New Wine, New Song

by Brent Hanson.


I don’t fit the profile of most church planters. My personality is naturally introverted. I am not a person who is known for boldness. I tend to be soft-spoken. I did not have much speaking experience when I started this effort.

We didn’t plant New Song Community Church the way the experts say you should. No mother church gave us our start. We didn’t have a huge group of supporters. Churches and pastors in the Fellowship were certainly helpful, but we are hundreds of miles from the nearest FCA church in the United States.

I say all this to confirm that our church is God’s work, not man’s. I have made many mistakes over the past decade, but God has been faithful and taught me some important lessons. Here are four of them.

Follow God’s Calling
Jesus called out to them, “Come, be my disciples, and I will show you how to fish for people!” (Mark 1:17, NLT).

For a full year before Debi and I moved back to our home area of metro Detroit, God had been confirming his call to me night after night on my prayer walks through his Spirit, his Word, and circumstances. We arrived with a new baby and only a modest teaching job at a Christian school. But we believed God could somehow use us to reach people for his kingdom.

I definitely advise against trying to start a church without a clear call from God. That calling will be tested many times-not only by circumstances but also by people.

I remember a conversation with a church planter several years ago. “I’ll see how it goes,” he said. “If it’s too hard on my family, then I’ll have to reconsider.” His church failed within a year. We did not start New Song with that mindset. We knew God had called us. So whether we had two or 200 show up, we were not going to quit.

The calling helps you persevere in hard times. The calling helps you keep going when others quit. It was the calling that kept the apostles going as they faced great difficulties.

Trust Character Over Talent
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others (2 Tim. 2:2 NIV).

Oh, how I have learned this lesson! New church plants, I think, are a magnet for every kook, church reject, and control freak close by. However, no matter how talented or capable someone may be, it is never a replacement for character. I have learned to test someone’s character for a period of time before entrusting them with leadership. I watch to see if they have manipulating or controlling tendencies. I want to see if they really have a servant’s heart. I watch for any sinful tendencies.

When New Song first began, I had an associate pastor whom I had known for several years. We had some minor disagreements at the beginning. Then as time went on, I discovered something more sinister at work. This couple had designs on the title of senior pastor. They did their best to capture people’s hearts and minds. They constantly did things to undermine our leadership. They even joked to us, “Don’t worry, when you guys leave, we’ll take over the church”-even though we had made a lifelong commitment to New Song and had no plans for leaving.

I thought of confronting the matter directly, but I was concerned that it might result in a church split. So I began to pray, “God, either change them or cause them to go.” Within a year, they left.

As is always true, mistakes you make in leadership reproduce themselves in those underneath. For the next three years, people who were under this couple’s leadership slowly left. I am thankful to say that the church never split. We continued to grow, but it was only by God’s grace. God covered for me. Through that experience, I learned the importance of having trustworthy associates.

A structure is only as good as the people in it. I believe it’s better not to have a ministry at all than to have a ministry led by an untrustworthy or borderline person.

Keep Loving and Reaching
“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 NLT).

Two things are sorely lacking in many of our churches today. One is love. A church very easily becomes inward, forming cliques and different camps. This can happen in a church plant, too. The initial group of people becomes comfortable with what they have and forgets about the world around them.

True Christian love always leads to outreach. There are a number of different formats, of course. Obviously, personal relationships with unbelievers are the best way to acquire new people. Other methods include service events for the community, outreach evangelistic events, and outreach mailers.

Too many churches give up too easily in this area. We have consistently invested in reaching out to our community through mailers and other methods, seeing steady results. Whatever method you use, don’t give up on loving and reaching out. It will be the key to the future of your church. It is well worth the investment.

Pray and Believe
“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matt. 21:22 NLT).

I believe in the power of prayer and faith now more than ever. The sad truth is that a church can attract a lot of people without having much faith, because it is simply a group coming together for socializing and entertainment. That is not what God has called the church to be.

Church is meant to be a place of life transformation. That is why I look forward to the testimonies we send out every month in our “New Song Connection.” It reminds us all of what New Song is about-lives being changed from darkness to light, from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God.

Dependence upon methods will lead only to a human work, but prayer and faith will open the windows of heaven for God to do something powerful in the church. When we moved into our new building, we committed to a weekly prayer and praise service that lifted up the needs of our church, our community, and our world. It has been awesome to see how God has worked. As we have prayed together in faith for God to move mountains, he has responded with his omnipotent power. Every week we hear different testimonies about how God has answered, delivered, and saved.

My prayer is that more FCA leaders will respond to the call of God to plant churches in Jesus’ name. He has used me in spite of my many weaknesses. I know God can use you as well.

Brent Hanson is senior pastor of New Song Community Church, Wolverine Lake, Michigan, a former FCA Church which began with 12 people and has grown to several hundred.

Busy Hub on the Prairie

If you think not much happens over the winter in Manitoba’s small prairie towns, think again. Abundant Life Fellowship, the FCA church in Grunthal (pop. 900), more than doubled its worship seating from 250 to 550 recently, adding a total of 15,780 square feet of space–the town’s first church construction in many years.

“Our vision is to make a difference in this community,” says Pastor David Neufeld, “which is why we built this auditorium to also function as a gymnasium or a banquet hall. For example, we have changing rooms with showers for athletic events; we’ve also got a large commercial kitchen with a walk-in cooler. We fully welcome the community to make use of this facility.”

Outside groups will have to work around Abundant Life’s own busy schedule, however. Its preschool operates Tuesdays through Fridays and serves 60 children. The Good News Daycare is licensed for 96 spaces and employs 24 staff. On Monday nights, an “Elevate” program sees up to 50 students and teachers getting together for free guitar and drum instruction. Tuesday night is “Alpha Night,” when adults come for a meal and an introduction to forming a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Then on Wednesday night, Awana groups take over, with 100 three-to-eleven-year-olds playing games and learning the Bible. Thursday night is for junior youth (grades 7-9), while Friday night is for senior youth (grades 10-12), led by youth pastor Carter Krahn.

“The entire project has cost nearly $2.1 million,” Neufeld explains, “and as we move into this space, more than half of that amount is already paid off. We are excited to meet the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of this area, helping people find hope, life, and freedom in Christ.”

For more information, go to: www.galf.ca.

And The Two Shall Be One

Sunday, January 9, 2011 marked the culmination of a unique merger of two FCA churches in Madison, Wisconsin. Lake City Church (founded in 1927 and known in early days as Madison Gospel Tabernacle) joined with Mad City Church (started in the late 1990s with an “alternative” flair) to become, simply, “City Church” (www.citychurchonline.org). Mad City’s Tom Flaherty is the new lead pastor, while Lake City’s John Ruck becomes pastor for business administration.

This is “a journey that began a couple of years ago,” said a late-December news release, “but began in earnest last fall when a Word from the Lord was presented to the lead pastors of both churches. The defining moment of our journey was at a meeting” when the two groups of elders and ministry staff thoroughly aired the question, prayed together, and voted to go forward. It concluded with a foot-washing ceremony.

The two congregations first began worshiping together at the start of the Christmas season, using Lake City’s building (Mad City Church had been renting a high school). The full public debut, however, was not rolled out until this past Sunday. Dr. Brian White, now a professor in Michigan and one of the external overseers whom God used to bring the original prophecy to both churches, led in a dedicatory prayer. Pastor Tom Flaherty then preached on the first of City Church’s four core values: “Come as You Are,” based on Matthew 11:28-30 and Galatians 5:1. A number of people, including first-time visitors, responded for salvation at the end.

Afterward, a free lunch was served in the gymnasium to some 465 people. The benefactor was the local Noodles franchise, which provided all food and service in exchange for publicity and a requirement that the meal be used as a fund-raiser. Some $1,700 was donated by those who ate to underwrite an upcoming youth group outreach to inner-city Chicago.

“Whenever you bring two families together under one roof,” John Ruck wrote in the news release, “there will be challenges, there will be growing pains, there will be resistance to change. We ask that you join us in praying that City Church will be a testimony to our community of God’s love and will bring Him honor and glory!”

Tom Flaherty says, “We have an amazing team here, utilizing gifted leaders from both former congregations. There’s an atmosphere of hope and expectancy. We are all looking forward to what God will do among us.”

To read local newspaper coverage of the merger, click here.

Help for Arizona From Distant Lands

More than a dozen FCA churches across the continent share credit for helping to launch a new congregation in the Phoenix suburb of Avondale.

“Six months ago, we started Coldwater Church,” says founding pastor Chris Wotherspoon. “Sunday morning attendance is now as high as 40, and we continue to be blessed by God’s overwhelming mercy and grace. We are thankful to all the churches, pastors and advisory boards that have expressed faith by partnering in a new work like ours.”

Leading the way with financial support, as well as sending a Launch Team, has been Moreno Christian Assembly in Southern California, where Wotherspoon previously served on staff. Meanwhile, Philadelphia Church (Seattle) sent a team in July to put on a three-night Kids Extravaganza that built to 67 children on the final night, more than half of whom were entirely new to the church. Two Rivers Church in nearby Gilbert, Ariz., donated a cargo trailer to help the new church transport its equipment back and forth to the school where it rents space. Other start-up funds came not only from California (Westminster Christian Assembly, Valley Christian Assembly, South Bay Christian Fellowship) and the Pacific Northwest (Park Ridge Chapel, Sonrise Chapel) but as far away as the Upper Midwest (Bethel-St. Paul, Duluth Gospel Tabernacle, Capitoland-Madison WI, Rock Church-IL) and even the New York area (Gracepoint, Smithtown, Bricktown).

Volunteers from near and far have been put to work in the Arizona heat, passing out free water bottles that promote Coldwater Church. The name carries overtones that are both geographical (the Agua Fria River—“cold water” in Spanish—runs nearby) and metaphorical. “We’ve taken Proverbs 25:25 as our theme verse,” says Pastor Wotherspoon. “It says, ‘Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land.’ Some who have received these water bottles have come to visit our church and turned into regular, committed participants.”

The church is now beginning home fellowship groups. Two teenagers got to attend the FCA youth camp at Sa-Ha-Le this past summer. “God is good!” says Pastor Chris. “We continue to receive encouraging texts, emails, cards, notes and prayers from across the Fellowship as we push ahead in this new venture.” For more information, go to: http://www.coldwaterchurch.com

New Name, New Facility for New City, New York

Gracepoint Gospel Fellowship is the new name for New City Gospel Fellowship, located 30 miles up the Hudson River from midtown Manhattan. And Sunday, September 14, 20 they dedicated a new 29,000-square-foot building as well, to accommodate the growing congregation.

“We’re no longer just a New City church,” says Senior Pastor Carl Johnson. “Our people come from all over Rockland County as well as Orange County, Westchester County across the river—and even Bergen County in New Jersey. So rather than have a geographical name, we wanted to convey something of what the church stands for. Our focus is to be a place where people encounter the grace of God.”

The new facility is multipurpose: it can seat more than 1,000 for worship, or it can be turned into a banquet/fellowship space, or even a gymnasium. (Sunday attendance is currently around 1,200, plus an additional Saturday night service.) Total cost for the structure was $8 million, not counting land cost. A few years ago, the church was able to purchase 43 acres that adjoined its present property. The new building connects to the original structure, which includes offices and a K-6 Christian school. The smaller sanctuary will now be used for weddings and other auxiliary events.

The keynote speaker for the dedication was Dr. David Midwood, president of Vision New England, a regional movement for evangelism that involves some 80 denominations. The church’s music department performed an original composition for the special day, and the crowd rejoiced in anticipation of what lies ahead. The surrounding community is invited to an open house on Saturday, October 4, 2008. To see pictures of the facility in use, go to: http://gracepointgospel.org.