On September 29, 2013, I arrived in Dripping Springs, Texas, from Southern California, to plant a church called Hope Chapel Hill Country. The doors opened wide on January 5, 2014.
It hasn’t been easy…. How in the heck do you start a church anyway?
I’d been an associate pastor of a large church in Hermosa Beach for over fifteen years and planned to retire there; in fact, when I got the call to move, I was only five years from my pension! (Read about why I moved by clicking here.)
The best way to get people to go to a church is to invite them: Personally. In supermarkets, at Home Depot, restaurants, on the street and, GULP!, door-to-door. I hate going door-to-door but someone has to do for the truth what the cults do for a lie.
My “sending” pastor, Zac Nazarian, boss and mentor, told me to go out and get three yeses and 10 noes a day. My wife and I thought that the number 13 was bad luck, so I increased the objective by two. Fifteen people a day will get invitations.
To reach the 500 people in our neighborhood, Deer Creek Ranch, we bought a golf mobile and named it the GO! Kart!
I made invitations for the church, invitations for our Bible Study and stickers to put on the back of the trillion dollar bill Gospel tracts I always carry, and invited, invited, invited. Everyone got Gospel tracts, some received the conversational Gospel, all got an invitation. If I was in a hurry, the invitation went like this: “Here’s a trillion dollar bill for you. On the back is the trillion dollar question. ‘If you died today would you go to Heaven or Hell?’ ”
I would then pull out my invitation and hand it to them with a challenge, “If you are good enough to get there, I want to invite you to a new church I’m starting in a dance studio on the west end of town.”
“And if you’re not good enough, I’m gonna double invite you.”
That always got a laugh.
A dance studio? Yep. Starbella Dance Co. is only two doors down from my office. I just walked in one day and asked the owner if she would rent it to me on Sundays. When Annie the owner heard it was a church she dropped the payment by 20 bucks and only charged me for two hours at—get this—thirty smackeroos an hour.
To reach people in another way a radio show geared to non-Christians and unchurched believers called “Shine Your Light” debuted the last week of December on our local radio station KDRP. This is a program that is half music and half teaching so people will not get bored. Hopefully. I teach a simple, biblically-based message in a friendly, conversational manner mentioning Hope Chapel Hill Country at least five times in the half hour broadcast . (Go to www.ShineYourLightRadio.com to hear a few shows.)
I joined the Chamber of Commerce and my first event was a tri-city mixer where nearly every business owner received a personal invite to church.
Logos and banners were designed. Stationary, business cards and signs were printed. Tithe envelopes even!
Continuing to mix it up on the street, I went to the only apartment complex in Dripping Springs which had nineteen units of four apartment each. I personally spoke to thirty nine families. Half the complex.
Weekly breakfasts with the local pastors helped me to better understand the area and to see who was for the church plant and who wasn’t. I would ask each pastor, from Catholic to Episcopalian, from Presbyterian to Lutheran, from Baptist to Methodist to Non-Denom, this question: “Is there room in Dripping Springs for another church?” Thankfully, everyone was for kingdom growth. (It is estimated in this rapidly growing area that 80-85% of the people are un-churched.)
My first friend in the area was Frank Raymond, a retired construction man who has a heart for the Kingdom of God. He has been ministering to a local convalescent home for over seventeen years—and he’s eighty years old!
He built my bookshelves, sandwich boards and even assembled my pulpit! A faithful man who can find? He even procured a trailer to pack all our church stuff in—and is going to let me park it on his property!
When I first met Frank I asked him if there was room for another church in Drippin’. “Yes,” replied. “In the four quadrants.” As of today, the church is on the west side, and our MiniChurch is in the north. We plan on starting a new one on the east side in the home of the man who God used to instigate our move to Texas in the first place.
God has ‘em surrounded! They can’t get away from him now! (Except in the south, where the cemetery is located. Let the dead bury their own dead.)
Two local pastors, church-planters themselves and Texans, are becoming good friends and have been very helpful, praying for me individually and at their churches.
I placed an ad on Craigslist looking for a worship leader, to no avail.
And of course my family prayed, Facebook friends prayed, my Hope Chapel family prayed….
The big day was almost here. Who would show? Anybody? Would you go to a church that met in a dance studio led by a pastor you didn’t know from California?
No? Me neither.
But there was still a lot more work to do….
I had to laugh as I thought about the fact that I haven’t even had the time to read the four books I have on church planting. I didn’t even join the church planting network yet like I was planning on doing. Why? The Holy Spirit has been leading the way. I’m just trying to keep up with Him!
In anticipation of our Grand Opening, my family had to really pull together:
My wife Karen typed up the bulletins and will be the lead Children’s Church teacher. She is also the church decor adviser, she designed a private Nursing Mothers’ Room, bought all the toys and tables…And she was the light engineer.
DD, our fourteen-year-old, picked out the worship songs, a mixture of contemporary and traditional hymns arranging the music on her iPod.
12-year-old Laurel prepared the Children’s Church lesson online and was ready to assist Karen in teaching the kids. In the future I anticipate that she will assist me with worship.
We did a four hour dress rehearsal on Saturday night ending at midnight. I even preached my sermon to see how long it was. DD fell asleep.
Sunday morning arrived. It was 34 degrees; The Weather Channel said it felt like 28. And twenty mile an hour winds! Brrrrrr. The sandwich boards had to be strapped to a street sign and to my car’s bumpers so they wouldn’t blow away, killing someone on Highway 290. They at least needed to get saved at Hope Chapel Hill Country first!
The doors opened. Cars drove into the lot. Eighteen people showed up, including my family, with 90% of them coming FIFTEEN MINUTES EARLY!
I kind of led worship in addition to preaching a message from Revelation 21:5–“Behold! I make all things new.” Coincidentally, my Pastor at Hope Hermosa preached the same verse.
The order of service was an exact replica of Hope Chapel, Hermosa Beach, except our service was only one hour fifteen minutes. I budgeted for ninety.
There was one great testimony. I prayed for a man ten days prior in the apartment complex behind the church who had suffered an accident and was ready to have his finger amputated. He came to tell me that the doctors said his finger was just fine. They couldn’t understand it. Part of the bone was growing back!
As wonderful as the healing was, the biggest miracle was this: Everyone stayed 45 minutes AFTER service ended even though no one knew each other!
Afterward, the clean-up crew came in. Yep. The Sanchez Family.
Whew! Finally. It’s all over. We did it. God blessed us and everyone came. It is finished!
Till next Sunday.
BY THE NUMBERS: I know it’s not about numbers, but it sure is great to see how Christ slowly build his church. Also, the more who come, the more people get to hear the Word of God. So I’m really glad when people come. Here are our attendance figures so far.
1.5.14: 18 (All new visitors)
2.2.14: 24 (7 new visitors)
2.9.14: 19 (3 new visitors)
2.16.14: 13 (2 new visitors)
2.23.14: 19 (3 new visitors)
3.2.14: Read the rest of our weekly attendance by clicking here.