On Friday, October 9, I witnessed the birth of a new church. Like watching the delivery of a child, I was filled with joy and amazement over the Lord's goodness and the promise that the new life of the gospel will be given to many others.
For after years of seeking the Lord's will, making many plans, and adjusting to God's mysterious providence, Hope Community Reformed Presbyterian Church was formed by a large contingent of folks (together with more recent additions) from the College Hill Reformed Presbyterian Church (CHRPC) in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. The establishment of this congregation, and the path that brought us here, is a case study in church planting and, more importantly, a lesson in how the Lord advances His kingdom.
For well over a century, CHRPC has sat on the edge of the campus of Geneva College. As the college grew around it, the church has been blessed and likewise multiplied. Worshiping in an older building with a seating capacity of just over 200 people, CHRPC had to move to two services about two decades ago to accommodate the congregation and the large number of students that attended. As the landlocked property was not really suitable for further expansion, the congregation eventually looked into relocating.
However, during this time, as options were explored and discussions took place, it became evident there were two desires present in the congregation. The church wanted both to stay near the campus to minister to the college but also longed to have a greater impact in the nearby community. So when a larger, mainline Presbyterian building became available six years ago, just a few short blocks away from CHRPC, the congregation purchased it. However, instead of relocating the entire congregation there, CHRPC maintained ministry at its historical location but also decided to establish ministry in the new site.
Incredibly, when the session decided in 2015 to conduct worship services at the newly purchased site, and everyone was asked where they preferred to go, both sites became fairly equal in number. Each of the two ministers at that time expressed a desire to serve at the different sites, roughly half the elders and deacons did likewise, and almost the same number of households committed to worship at each location.
Through the subsequent years, the congregation had to wrestle hard with such matters as allocating resources; developing each unique site identity while still one congregation; working with people moving from one site to the other; calling a pastor to replace a retiring minister at the new site; confessing sin to the congregation over failures to lead well; struggling through the Corona crisis; and deciding when to become two congregations. However, over this time, the Lord blessed us with a clearing vision and deepening unity.
In the church planting course I teach at RPTS, different possible models for planting a new church are explained. Most common in our denomination is "daughtering" a congregation, where a mother church sends out a smaller group of its members to form the nucleus for a new, growing congregation. Other models include the "satellite model" where a congregation intentionally oversees ministry in multiple sites; the "parachute drop" where a church planter is sent to a remote location with perhaps a small team; or even the "accidental" church plant where congregations split over disagreements. Another model, that was followed by our congregation, was that of "hiving". Hiving is where a fully functional group with sufficient leadership is sent out purposefully from the sister church to establish a new congregation. On October 9th, as H0pe Community was formed, the congregation voted to have the pastor, elders, and deacons already working there to continue to serve this new church. The hiving was completed!
As we met that Friday evening, we had many reasons for which to give praise to the Lord. The Lord brought Hope Community a wonderful new minister, Pastor George Gregory, to lead well the new congregation even as Pastor Titus Martin has continued faithfully and lovingly to oversee the College Hill church. The elders have established plans for these two congregations to cooperate in ministry, with such things as having a joint youth group, partnering in college ministry, coordinating classes on the Lord's Day that people can attend from either site, sharing prayer concerns, holding several mutual fellowship activities through the year, etc. Both sites have established their own strengths and emphasis in ministry, with Hope Community especially reaching out in the neighborhood in which it is located (even while a growing number of college students attend!) and College Hill deepening in its commitment to serve the Geneva campus (even while new people from the region worship with it!). By His grace, which has triumphed despite our many weaknesses and mistakes, the Lord has been pleased to increase the numbers attending in both locations, and given a vision in both congregations for other churches to be planted.
Like leaven, the kingdom of God has spread through this significant birth of a new church a few days ago. Please pray for us, that the hope of the gospel would be brought further to our surrounding communities!