Planting in Florida
Every single open gym, Aaron Lewis is at the Y playing basketball. Even the open gym at 5:00 a.m.
It's part of his strategy for planting a new church in Tampa, Florida.
"I begin to meet other guys, we strike up conversation, and we just get to know each other," he says. "Some of the times are kind of crazy, but that's what our entire team is attempting to do--take the things that we love to spend our time doing and meet people there."
In addition to basketball games, cookouts, and other get-to-know-you activities, the core team meets weekly for teaching and Bible study. Lewis says they hope to start Sunday services in February.
The team consists of Lewis, his wife, and seven others who moved from South Carolina to Riverview, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Tampa, to start the church. In South Carolina, Lewis was a youth pastor at a Baptist church, but he knew God had called him to be a church planter.
Following the call
"For the last 10 years, I've lived my life planning and preparing to start a church and fulfill the call God gave me," he says.
Lewis, who grew up in the RCA, connected with several RCA congregations in Michigan and discovered the RCA's focus on church multiplication. The pastors he spoke with confirmed his call to start a church, and encouraged him to look at Tampa--one of two locations he was already considering with his wife.
"We came and fell in love with what the RCA was doing with their vision, to essentially replant all of Florida--it was pretty incredible," he says. "The vision of the RCA matched the vision that God had given me when I was 16. It was a very easy decision from there."
The first wave
The new church, which will be called Motion Church, is one of five new church plants starting in Florida this summer and fall.
"These churches are all being founded on the basis of reaching people with the gospel--transforming lives, and therefore transforming communities," says Arlan TenClay, Florida field leader for church planting.
The first wave of churches will be clustered along the Gulf Coast, from Tampa to Naples. Each will be planted in a growing suburban community. The five churches being planted now are just the start; there's a goal of planting 20 churches in Florida by 2020.
"The design there is that we need to plant churches that can grow fast and strong to become the foundation for a next wave of churches that will be a real wide mixture, we hope, of either bicultural or multicultural churches as well as some ethnic churches--Asian, Hispanic, African American," TenClay says.
Florida is one of four "kingdom enterprise zones" where the RCA and the Christian Reformed Church are collaborating on church planting in a joint effort that recently received a grant from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation.
Helping the churches succeed
TenClay explains that Florida Classis had unsuccessfully tried to plant several new churches over the last eight years, so before starting a new wave of plants, he met with experienced church planters to identify what was going wrong.
"I said, 'Seems like we need to do this--but we need to figure out how to do it successfully, how to do it well,'" he says.
That was a few years ago. Since then, they have developed a system to better select, equip, support, and guide church planters. "Planters have all gone through a very rigorous assessment process. We are developing governance teams that are composed of people with a long history of church multiplication. They are qualified gurus in that area to work along with these guys to be sure they're moving ahead the way they should.
"There's a rigorous set of benchmarks that the planters are working with--weekly, monthly, quarterly goals…making a certain number of face to face contacts with new people every week, a certain number of spiritual conversations, 25 intercessors before they hit the ground, up to 75 or more intercessors within the first three months praying for them daily--a number of those kind of things.
"Each will have a parent church with a history of planting--they'll not only provide prayer support but financial support and teams to visit the site to lend a hand." Further, each church planter will meet monthly with an experienced church planting coach and will be part of a church planting network for accountability and support.
RCA churches were first established in Florida 50 years ago, and TenClay says this new wave of church planting is continuing that work. The new churches will be assisted with funds from the sale of property from churches in Florida that have closed--nearly $1 million. TenClay says, "The classis said, 'We will allow you to steward that million dollars to plant churches in Florida. We need to put this back into the state of Florida to restart the kingdom work that was started 50 years ago.'" Florida Classis merged with Illiana Classis last year, but Illiana is also committed to reaching new people in Florida through new churches.
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