I knew the Lord was calling me to plant a church. I had a relentless desire to do so. In 2013, my desire and gifts were affirmed, and I was given the opportunity to plant a new church in Phoenix. When we told our family we were leaving Oklahoma for Arizona to make a new church, they blessed us. My father-in-law even said, “You’ve grown so much. I would follow you if you were my pastor.”
We raised nearly $100,000 of pledged giving in a month. We had a group of families waiting for us in our new city to help us. Valley Life Church | Surprise launched on Easter Sunday in 2014 with 150 people in attendance! We started with an incredible boost of adrenaline and wonder.
Then reality hit.
About 60 of those people were from another church in town that had recently replaced their lead pastor. There was culture clash. We spent the summer defending the vision of our little church plant and encouraging the bulk of those families to worship at other churches that would better fit them.
Soon we were averaging 50 people in our new church. That includes adults, kids, the janitor (we met in a school), and any animals that wandered in during the service. By the fall, we were starting to grow and it felt like we were going to get there.
A Year-Long Roller Coaster
As we were gearing up for our first Christmas Eve Service, we got word that my wife’s mother wasn’t well. Her health was declining rapidly, and we weren’t sure what was wrong with her. We discovered that she had cancer. In December of 2014, my mother-in-law passed away. This was a tough blow to our family. Yet the Lord provided us with profound comfort and stayed faithful. Then in April, we had our 5th child, Macey Jean. She is nearing two years old now and is a wonderful gift from the Lord!
In June, my landlord informed me that he was selling the rent house we were living in. We offered to buy the house, but he had sold it to a family friend. He was gracious to us and gave us as long as he could to find a new home, but finding a home was difficult. We ended up living with a family in our church for a few weeks.
In August, we bought our first home! We moved out of our friend’s house and began to find a new normal. Our family was healing and our church was starting to grow again.
In October, the families that were such a gift to us in the beginning came to me one by one to let me know that our church wasn’t the church they thought it was going to be. They weren’t the vision carriers I thought they would be. We said goodbye to those friends. The church took a hard hit.
Church Planting Requires Grit
Our family and church plant were in recovery for most of last year, 2016. After moving to a new location, we healed together. We reached deep and found the grit needed to stick to the dream, vision, and calling of building our new church.
In December of 2016, something changed. Our little church plant had started to grow. Our giving increased tremendously. People were hearing the gospel and being saved. Families were bringing friends. There was a buzz about our church. My planting coach, friends, and fellow planters want to know, “What changed?! What did you do?!”
We’ve certainly learned from mistakes. We’ve put the right people in the right jobs. I’ve grown as a leader. We’ve made things better. But above all, we didn’t give up. We kept praying and planning and expecting Jesus to build His church. He is faithful.
Adrenaline and wonder are not enough to plant a church. Church planting requires grit. You will need grit to ask a toxic person to leave your church. You will need grit to lead your family to trust Jesus in the face of uncertainty. He has called you to the mission, and you will need grit to press on.
I’m reminded of a quote, “The secret to a long marriage is never getting a divorce.” I’m not sure who said it, but it rings true in so many areas of life. Don’t give up.
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
— Galatians 6:9 ESV