On the Sunday mornings when Daria and I are not on the road representing the GARBC, we are sitting on uncomfortable folding plastic chairs in an upstairs room of a large recreation center. Through the door to the room come the occasional sounds of an instructor barking orders to a bevy of middle-aged women in sweats as they stretch to the music of the oldies. From the other end of the building come the grunts and groans of men playing basketball in the gymnasium. The loudspeaker from time to time crackles with a message for someone to come to the main desk.
On the wall of the room is a strange multicolored mural, which at first glance looks scary. It pictures a palette of paint meant to represent the art class that often meets in this room. The bulletin boards and the display cases in the hallway announce upcoming theater productions, senior citizen trips to casinos, and registration deadlines for the next fitness classes on the calendar.
The room next door holds an impressive collection of indoor play equipment for children. On the floor are mats to protect the kids from injury. Tables with little chairs provide a place where the boys and girls can sit and eat their birthday cake when families rent the room to host their celebrations.
During two hours on each Sunday morning, these two rooms are used by our fledgling church plant. We are part of a core group of believers, who along with our church-planting pastor and wife, are seeking to establish a new testimony for Christ in a corner of the greater Chicago metropolitan region. From the vantage point of my plastic chair, where I have been sitting for the last year, I am making observations and learning important lessons about what it takes to plant a church.
For people like me, who are accustomed to a conventional church setting with pews, a high ceiling, a platform with choir loft, a substantial pulpit, and a Communion table that says, “This do in remembrance . . . ,” the room is an anomaly. But what Daria and I are experiencing is the essence of church—introducing people to Christ and teaching them the Word. Because our church body started with so little, we are able to observe anew the heart and soul of the work God has created the church to do.
Church planting is not for the faint of heart. While the facilities are functional and affordable, they are far from ideal. Every week our pastor and wife haul the “church in a box” equipment to the downstairs door of the recreation center. We all cart the equipment and supplies inside, unpack them, and set up the rooms to have our service. Before the service begins, we gather as a team for a few moments of prayer, asking God to bring the faithful core group and to bless us with new faces. When a visitor shows up, it is like Christmas morning. Our purpose is all about people connecting with God.
Our group sings the worship music selections, not in a perfunctory manner, but with a heightened sense of purpose. We are endeavoring to learn new worship songs from different ethnicities to warmly integrate our community’s melting pot of nationalities into our fellowship. We pray with a keen sense of dependency on God for everything—people, money, facilities, contacts, and most of all, that God will grow our faith. We are experiencing that which I have always known and preached—that we will survive only by God’s enabling. This is His church. We will work to plant and water, but we know the fruit will happen only because He gives the increase.
As I write this article, I am waiting for a text from our pastor telling us that a possible rental facility is available. Obtaining a place that would allow us to facilitate ongoing ministries with people beyond Sunday morning would be a valuable asset. Through our Realtor we have investigated leasing one place after another, only to come up empty. Maybe this will be the day that we can take another baby step forward as a church. Sometimes I lay awake at night pleading with the Lord to bring it all together. I am reminded of how very much all of this is the essence of ministry as we read in Acts. I feel like I have so much to learn. Those plastic chairs may be uncomfortable, but they are teaching me valuable lessons.
At the GARBC Conference, June 27—July 1, in Denver, Colo., we will give special recognition to the courageous church-planting pioneers who labor every week to give substance to the multiplication of the church. Together we will think through God’s Word about the reality that God’s church is “Destined to Multiply.” I hope you will come. Our fellowship needs this emphasis. Join me in praying that God will give us a revival of passion for church multiplication. I’ll see you in Denver. By the way, the seats will be more comfortable.
John Greening is national representative for the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.