On June 28, 2015, I preached for the last time at Hope Chapel Hill Country and shut the doors….
I picked up Phillip Yancey’s book, “Disappointment with God,” to get some encouragement because of my depressed state: Our church plant in Dripping Springs, Texas, just wasn’t working out.
After relocating from L.A. to just outside of Austin on September 29, 2013, I was hopeful. I thought that since I was directly called by God to plant a church (read about that here), God would use me and my family to start a great new work. After all, the city of Dripping Springs was a fast-growing suburb of Austin expected to increase by 6% this year; people were primarily un-churched, with some estimates saying 1 out of 10 weren’t in fellowship; there were 30 to 40,000 people in this area, so there was plenty of room for us; besides all that, a brand new housing community with thousands of new homes was soon to be constructed—right across from Hope Chapel Hill Country!
Things were very hopeful in the beginning: The first six months we had visitors every week. In fact, we had nearly 150 visitors in a year and a half! Our small fellowship was sweet; I preached expository sermons; we had Christ-exalting worship with a mixture of contemporary music and updated traditional hymns; there was a strong “meet and greet” time, and people didn’t leave right after the service, but stayed to get to know each other better.
Generously supported by my home church, Hope Chapel, Hermosa Beach, I was highly motivated to get this church going. (I wrote on April 1, 2014 in a blog post entitled “10 Things God Didn’t Tell Me Before Moving to Texas,” that I didn’t realize how “much I would enjoy planting Hope Chapel Hill Country.”) I understood that Christ builds his church, but it was up to me to do the work. So I worked. But not much “worked”:
- I personally handed out nearly 2,000 invitations, Gospel tracts with our church info on them.
- I went door-to-door inviting people to our fellowship until I was banned from the apartment complex directly behind our church.
- In the neighborhood where we lived I invited people to our home Bible study. We had up to 14 people attending, including my family, until the adults started dropping off their kids and we had to cancel it.
- I went to the local Senior Activities Center for almost 2 years trying to get to know these active elders who were multi-generational Dripping Springs’ families, but was opposed on every side by the cranky manager, a 76-year-old lady who never, ever liked me.
- I put out sandwich boards every week on the highway advertising our Sunday meeting, made signs and handed out flyers.
- I had a radio show for six months on the local station KDRP. Not one person visited as a result of the program. (A guy working in an Austin Costco said he listened and would visit the church. He didn’t.)
- I met with the local pastors regularly. One cautioned me by saying, “There is a 100% failure rate from pastors who ‘parachute in’ to start a church.”
- The new librarian said I couldn’t hand out Gospel tracts in the public library. The store manager of the local H-E-B grocery store said I couldn’t hand out tracts there either.
- I joined the Chamber of Commerce and went to mixers; still, no one visited.
- I contacted the Acts 29 Network, a church planting organization, asking for advice and help, but couldn’t even get an email response.
- I even tried contacting a local Austin pastor/author, who had just finished writing a book on how to win people to Christ called “The Unbelievable Gospel,” but after calling him four times, never got a return call.
Frustratingly, Hope Chapel Hill Country could gain no traction. People came and left. Coming to our church was like going to a party at 2AM, after everybody had gone home. I started to dread Sundays, regularly telling my family that we might be the only ones sitting in service today. (They got tired of that one.)
Charles Spurgeon wrote, “As Rachel cried, ‘Give me children, or I die,’ so may none of you be content to be barren in the household of God. Cry and sigh until you have snatched some brand from the burning, and have brought at least one sinner to Jesus Christ.”
I cried out nearly everyday: “LORD! GIVE ME CHILDREN OR I WILL DIE!!!”
I grew discouraged. Lord! Don’t you know what’s happening down here? Were there not enough graves in L.A.? (Yes. I said that. I sounded a lot like a grumbling Israelite in my prayer time.)
Yet regularly in my morning devotional reading, God would remind me of what I needed to do, something I hated–something that everybody hates–and would be another impossible task.
Yet, I had no choice. I had to do it. And I did it.