New Church Wastes No Time in Planting Another

Post a Comment » Written on April 23rd, 2008     
Filed under: News
By Don Meyer

NORMAN, OK (April 23, 2008) – Welcoming new churches into membership in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) has become a recurring theme in the conference annual meetings that take place about this time each year, reflecting the aggressive pace of new church planting efforts throughout the Covenant.

But, what happens after a church officially joins the Covenant family? In the case of St. Barnabas the Encourager Covenant Church in Round Rock, Texas, you do what comes naturally. Plant another church.

St. Barnabas, led by pastor Jeffrey Black, is currently partnering with pastor Lane Skyles and the CedarRidge Covenant Church congregation in Leander, Texas, which began as a new church plant 18 months ago. Black credits the success of the new church initiative in large measure to the level of support the new church has received from leadership and Covenant supporters at both conference and denominational levels.

“The amount and intensity of support by the whole church for this congregation has been just amazing,” says Black during an interview at the just-concluded Midsouth Conference Annual Meeting in Norman. “The thing I’ve been most struck with is the quality, the competence and the modesty of the national leadership of the church. They have been there for us every time we have asked. They know what they’re doing, and they care about us. They build tremendous confidence in the future.”

BarnabasBlack knows first-hand about the kind of support needed as a church is welcomed into membership in the Covenant family. St. Barnabas was adopted into the Covenant in 2005. Although humorously distinguishing itself as the Covenant church with the longest name, the manner in which they found a new home in the Covenant is a unique story in itself.

St. Barnabas was part of the Episcopal Church, but in the mid-1990s, Black felt he was part of a church system that was dying. At the same time, he recognized that the church “had been entrusted by God with wonderful, wonderful gifts.” It was decided that St. Barnabas needed to find a new church home, ushering in a lengthy process that considered a host of potential affiliations.

“My calling was to do whatever I could to get the gifts of the church that was dying onto the altar of the church of the future,” Black says. “And I really feel that has happened.”

The broad ranging support from all levels of church leadership was apparent to those in the St. Barnabas congregation as well, says member Phil Mallory, who also is active in Midsouth Conference activities.

“We’ve seen marvelous people from the ECC come and participate with us as we have continued to worship the Lord,” Mallory says. “Everyone including the president, Glenn Palmberg, and of course our own superintendent, Garth Bolinder, as well as people like Willie Peterson and others, have encouraged us – it’s been fabulous. Over and over and over, people who know what they’re doing have come down.”

Planning for new CedarRidge church plant actually began before St. Barnabas left the Episcopal Church, Mallory notes. Skyles, who serves as pastor at CedarRidge, was an intern from the Episcopal seminary when the shift in direction for St. Barnabas occurred.

“This is our second church plant – and we’ve also sent a lot of people out into ministry,” Black says. “But, every time you do that, at the time you think we can’t afford that . . . all these great people can’t leave because usually, the most adventuresome people go. It’s been amazing. We didn’t have a lot of resources, but we had this guy (Skyles) with an amazing quantity and quality of faith. So with the few dollars we could scrape together, and the people who wanted to move there, and with Garth and the whole Covenant helping, we were able to launch out a group – CedarRidge. That was 18 months ago.”

The new church meets in a new middle school, which Skyles says is perfect due in large part to the newness and layout of the facility. Worship takes place in the cafeteria, with children’s programming utilizing the hallways, “because they won’t let us in the classrooms.”

“I found that talking about starting the church was a lot easier than doing it,” Skyles admits. “And I want to tell you that if it weren’t for the Covenant church and for St. Barnabas, none of this would have been possible. It’s been a team effort from the very beginning. We’re growing – we were about 35 people last September, and now we’re up to about 50. It’s been a great experience, and I thank God every day for giving us this opportunity.”

The ministry focus is a simple one: Helping people focus on God. “So, any way we can do that, we’re going to do that. One way is through mission trips – the joint mission trip this summer (with St. Barnabas). We had a joint fund-raiser a couple of weeks ago. We also concentrate on children – as Proverbs says, raise your children in the way they should go and when they grow old, they will not depart from it. So we pour a lot into our children’s program. And there is community outreach. We’re involved in one local outreach called Hill Country Community Ministries that feeds and clothes the poor and offers assistance to people.”

“It is clear that we’re still all in it together,” Black observes, “even though they are another congregation. The thing that we’re involved in together is bigger than the meetings on Sunday morning. They have a beautiful future.”

(Editor’s note: to read earlier stories from the Midsouth Conference Annual Meeting, see Welcoming New Churches and Mega Churches. The accompanying photo shows – from left – Skyles, Mallory, and Black.)

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