When a small band of faithful believers planted our church near Berkeley, California seventeen years ago, I watched with amazement: the Lord gathered a diverse group of people to worship Him and do life together. From a core team of 25 people to a vibrant congregation that makes disciples and tangibly serves the needs of the community, Solano Church is a testament to the Lord’s faithfulness. As we continue to emerge from the pandemic—our densely populated area has had tight and persistent restrictions—I have had similar moments of amazement, witnessing the Lord once again carrying out His gathering work.
Of course, it has been messy too. Churches in our area normally see a 20-30% turnover rate per year, and extended pandemic restrictions hampered our ability to gather new people in the ways we’ve normally done.
Even so, I am once again reminded of the Lord and His amazing gathering work. My wife and I recently started hosting a new Home Group, and as I looked around our dining room table one recent evening, I was blessed once again by what the Lord has done. Staring back at me were people from a portion of “every nation under heaven:” Jordanian, Chinese, Ethiopian, Nigerian and American Christians gathered together. I thought to myself, “This certainly is what heaven will be like!”
Historic church planting
Acts 2 gives us an indelible picture of the gospel going forth to all people: “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians” all heard the good news of Jesus Christ on the lips of believers freshly filled with the Holy Spirit. And the response was “amazement” (Acts 2:12).
There is something deeply pleasing about this gathering of disparate peoples uniting with God and one another through the gospel. Pentecost marks the reversal of the curse of Babel and it resonates with a yearning for oneness deep inside every one of us.
As these diverse peoples visiting Jerusalem from all around the ancient world heard the gospel preached in their own languages, their hearts were pierced and they asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter invited them to repent. And as they did, the “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” witnessed for the first time what Paul will later describe as the “manifold wisdom of God” on full display as He accomplished the reconciliation that no one else could (Eph 3:10). They are amazed and their amazement fuels their worship.
Today, we see the same reconciling power in every local church plant in the EFCA. Disparate peoples are gathered in the power of the gospel, brought to God and brought to one another. Making disciples and planting churches is the prescriptive pattern for church growth given to us in the book of Acts.
This is why our movement focuses on planting new churches. This is why we are celebrating Church Multiplication Sunday this June 5, 2022, Pentecost Sunday. This is why church planting still matters.
Planting churches at “inopportune” times
Like many good things, church planting can easily slide down the list of priorities. For some of us, it may have fallen right off the bottom—for a multitude of reasons.
As a pastor, I can relate. More immediate concerns crush upon us, especially during a difficult pandemic season. There have been loved ones to care for, or, in some cases, grieve. Sharp disagreements have arisen within our communities. We’ve lost people. We’ve lost meeting places. We’ve lost funds. We’ve lost pastors and other leaders. I’ve experienced nearly all of these and still feel like I’m reeling, at times.
It might be easy to conclude that this is not the time to think about planting more churches. And we should certainly take time to adequately address issues within our churches related to the pandemic and what people are referring to as “a season of deconstruction.” This is essential work. But it will be important for us also to remember that the Lord often works in what might seem to be inopportune times. The Lord is not confined by the things we feel confined by.
Who could have predicted that Paul and Silas’ trip to prison in Acts 16 would result in a small revival? It was an earthquake that broke open the gospel opportunity in prison. Today, we still celebrate and learn from the church in Philippi that grew out of that moment: Paul and Silas remained open to new gospel possibilities, even when the world around them was literally falling down.
And who would have thought that a shipwreck caused by a storm would lead to the gospel being shared? But God used Paul and his companions on an isolated island called Malta to heal the sick and share the good news (Acts 28:1-10). While we don’t have biblical evidence of a church being established from that exact shipwreck, we do know churches were planted in that region at some point. They are still there today.
The book of Acts is chock full of unexpected ways that God used Paul and his companions to plant churches throughout the ancient world, and it all points back to Pentecost. New churches to reach new people—it’s not a new mission to join, but an ancient call to God’s people throughout the ages.
The work continues
By His grace, the Lord continues to give evidence that He is moving through the churches of the EFCA. During the pandemic, 29 EFCA churches were planted. We celebrate these courageous planters and their teams for keeping the faith amidst a challenging time. So far in 2022, six churches have been planted and eight more planters have already been assessed.
One of these new plants marks the continuation of Solano Church’s gathering journey. We’ve had the privilege of serving as a sending church for New City Church in Oakland, California, one of the most unchurched and challenging cities in the country. The planter, Gabe Garcia, and his family moved to Oakland during the pandemic. They gathered a core team during the pandemic. They launched during the pandemic. And this Easter, they impacted their community deeply and saw two people come to faith. God is moving, even now.
The Lord wants our churches to be healthy. But at the same time, He also works at seemingly inopportune times and in unexpected ways. For this reason, the ReachNetwork team, along with the rest of our national leaders and the District Superintendents, invite you to celebrate Church Multiplication Sunday with us on Sunday, June 5, 2022.
We cannot underestimate what the Lord might do when we gather together to pray for the multiplication of transformational churches among all people, something that is so near and dear to His heart. Certainly, those gathered on the original day of Pentecost had no idea what was about to happen. What might the Lord do with us?
We want you to join us on Church Multiplication Sunday by setting aside 5 to 7 minutes during your Sunday service to share about the importance of church planting, show a short video and pray for church planting in the EFCA. You can find all the resources at efca.org/church-multiplication-sunday and let us know you’re in on Church Multiplication Sunday by filling out this form.
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