Church planters stretch resources to reach people

Baptist Press
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Posted: Mar 12, 2012 3:22 PM
Church planters stretch resources to reach people
EDITOR'S NOTE: Southern Baptists' Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, with a goal of $70 million, helps pay the salaries and ministry support for missionaries serving in North America with the SBC's North American Mission Board. For more information, visit www.anniearmstrong.com.

CLEVELAND (BP) -- Bill McTague lived an ordinary kind of life. Nothing too special. Mostly he focused on himself.

"I felt like something was actually missing in my life," he said. "Whenever the holidays would come around and I'd hear about people going out and helping people, I'd always want to help. But I never did."

McTague was lost.

Though McTague and his wife Carol knew they needed to get plugged into a church, few vibrant places of worship remained in their neighborhood. Churches in West Cleveland were closing -- not starting.

Their prospects changed in the fall of 2009 when Carol attended a preview service of a new Southern Baptist congregation called Gateway Church West a few blocks away from their home. The music was upbeat. It met in a school (which McTague thought was unusual and intriguing). And most importantly, the church had a passion to serve the community and demonstrate the love of Jesus in tangible ways.

Eventually, McTague became a follower of Christ and was among the first to be baptized at Gateway Church West that November. Reflecting a new life in Christ, he's reading his Bible and actively involved in helping others in the community.

People like McTague, who may have never walked into another Cleveland church, are being reached by the Gospel thanks, in part, to a unique relationship between two church plants.

Gateway Church West, pastored by Dan Ghramm, and Gateway Church Downtown, pastored by Alex Ennes, are two autonomous, yet interdependent churches, sharing everything from video screens and graphic design to even a funnel cake maker. Each church makes its own decisions, each pastor preaches his own messages, and each church has its own vision for reaching the community.

Together Ghramm and Ennes have teamed up -- along with an assortment of other Cleveland church planters -- to kindle a church multiplication movement in the often-underappreciated Great Lakes city.

Ennes started a church in downtown Cleveland in 2007. Ghramm, a fellow church staff member, watched his friend's journey and sensed God's call to start a church in West Cleveland the next year.

To be successful, they knew they'd have to work together. Ennes and Ghramm began to brainstorm how to do so in the most effective way possible. They considered having Ghramm start a Gateway campus in West Cleveland, but the urban professionals of the downtown area and the blue-collar, highly diverse people of West Cleveland had much different needs and church expectations. Plus, while Ennes and Ghramm were good friends and had been co-workers for several years, they had different ministry styles.

Still it seemed like a waste of much-needed and scarce resources to minister independently of one another. So they decided to share everything.

Ennes wanted to "remove the burden but not the work" of church planting in Cleveland for Ghramm and other prospective church planters coming to the city.

The two churches would be unique -- different sermons, different missions and different leadership. The cooperation would take sacrifices on both parts. Ennes noted that there were times he had to choose between using a resource to benefit his own church or sharing it with Gateway Church West. But growing a big church had never been the goal for either Ennes or Ghramm.

"I wanted to change Cleveland," Ennes said. "Launching one church wasn't going to cut it. To be brutally honest, we're going to need another 150-200 churches. I could get all excited about . But that's not good enough. That will impact one-one millionth of a percent in Cleveland. What is that? That's nothing."

Both Ennes and Ghramm recognize they are part of a larger Southern Baptist team that's trying to produce a multiplication movement in the region. Both were helped in the planting process by the North American Mission Board, their state convention and the local association. Both are grateful for Southern Baptist mission teams that continue to come to Cleveland to help. Ennes calls this kind of total collaboration the "Cooperative Program on steroids."

Gateway Church Downtown is laying the groundwork for a nearby café and coffeehouse, that will open in 2012. The new café, called Nexus (www.nexuscleveland.com), not only will provide the church with a constant presence and outreach in the downtown area, but it also will help support prospective church planters as they come to learn from Gateway and prepare to start their own churches in the city.

Four years after the launch of Gateway Church Downtown and two years after the launch of Gateway Church West, the two churches together run more than 300 in attendance on most weekends. Now Ennes and Ghramm have a third Gateway church planter, Zach Weihrauch, on the field starting a church called Gateway Church Heights, which launched in October 2011.

Both Gateway Church Downtown and Gateway Church West contribute a portion of their budget to local church plants like Gateway Church Heights in addition to their support of Southern Baptists' Cooperative Program. Once Gateway Church Heights gets going, that church also will contribute a percentage of its budget to local church planting.

Ennes and Ghramm are already looking for Gateway planter number four.

Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board. To find out about partnering with churches like Gateway in Cleveland, visit namb.net/Cleveland.

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