Since the late 90’s Katrina and I have felt a call and hunger to start a new church. We did not know when, just that we would start a new church. During the summer of 2007 we felt God telling us now is the time. No details, but definitely to get going. This led us to many questions such as where, what, how and who. God began answering these questions.
Our first thought was that God would send us somewhere else – to places we had visited and people we had begun to build relationships with. But we realized God had been putting people in our path right here in Genesee County who were interested in planting a new church. It finally became clear that God wanted us to stay where we were. Genesee County with its many lost souls was to be our “Mission field”.
Our observation of the churches we have served in and our personal lives was that most often the Church has been ineffective in reaching the lost in our cultures. There were some ministries we worked in or observed that were growing and impacting the community, but these had leaders of a caliber and talent I do not have (I am not Bill Hybels). If that leader was not there, it would not work. God has increased our burden for the lost and our frustration with the lack of growth. We are losing America while we sit in Sunday School satisfied with learning more stuff. I have reached the point that I am serious about the fight. A quote I read once was “A revolution is an idea with the bayonets on!” I am putting my bayonet on and charging the gates of Hell. Christianity is a fight – a fight against our own natures, a fight against Satan, a fight to save a dying people. Hell is eternal death and every day people are going there. We cannot stand for this! I will not stand for this! Satan better take notice – Genesee County is not going to hell without a fight.
We have been fortunate to be part of a Leadership Development Service Provider called TEAM for several years now. The skills gained in leadership have taken us years ahead of where we would have been and have prepared us well for this endeavor. We have learned many great principles and a key one is to copy those that have success in what you want to do – do not reinvent the wheel. With this in mind and my recent reading of Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren, we felt strongly the PD principles were what we needed to implement. As we looked into more information for PD church planting our conviction that this is the way to go for a church in Genesee County increased. This led us to Next Initiative – a PD church planting organization. After months of coaching with Next Initiative they led me to GHC – a church planting organization called Growing Healthy Churches. I have joined a coaching network with them. This group is teaching us what they have learned the hard way over the years and showing us how to implement these principals and programs in our setting and “culture”. Utilizing the principles learned from this coaching will allow me to overcome the barrier of who I am and enable me to be a better leader,so that together we may become an effective force against the powers of Hell in Genesee County.
Through the leadership and teaching of Next Initiative, God has confirmed our call and location for the new church plant. One principal is that the church launcher should understand well the culture of their area. Genesee County is my hometown – my family has been there for 5 generations. Three uncles, both parents and my grandfather retired from GM (the major employer of the area for the last 75 years). This company has played a huge part in shaping the culture and mind set of GC. I have experienced the economic pains GC has suffered from GM downsizing and political maneuvering of a people in economic transition.
God has given me a vision for a church that is consistently winning lost souls. There are a great number of churches in Genesee County – some effective, some not so effective – but, the numbers tell the story. Out of the 436,000+ people in Genesee County, 274,000 are unchurched (based on information from ARDA). Our vision is to have 10 new churches by 2019 – 10 in 10. To really impact this county we need to do more than that, but this is the goal we start with. God will lead us to bigger visions as we go.
We feel God is leading us to a strategy of reaching men in particular, with the broader focus on unchurched 30 something families. This is not to exclude women and children, but many studies have revealed when men go to church the family tends to go as well (90% of the time). Our nation needs godly men trained in leadership to make a difference. With this in mind we will design much of what we do around how men think and what attracts them. This means more action, shorter talks and an acceptance of men being and doing manly things. This will even start with how we minister to our children. Boys tend to learn differently than girls for the most part and this will be reflected in how we educate them. This is not about gender dominance, bias or quality, but rather about accepting and celebrating gender differences.
Our focus will be on unchurched 30 something families – people that do not like church or have little to no background in church. I have a great burden for people of my generation. Many of my generation have never understood concepts of heaven and hell or a need for salvation or what that means. Equal to their eternal destination I have a tremendous burden for people that are living feeble lives because they do not know their Maker. Our objective is to make Genesee County a difficult place to go to Hell from - a place where people can have an empowered, joyful life. Our goal will be that 50% or more of our congregation will be from the unchurched and/or newly saved. Our methods will be unconventional, but the message will be the unchanged Good News of Christ the Redeemer.
Part of our focus to reach these unchurched people is an effort to remove any barriers to their attendance, whether actual or perceived. One major perceived barrier that was revealed in surveys and conversations was denominational affiliations. There were several things that came out of these discussions – denominations that were critical, harsh and judgmental – ancestral denominational affiliations – connotations related to particular denominations. These barriers, particularly the ancestral affiliations, were often used as an excuse for not visiting or attending a church because it wasn’t their familial denomination. We are essentially trying to remove exclusionary language and philosophy from this community church. A denomination is exclusionary and offers no significant benefits to outweigh this. We will not compromise the gospel, but we will try to remain more generic in our public language to avoid exclusionary thought.
Our purpose statement is, “A growing community connecting to a relevant God”. A visitor to a church is there for a reason. Something has brought them to the point that they felt church was needed. It may have been negative – loss, hardship or depressing issues – or it may be positive – a brighter outlook on life due to uplifting things, birth of a child or some positive thing that brought reflection on the spiritual side. Whatever it is that brought them in, they are checking to see if God is relevant to their life. When they come in and hear a message of speculation on what the third crown on the seven heads of the beast in Revelations symbolizes, they quickly come to the conclusion God is not relevant. God is relevant! The Gospel is relevant! The Bible has a lot to say about life here on earth now, and this is what we preach and teach. God has a plan for us that will give us the best life possible – by His definition, not ours. Jesus talked about the concerns of the people in their times – not about the theological implications of circumcision on the 8th day. We must do the same. If I cannot preach and teach in a way that applies to the lives of people today then I do not know the Bible or God very well.
As The Bridge grows, our plan is to launch other new churches to expand the kingdom. The Bridge is the first step in taking back our community, county and country. We are excited about what God is going to do through The Bridge and look forward to being used by Him. We are seeking the prayers of all that read this, not that God be on our side, but that we be discerning of His will, obedient, and faithful. Pray that we would be on His side and under His direction, making a difference in our world and His Kingdom. There are many that have given up on Genesee County, but God has not. He is going to do a new thing in our county and we hope you will be a part of it in whatever ways God leads you.
Steve and Katrina Bentley