Converge churches to church planters: “You are not alone.”
Church planting & multiplication
As a two-time church planter, Lee Stephenson knows all too well the obstacles new churches face. From staffing to facilities to getting established in a community, there is no shortage of hurdles. But funding is always near the top of a church planter’s mind. Let’s face it, a church can’t operate if it can’t pay the bills. And communities can’t afford not to have gospel-preaching churches serving their people.
So when Converge churches from across the United States combined to give more than a half-million dollars to Converge’s Launch Offering to assist new church plants, Stephenson knew firsthand the impact – and relief – it would make.
“It sends a message to the church planter that you’re not alone,” said Stephenson, Converge executive director of Church Planting and lead pastor at Harvest Community Church in Orlando, which Stephenson and his team launched two years ago. “We’ve learned throughout history that the most difficult thing to do is to try to plant a church by yourself. Our church planters know they have an army of people that believe in them and are helping to do some of their heavy lifting.”
That army includes a bevy of churches and individuals from across the Converge movement who gave $529,454 to the Launch Offering. The offering provides grants to new Converge churches on their launch date.
The grants are so important because of the unique challenges young churches face. This is especially true for ethnic churches. Currently, church plants are eligible to receive a $5,000 grant. Ethnic church plants targeted to or among any people of color can receive $12,500.
Converge is aiming to increase those figures through the Launch Offering. Doing so would give the new churches a much more solid foundation to establish themselves and help lead to more significant ministry earlier in the church’s life.
“Church plants are like a baby in their mother’s womb,” said Paul Johnson, senior pastor of Woodridge Church in Medina, Minnesota. “The first months before the launch are critical to the health and impact of the new church. The grants can make all the difference in seeing a new church develop and make a strong impact in their community."
Johnson has long been a church planting leader. He’s even referred to as “the grandfather of Converge church planting” by Converge president Scott Ridout. He said starting new churches is one of the best ways to do evangelism and fulfill the Great Commission, and that vision is carried throughout his church.
“For Woodridge, we know we can’t reach our state and our country without more new churches. So, supporting church plants is really to fulfill more of the mission the Lord Jesus has given us.”
NorthRidge Fellowship in Rogers, Minnesota, is one of 10 churches birthed out of Woodridge. Two decades after its launch, NorthRidge is making a vast gospel impact on its community. But if it weren’t for its parent churches’ support, its impact may have never been realized.
“Without the investment from Woodridge Church, Grace Fellowship and Converge North Central, I don’t know how we would have made it to the point of being self-sustaining,” said NorthRidge lead pastor Ben McEachern. “Church planting is difficult, and success is not guaranteed. The investment of funds is critical.”
So critical, in fact, that investing in church plants and multisite campuses is ingrained in the DNA of Converge churches across the United States. Pastors and staff make sure their people understand that starting new congregations is one of the best ways to reach more people for Christ and it takes time, talent and treasure. By helping their members move outside of their church’s walls, they have an opportunity to connect with other communities and churches around the world.
“We are very aware of being a part of the bigger Church,” said John Fuller, lead pastor of Prairie Lakes Church, which has seven campuses across Iowa. “We know we can’t do it alone. We launch campuses and partner with other churches. That’s why we love it.
“Nothing matters more than helping people come to know Jesus. That matters to our people. We’re a part of this bigger thing.”
Being a part of something bigger is a common theme among pastors. The Launch Offering allows them another opportunity to join others in the Converge movement in helping more people meet, know and follow Jesus.
“The Launch Offering helps us support new churches that reach people for the Lord in communities we could never impact on our own,” Johnson said. “We are particularly thankful for these new churches who represent many different cultural backgrounds. Every time Woodridge has been others-centered, outreach-oriented and generous, we have experienced greater financial blessing.”
“When our churches partner together, we have the ability to extend the kingdom of God,” Stephenson said. “As a Christian, that should fire you up.”
McEachern shared another advantage of being a part of the Converge movement.
“In giving to Converge or your district’s church planting effort, you are leveraging their church planting experiences,” he said. “You don’t have to be an expert. I’m not an expert in overseas missions, but I don’t have to be. I have Converge to help me. It’s the same with church planting.”
McEachern, Fuller and Johnson all said they set aside a percentage of their church budget specifically for church planting and multiplication. Each gave above and beyond their normal giving to contribute to the Launch Offering. NorthRidge, which McEachern pastors, provided one of the largest gifts to the Launch Offering despite being a smaller church.
Step forward and be courageous
The Launch Offering is helping Converge in its God-given vision of planting 312 churches across the country before 2026. If each of those churches were to reach just 200 people, they would impact more than 62,000 people with the gospel. Imagine how those 62,000 new believers will impact the world.
“God is waiting for movements like Converge to be willing to step forward and be courageous,” Fuller said. “He’s waiting for us to get behind it with our money and our muscle. That’s what Converge is doing.”
“I don’t know if we can even imagine the legacy that planting these 312 churches in the next five years can create over the next hundred years,” Stephenson said. “The next Billy Graham could come out of one of these churches.
“That’s part of the fun, and that should get us excited,” he said. “Just being able to say, ‘We had a part in this mission.’ We may not even know the final story of what God did through those churches until we’re in heaven. I can’t wait for that kind of reunion, to hear, ‘Hey, I exist, and I became a Christian and I made this kind of impact because you invested in this church.’ This can be incredible.”
The Launch Offering is an ongoing campaign to assist new church plants. The first half-million dollars marked an impressive start to the campaign, but God is raising many more church planters, and we need to be ready to give them the financial support they need to hit the ground running without fear. Because, as Fuller said, “Financial stress causes church planters the most fear and sleepless nights of anything else they face.”
So, this is just the beginning of something great that God is doing in and through Converge. And it’s never too late to join other Converge churches in making an impact and setting up new church plants for success.
“I pray that this is something that builds year after year and becomes a common thing in all of our churches,” Stephenson said. “What could happen if this becomes the norm, where two or three million dollars are invested in new churches every year? You talk about fun! I mean, that would be incredibly fun!”
If you’re interested in joining in the fun and making an eternal impact by supporting church planting efforts across the Converge movement, you can get more information about the Launch Offering right now.
Mickey Seward, Contributing writer
Mickey Seward is a freelance writer and editor. He served as Converge's director of communications from 2017-23.