In the mid-1990s, Nate Hettinga was on the staff of Northshore Church, Bothell, Washington, a large congregation led by his father, Jan Hettinga. Aaron Day, a young natural evangelist and people-lover, was a Northshore volunteer youth leader Nate was mentoring. Day picked up that Nate was intent on planting a church out of Northshore. He had no idea what that meant, but in late 1994, Nate asked him to help do just that.
With Northshore’s blessing, they planted Cascade Church, holding their first service Christmas Eve 1996 and launching in January 1997. It was the beginning of their church planting efforts. In the next 10 years, Cascade planted numerous churches. Their preferred method: “the hive model,” in which a church staff leader and members “hive off” and relocate in a neighboring village to start a new church.
Transitioning from youth pastor to outreach pastor at Cascade, Day examined his ministry. “With Nate working on a doctorate and less available, I believe God was preparing me to be a lead pastor. But that was never my dream or hope,” Day says.
On September 9, 2007, Day, his wife Cathy and most of Cascade’s Alpha course leadership team launched Crosswater Community Church in Sultan, seven miles from Cascade. Crosswater currently averages 280 to 300 in weekend attendance and has supported several Converge Northwest district church planters.
While Day focused on his church planting, Hettinga went on to start 18 daughter or granddaughter churches, four of which did not survive.
Hettinga and Day experienced great joy and agonizing lows along the way. First the joy. “Church planting creates opportunities to get close to new people,” says Hettinga.
“It takes the lid off people who have been developing but haven’t had a leadership role. When a leader takes 40 or 50 people with him to start a new church, it leaves a leadership gap to be filled. Usually the leader takes the cream of the crop, people already leading and tithing. His leaving creates an opportunity for other leaders to rise.
“Another joy is that multiplication brings life to a church. I’ve learned to celebrate what we want repeated. We celebrate a lot when it comes to multiplication. For example, Mike and Jen Satterfield served 17 months on our Cascade staff. But last January 1, they stood on Cascade’s stage as we commissioned and prayed for them. We celebrated their leaving to launch Emmaus Road Church, Stanwood, Washington, February 19.”
Hettinga says this church plant came about because of a network of five Northwest churches, each more than 100 years old. For the past 20 years they had talked about planting a church. Emmaus Road is the network’s first church plant.
“Their churches are being invigorated by a new birth,” observes Hettinga. Satterfield is already working toward planting a Hispanic congregation out of Emmaus Road Church. And the network is sending another potential church planter to Converge’s Church Planting Assessment Center.
Reflecting on the joys, Day says, “I’ve found the blessing of church planting is getting more of Jesus and what he has for us. The Levites were told they didn’t get land in Canaan but their portion was God. We get to rely on God in a way others don’t have to or wouldn’t choose to. He comes through for us. That’s been my experience in stepping out and trusting him.”
For Day, one great cost can come in deep relationships. He and Hettinga were very close but experienced tension for several months after Crosswater’s launch. Initially, each pushed the other away, feeling abandoned. Now they meet monthly and love each other deeply.
Day also felt the loss of being part of something big at Cascade Church, “where I grew so much and we were deeply known.” He has fewer resources to work with in a smaller church. And his then-eighth-grade daughter Mikayla experienced a deep depression when they moved to Sultan. “Leaving her friends and comfort zone took a year to work through,” he says.
Hettinga agrees it has been hard for his kids to say goodbye to some of their closest friends. “Why do you keep planting churches?” they’ve asked. “Our friends are leaving, and youth group won’t be the same.” It’s painful, Nate admits.
A second cost to Cascade was gutting ministry leadership to start a new church. This happened with leaders of missions, men’s ministry, the Alpha course, small groups and youth ministry. The ministry leaders depart and take the leaders around them. Sometimes the church’s recovery requires several years.
And, of course, there’s the financial cost. When Day left, about $4,000 in weekly giving transferred to Crosswater Community Church. “Cascade couldn’t afford to replace him for a year,” Hettinga says. Attendance likewise took about a year to recover.
But it’s a price he gladly will pay for Christ’s kingdom to grow. On January 17, he announced that, for the first time in its history, Cascade Church in a single year (2016) gave more than half a million dollars ($547,000) to international missions and church planting.
Despite the losses and gains, says Hettinga, “We’re always looking to multiply any way we can. We call it strategic opportunism.”
Bob Putman, Former director of Communications for Converge
Bob Putman is a former director of Communications and Point editor for Converge.