God turns Converge PacWest’s five-year goal into a three-year accomplishment
Pastor & writer
Church planting & multiplication
Two colossal challenges collided in late 2019 when Chris Lovelace became Converge PacWest’s church planting director.
First, he and fellow leaders agreed to trust God for 25 new planters in northern California, northern Nevada and Hawaii by 2026. The collision came just a few months later: COVID-19 unleashed a prolonged, erratic disruption of work, life and worship worldwide.
But nothing is too difficult for God. Earlier this spring, Converge assessors approved the 24th and 25th church planters since Converge PacWest set its goal — 18 months ahead of schedule.
“Jesus’ words saying, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’ stuck with these 25 planters,” Lovelace said.
Twenty-five new congregations in five years required tremendous faith, he noted. Converge PacWest regional president Bernard Emerson praised Lovelace, the region’s staff and believers for walking in above-average faith.
“People were like, ‘I want to get after it,’ Emerson said. “We are keeping our foot on the gas. We want to see more churches planted for Jesus.”
Across the region, Emerson and Lovelace said tight relationships enable success in God’s ambitions. Throughout their region, established churches and pastors embrace church planters since they’re all on the same mission.
“Our secret sauce starts with that first value-building cycle — connect for relationships,” Emerson said. “Without relationships, we don’t have anything.”
These three states include churches that unite across cultural, ethnic and language differences. For example, people talk to God in Tagalog, Spanish and English at the regular regional prayer gatherings, drawing disciples from various urban, suburban and rural churches.
“If you put our region in a room together, it’s going to look like heaven on earth, people from everywhere you can think of but unified under the power of God and how he’s working,” Lovelace added.
Emerson, who planted Tapestry Church in Oakland, added that four of the region’s church plants are Anglo congregations. The others are Latino, Black or Asian churches.
Lovelace, a pastor in Tracy, California, said Converge emphasized relationships among church leaders long before the pandemic or the church planting goal. For example, the region has LEAD (learn, encourage, achieve and dream together) teams for pastors to support one another, prayer gatherings, coaching cohorts for church planters and months of mentoring opportunities.
“Planters pick Converge because of the relationship,” Lovelace said. “What we have is genuine togetherness.”
Lovelace said the regional staff and pastors work with each planter through a system defined by four phases: connecting for relationship, assessing health, equipping for growth and mobilizing for impact. That leads to at least six months to a year of building relationships so the planter is ready before they ever show up for assessment.
“We’re not in any rush to get people planted,” Lovelace said. “We spend more time on the front end.”
Developing relationships to the point of unity takes time, especially in a region stretching thousands of miles from Hawaii to most of California and another 700 miles east through northern Nevada.
Starting and sustaining churches gets more difficult among intensely independent people who don’t have a long, authentic tradition of seeking God. Again, though, that’s not too hard for God because he keeps empowering his people to say yes.
“We saw a lot of people saying, ‘Life is short; we want to serve God,’” Lovelace said. “Some of these plants that are coming out, people stood up and said, ‘God’s not done.’”
God’s fruit is evident — and more is coming
More church planters are coming, they said, since they have at least four other candidates in track one. Arriving at an assessment is track two, which only comes after the relational connection is strong.
Pre-launch, as phase three is known, happens when a green light comes at assessment and phase four wraps it up with the church launching and mobilizing for impact. Emerson said the 25 church planters are making a clear impact.
“We’re estimating 2000 new people reached for Jesus through all these church plants,” he said. “God sent an abundance of church planters and people who wanted to be church planters right smack dab in the middle of a pandemic.”
Another 63 people were baptized last month alone in Converge PacWest church plants. The region’s church plants also serve 3000 families a week with food. In addition, a Tagalog church is helping homeless Tagalog-speaking families find housing.
Through these ministries, people hear about Jesus, come off the streets, find work and get baptized.
“There’s a plethora of that kind of stuff happening,” Lovelace added. “They’re my kind of people.”
The collision and the conclusion
Lovelace’s phone rang more than three years ago. It was not long after he’d become the church planting director for Converge PacWest.
The caller expressed sympathy for Lovelace in a brand-new role facing a sudden, shocking challenge as gospel opportunities crash into gritty opposition. COVID-19 had shut down the state, temporarily closed the schools and disconnected people from relationships and routines.
But now, three years later, God’s fruitful labor through the goals and efforts of his people proclaims a simple truth: nothing is too hard for the Lord.
“He did it — and in a short time and in a pandemic,” Lovelace said about the goal. “God’s not done in this area. He’s not done being God.”
Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.