1. Extending family is the best form of church planting.
Among the church planters I know, many are planting out of discontentment and even discouragement. For one reason or another, not always wrong or bad, they feel God has called them to step away from their current church family to do something ‘new’ and ‘different.’ This wasn’t the case with Ashland Church. When we first launched Ashland Mission in Madison County, it was through what we referred to as an ‘adoption.’ We chose to adopt a struggling group of believers in Richmond, Kentucky, who had already been a part of a different failed church plant. As in any adoption, every member of that once struggling church became a member of Ashland with all rights and privileges therein. It was this kind of vision of family that undergirded everything we did from that point forward. This family mindset was also a great benefit for me as a planter. For eight years, I had formed bonds at Ashland that were thicker than blood for me. I had deep friendships there with brothers, mentors, and my heroes in the faith. This meant that when my family moved thirty minutes south from Lexington to Richmond to lead the mission toward campus status and then to becoming an autonomous local church, I was doing so in the context of family. What I was doing wasn’t something ‘new’ or ‘different’; I was simply taking the Ashland family I knew and loved to a new context in a new city.
2. The freedom to risk is crucial.
Because we were always seen as full-fledged family members of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, albeit in a different city, we always felt freedom to do whatever God called us to do without financial worries or fear of making major mistakes. While we enjoyed accountability from the pastors and congregation as a whole, we were also encouraged to take risks. Like a proud parent doing whatever it takes for their kids to be successful, our sending church made sure we had everything we needed. There was also never pressure for immediate results. We weren’t on the clock to meet some quota before we were pushed out. The whole Ashland family was all in to do whatever it took to make this plant successful no matter how long it was going to take.
3. Rustic ministry has been good for us.
Nice facilities are not sinful. As resources are available they should be used with wisdom and leveraged for the sake of the gospel in wherever you live. With that said, Ashland Church has now met in five really horrible facilities. Our children’s area at one time seemed like a really scary broom closet. We renovated a doctor’s office that resembled a Pizza Hut in shape and size. At one time, the stage on which our band played was in the corner of a room separated by a wall in the middle. This meant that half of the congregation couldn’t see the other half during worship on Sunday. We’ve had HVAC units break in the middle of worship services and spew water. Presently, we meet in a warehouse. While we can get as many people in this space as possible, we don’t have enough bathrooms. There are constant leaks in the roof. Birds seem to fly through the building year round. There are gymnastic competitions next door that interrupt our services with music and cheers. And through it all, God has grown our campus into a church, from around 45 people attending in the Pizza Hut to over 325 gathering in the warehouse. The simplicity of it all has been what is appealing to many. The birds and interruptions during worship have reminded us that we are certainly not in control. While we hope to have better facilities, all of this has caused us to depend, not on nice aesthetics, but on God to add to our number.
4. Church planting is not a thing to do.
For some time, in the beginning, I saw myself as a pastor of Ashland in Lexington and the planter of Ashland in Madison County. Just to be candid, that way of thinking eventually burned me. I soon realized that both campuses were made up with real people. As the campus in Madison County grew, we grew with real people, real families, who lived real lives. This growing church plant wasn’t a thing. These people needed to get married. Some were struggling to stay married. They were having children. These kids needed to be parented by their brand new Christian parents. You plant a church with people to reach people. And these people have real problems. They need someone to walk them through funeral arrangements. They need someone to cry with them before they go tell their son his father just committed suicide. It shouldn’t have shocked me but it did. A church plant isn’t a thing to do. It’s people to love and pastor.
5. Simplicity is key.
When I moved to Richmond, I was coming from a sending church that has existed for over 100 years. For most of that time, they have thrived as what you would call a ‘megachurch’ with 100s to 1000s attending. Ashland has always had plenty of resources and used them in strategic ways to reach as many people as possible. It was easy for me to think we would simply move this church with all its bells and whistles to a new city. Many involved wanted to immediately have everything that the sending church had. We had to quickly realize we couldn’t do everything that our sending church does. We also had to crucify our visions of competing with all the ministries the church down the road has. Simplification was key for us at Ashland Church. I really believe we hit a new stride in ministry when we realized this and began to simplify everything. We chose to pick a few things and do them great. To be specific, we chose four things given our context that we were going to do and nothing else. Everyone who attended was going to plug into at least one of these areas. Our priorities were worship first and then, small groups, college ministry, and children. For a few years, this is really all we did. We are now cautiously expanding other ministries. However, we are now able to expand at a pace that enables us to evaluate what is really essential to our ministry.
6. Church planting has been great for my wife.
My wife has way more skill in discipleship and mentoring than I could ever have. When our kids were younger they were her entire focus. However, when we moved to Madison County, we immediately encountered a bunch of women who needed discipleship. Without hesitation, she jumped right in. It’s no exaggeration to say that she has opened our home to 100s of people over the last seven years. She is an amazing evangelist. Many families have come to church because she shared the gospel with them and invited them to church. She invites folks to join her at church and then says, “Oh and by the way, my husband is the pastor.” God has used this time to weld her heart to these people. There are times when I look at her and think, “Maybe she cares more about this church than even I do.”
7. Church planting has been great for my kids.
Just as my wife had to plug in and serve, so did my six kids. As a dad, I am more proud of the way they have served Ashland Church than anything else they have and maybe will ever do. When we first moved our family, they were the only kids in the children’s ministry. We have six kids so when guests came it looked like we really had something going in the kids area. They never complained about this. They actually took great pride in the fact that they were being used to reach new families. On multiple Sundays, I have introduced myself to a guest I don’t know who responds by saying, “Oh Charis invited me to church” (Charis is my 11 year old daughter). Over seven years they have matured into young adults who still move chairs, help fill the baptistery, serve food, and empty the trash. It’s been great to see our family transform into a mission team.
8. Spiritual Warfare is a real, subtle, and present danger.
Satan never attacks where you are ready and waiting for him to attack. I always imagined Satan attacking our church plant from within. I envisioned a major split over the length of the sermons or style of music. I have been on guard for such a conflict. I wasn’t ready for the warfare that would come outside the four walls of the church. The town gossip about the weird transracial family with six kids who homeschool has never come from church members. However, it’s been more than distracting at times from people in the community. Being able to put these things in the proper context of Satan’s hatred for what God is doing in the life of our church has been extremely helpful in remaining focused on the task at hand.
9. Autonomy must be the goal.
We have been spoiled by our sending church. I think this was key in our ability to grow in number over the last 5 – 7 years. There comes certain points where apathy begins to set in. The comfort of being connected to the overall Ashland family has led to brief moments of complacency from all of us at Ashland Church. Financial giving can coast when you know you have a safety net of funds from your sending church. Even knowing that I would probably still have a job if this didn’t work out has tempted me to coast at moments. If we had not been pressing toward the overall goal of autonomy, I’m fearful this could have been an even bigger problem for us. It would have been really easy for us to remain a campus of Ashland forever. And yet the call to become an autonomous, reproducing, local church from the beginning has led to growth in every way. We saw this clearly in January of 2017. We were at a point where were able to draw a line in the sand and say, “By January 2018 we have to become autonomous.” Knowing we were about to leave home led to growth in every area. It propelled us into the start of 2018 with plenty of resources and people to begin life as a new family separate from the one we knew for the last seven years.