well as at home and abroad. This witness involves church planting, and church planting is my passion!
Church planting—the birthing of new Christian congregations—is essential to the cause of Christ. Existing churches must create new churches, so that the Gospel message can be spread. Church planting is also essential to the Brethren in Christ (BIC) Church. If we do not reproduce ourselves, our family name will eventually disappear.
The call to plant churches was far from my mind as I grew up in Kansas and got involved in the rock music scene. Playing in bars for close to 20 years brought with it an alcohol addiction that dominated my life. But through prayer and the faithful witness of my wife and some other local believers, I was saved around Christmas 1980 and started attending the Zion BIC Church near Abilene, Kans. Miraculously, in 1984, God called me to pastor that church.
In 1996 I began to feel a calling to plant a new church. Even though starting new churches always made sense to me, I did not want to hear this call. I was happy where I was and felt that I could support others from there. I resisted, but God was persistent.
During that time of struggle, I came across some old church records from the years 1912–1914. The records listed 11 BIC congregations in Kansas. I couldn’t shake off the faithfulness of these BIC pioneers. Three hundred of them had made their way to Kansas by train in the 1880s, fanned out, and established new churches. By 1914 they numbered around 900, tripling their number in just 30 years. That’s what church planting can do. And almost a century later, God seemed to be telling me, “That’s what I want you to do.”
By that time, the BIC in Kansas had dwindled to just three churches with around 300 in attendance. Something about that fact just did not seem right to me. So in the fall of 1997, after much prayer, I decided to say yes to the call to plant a new church. The target would be Salina, Kans., just 30 minutes down I-70 from the three remaining Kansas churches. I was 50 years old at the time. God has a sense of humor.
My wife and I moved to Salina in the fall of 1998 to begin planting what would become the CrossRoads Church. Taking a page from the Book of Joshua, we did seven Jericho Prayer Walks around the city, asking God to bring down its spiritual walls and to send us the people that the world had given up on. God answered both prayers. CrossRoads is now known as the “rock & roll rehab church” in Salina. The majority of our folks are recovering from addiction and co-dependency even as they are learning how to walk as Jesus did. Ironically, in 2001, we purchased Salina’s largest bar and nightclub and converted it into a worship and ministry center. Again, God has a sense of humor.
Since we planted CrossRoads, five other churches have been birthed in Kansas: Rock Island in Herington, LifeHouse in Abilene, New Trail Fellowship near Abilene, along with Revolution BIC and La Mision El Camino of Salina. These last two churches both got their start in the CrossRoads Church “womb room,” a fellowship hall in our building where fledging congregations can grow and gain strength before establishing themselves in the community. In that sense, birthing new churches was built into the CrossRoads DNA.
On an average Sunday morning in 1998, attendance in the three surviving BIC churches in Kansas would have been around 300—the same number that came to the state in the 1880s. This coming Sunday morning, around 1,000 people will worship God and hear the Gospel in seven Kansas BIC churches. Since the launch of CrossRoads, the BIC Church in Kansas has tripled in number.
I believe God has given me a vision for 10 BIC churches in Kansas before I die. Today, we are moving toward that vision. But it’s not just my “Judea and Samaria” here in Kansas where such renewal must happen. During this next generation, we must take the call to plant new churches seriously. We must invest significant prayer, personnel, and finances into the effort to be witnesses in the cities and states around us. And as we do, God will do great things in us and around us.