March 15, 2011 by
Categories: Church planting
This spring, John Butler is planting Sovereign Grace Church in in the Dayton, Ohio, area. The church plant has been six years in the making—a long time even for a ministry committed to patience and pacing in church planting. As a ministry we exist to plant and serve churches in obedience to the Great Commission (even if it takes a long time), so we’re excited to see this church launch.
In 2005, some people in the Waynesville area (near Dayton) emailed Sovereign Grace Ministries asking for a church plant, but at the time, no nearby Sovereign Grace church had a church planter to send. Over the next several years, the group in Waynesville continued to grow, working with nearby churches and praying for a church planter who could lead the group. Earlier this year John Butler and his family moved from North Carolina to the Dayton area, and the church launches officially this spring.
Brad and Paula Sanders sent one of the first emails from Dayton to Sovereign Grace six years ago. In part 1 of our interview, they explain what happened with that first email, why they waited, and what they did in the meantime.
Check back tomorrow for part 2. And coming on Thursday and Friday, an interview with John Butler.
How did this group of people come together?
Brad and Paula: We became acquainted with Sovereign Grace Ministries through some close friends around six years ago. We visited the Sovereign Grace church in Knoxville, Tennessee, and we really loved it— the music was great, the teaching was gospel-focused, and the youth seemed so mature. We emailed Sovereign Grace through the website and said we’d be interested in a church plant near us. We were put in contact with Mark Prater [Covenant Fellowship Church, Glen Mills, PA], a man who became a great source of encouragement to us.
In 2006, Mark invited us to attend a Sovereign Grace marriage conference in Hershey, Pennsylvania. That’s where we really got hooked. The teaching was phenomenal. And we couldn’t believe how the people we met just embraced us and began praying for a church plant for us.
We took the resources from that conference to the pastor of the church we were attending, and asked him if we could lead a marriage class. We were basically just playing the audio recordings from that conference and having discussion questions. Then folks who weren’t in our church heard about it and wanted to have a class. So we ended up facilitating a second class in our home. That class lasted about twelve weeks, and more and more people kept coming. When it was over, they wanted to continue meeting, so we studied Why Small Groups?, then some other Sovereign Grace materials. And that is how this group of people originally came together.
What happened with that email to Sovereign Grace Ministries?
Brad & Paula: After the initial response of “We’ll investigate the possibility,” eventually the conversation became, “We could plant a church when God sends the the right man to lead it.” We became more acquainted with Mark Prater and Don DeVries, who was pastoring in Cleveland. Mark advised us to stay in the church we were in, and to encourage the folks in this group not to leave their churches unless a church plant actually started.
For three years the group that met in our home kept growing. We certainly weren’t advertising, but people just kept showing up! The group met on Wednesday nights, more like a small group, not a church. This group was getting very interested in Sovereign Grace Ministries.
What drew us to Sovereign Grace Ministries was the Reformed doctrine joined with charismatic practice. There’s also the personal accountability that we and the folks who came to this group wanted. And the relentless commitment to keeping the cross at the center—that just drew us. It created a passion in us to see a church that would promote these same foundational truths here in our area.
What did the group do while you waited for a church planter to come?
Brad & Paula: Eventually we felt that it was time to leave the church we were in. Our pastors understood our vision and encouraged us as we pursued it. Some other folks in the group wanted to join us. Since then, for about three years, the group that started in our home has been meeting weekly for services. We maintained what we call “church plant readiness.” Pastors from Sovereign Grace churches would come and preach, and we also used video recordings of sermons that the Akron and Cleveland congregations graciously provided.
We focused on building relationships with each other and growing spiritually—we didn’t fill any formal positions because we wanted to keep a clean slate, allowing the church planter to be able to build from the ground up. We kept talking to Sovereign Grace pastors, waiting for the right church planter to come along. A few times it looked like a church planter was coming, then plans would change. But we knew God was in control, and we trusted his sovereign timing.
The people who have joined this group have really acted with integrity and wisdom. They did not just disappear from their churches; they sat down with their pastors and explained what they were doing. Several families stayed in their churches for an additional year, fulfilled all their commitments, and trained replacements in their roles before they left to join this group. It was encouraging to see that God was stirring the waters, drawing people who would come and say, “Yes, I understand the limitations, but God is making it clear that he is calling us to be here.”
Check back tomorrow for part 2.