One highlight of the month of May is a special day set aside to honor mothers. Telephone lines are jammed with calls from grown-up children to their mothers. Greeting cards are in great demand. Other festivities become a tradition for honoring the woman who has devoted herself to her children's welfare. Those with a Christian mother have special reasons to "arise and call her blessed" (Prov. 31:28).
As Orthodox Presbyterians, let us seize the occasion also to honor congregations that have produced daughter churches. To be successful, a mother church must have vision, courage, and a strong commitment to the Great Commission. Just as mothers need to conquer fears when they send their children away to college or into the workforce, so also do mother churches need to overcome fears. Will we be able to meet our budget? What will happen to the special loving relationship we enjoy when many of our children begin worshiping at another location?
We applaud those mother churches that have faced such concerns and yet have deliberately sent a number of their members away to form the nucleus of a new mission work. Starting daughter churches is perhaps the most effective way to establish a strong mission work which can reach out with the gospel in a new community.
God has blessed this means of church planting in many places in our church. Space does not permit telling about them all. But perhaps a few will cause us to thank the Lord for such mothers.
Perhaps no step of faith taken by an OP church has prospered more for the kingdom of God than the one taken by Knox Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. In 1964 the session went on record with a commitment to seek out opportunities to be involved in church planting. Little did those elders realize the ramifications of that decision!
During 1967 the Lord created a problem for Knox Church. Rapid growth meant that pews were full and that classrooms were becoming inadequate. The church building was located on a plot too small to permit any expansion of the building. Knox Church could have settled happily into a maintenance mode.
But during that time of growth, a prayer meeting was started in the home of John Voorhis near Burtonsville, a rapidly expanding community about ten miles north of Silver Spring. Then in February 1968 the session decided to split its membership by starting a daughter church in Burtonsville.
Things happened rapidly, as they often do in the last stages of labor. Barry Hofford was engaged to be a home missionary on June 1 to plant a daughter congregation. He had grown up as a covenant child in Knox Church and had just graduated from seminary. Thirty-four communicant members, along with twenty-five covenant children, formed the new congregation. Space was rented at the Burtonsville elementary school. Worship services began in early June. By January the presbytery formally divided the membership of Knox Church to form a new congregation in Burtonsville (Covenant OPC) with three elders and two deacons.
Today Covenant Church has grown to a membership of 266, with an expanding ministry. Knox Church's vision has been wonderfully blessed by God. It remains strong, although smaller than in its peak years. But there is more to this story.
Perhaps the most exciting part of it began in 1978, when Burtonsville sent fifty-five members to be part of a granddaughter church in Columbia, Maryland. Al Harris was called to plant this new congregation. Today Columbia OPC has outgrown both its mother and its grandmother churches to become the largest congregation in the OPC with 545 members! Along the way it has trained a number of interns and has sent several missionaries into foreign fields. And now Columbia hopes soon to plant a great-granddaughter church in western Howard County.
There is another slant on this remarkable story. The first intern at Columbia was Dick Ellis, who grew up in the Silver Spring church while his father, Charles, was the pastor (1955-1979). After extensive training, Dick was sent to Frederick, Maryland, to plant a church in 1983. Of great help in that outreach venture was Dick Hake, an elder at Covenant and a missions staff worker for the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic. That congregation (New Hope OPC) has shown remarkable growth, with a membership now at 160. The congregation has been pushed to two morning services to make room for further growth. Former pastor, home missionary, and Foreign Missions general secretary Larry Vail gives much assistance as associate pastor.
Those involved in the original vision at Knox Church tell me that God has done far more than they asked for or thought he would do!
Some daughter churches get started, however, not because the mother church is overcrowded, but because several families are located in a distant community. While these families are able to attend one worship service on Sunday, it is difficult for them to become fully involved in the life of the church and almost impossible to invite neighbors to visit their church.
For example, several years ago six families from Bethel Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, Illinois, began to meet for prayer and to plan a new ministry in Batavia, an expanding community fifteen miles west of Wheaton. Regional home missionary Jim Bosgraf provided helpful advice. It took three years of gestation before the first worship service was held in October 1997. James Megchelsen began serving as the organizing pastor. Attendance at worship is now about forty-five.
It was not easy for that mother church to send off so many people. But the session encouraged eight families to go and support the new work. Bethel still remembered a grievous division when many people had left that congregation. Were they strong enough and financially able to overcome further attritionthough for a noble cause? Fears were quieted as the congregation viewed the division as an expansion for the spread of the gospel rather than as a loss to them.
Bethel's pastor, Lendall Smith, reports that the mother church is excited and proud of her daughter. And church planter Megchelsen says the daughter church appreciates the loving support, mature guidance, and encouragement that she receives from her mother.
When Ralph Rebandt left Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, he completed a yearlong internship at Calvary OPC in Glenside, Pennsylvania. He then returned to his home area in Michigan with a vision to see God plant a number of churches in that state. He had several contacts in Oakland Hills, a suburb of Detroit. Through steady effort, a strong congregation (Oakland Hills Community Church) has been built up.
A few years ago, three families from the Royal Oak area joined the congregation with the understanding that they would eventually become part of a daughter church nearer their homes. A home prayer meeting began to strategize and reach out. Some public information meetings gained new contacts. Subsequently, the first worship service in Royal Oak took place on Easter Sunday 1996. By August, Jeffrey Wilson was on the field, called as organizing pastor of Providence OPC.
The congregation in Royal Oak has grown rapidly, with over seventy members at present. They became self-supporting in mid-1997 after receiving Home Missions funding for a short time. In October this daughter church was officially organized as a new and separate congregation.
As we have seen, one good way to start a daughter church is to involve an intern, making church planting the climax of his training for ministry. In 1979 Jack Kinneer was serving as an intern at Calvary Community Church in Harmony, New Jersey. He, with then pastor George Scipione, worked out a plan to start a church in Easton, just across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. At that time Calvary Community Church was the only Reformed work in the area.
Calvary Church asked and received permission from the Presbytery of Philadelphia to start a church within its bounds. Six families from the mother church formed the nucleus of a mission work in Easton, which became known as New Life OPC. When it was organized, the congregation became part of the Presbytery of Philadelphia.
In 1990 Calvary Church caught a fresh vision for church planting. A number of members formed the core group for River of Life Church in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, on the banks of the Delaware River. Phillipsburg is an economically depressed area. From the beginning, the church has had a strong diaconal ministry to the poor.
When this church planting began, Don Taws was the pastor at Calvary Church. He led this expanding ministry along with Chuck Holmes, a student at Westminster Theological Seminary. Later, Don served a short-term stint in Eritrea, followed by a brief ministry as a regional home missionary for the Presbytery of New Jersey.
When River of Life was ready to call an organizing pastor, God opened the door for Bill Slack to come as pastor. At the time, he was pastoring New Life Church in Frenchtown, south of Phillipsburg. New Life had just been severely damaged by a division caused by an elder who had begun to introduce heretical teaching. Bill was called as pastor of River of Life, and the faithful remnant of New Life Church merged with them to form one congregation in January 1993. Attendance at River of Life now averages over one hundred on Sunday mornings.
Lake Sherwood OPC in Orlando, Florida, had been thinking about starting a daughter church for several years. The right factors eventually came together when people in a Bible study in southeast Orlando began to pray about being part of a church plant.
Chad Sadorf was a student at Reformed Theological Seminary at that time. During the latter part of his schooling, he served as an intern with Pastor Larry Mininger. In June 1996, with one semester to go, Chad and his wife Lori moved near the proposed site for a daughter church in Saint Cloud, close to Disney World. Morning services began in September of that year under Chad's leadership. Starting with five or six families from Lake Sherwood, the congregation has grown rapidly to about twenty families.
Chad cites the important role of the Lake Sherwood session in providing mature oversight, financial aid, and prayer support in helping Hope OPC get off to a good start. Also, they have received many other kinds of encouragement from their mother church.
Redeemer OPC in Dayton, Ohio, believes in long-range planning for church expansion. In 1992 the church encouraged deacon Charles Jackson to attend seminary and provided substantial support for him. This was with the intention that after graduation he would help them plant a daughter church.
Four years later, Charles graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary and was called as a church planter. Six families were commissioned to help start the new congregation, Covenant OPC. (The mother congregation is now known as Dayton South, and the new ministry is called Dayton North.) Three elders became part of the new mission work. Excellent facilities have been found at a motel.
Attendance at the daughter church has reached the fifties, while the mother church has about one hundred. Since the beginning of the daughter church, God has sent new families to the mother church, including two men who had previously served as elders. The two congregations cooperate in some ministries, while conducting distinct ministries reaching opposite sides of the city.
One of our fastest starting churches is in Rockford Springs, ten miles north of Grand Rapids. Bill Vermeulen, director of evangelism and church development for the OPC, took the initiative in planning the work and gathering interested people in 1995.
Spencer Mills Church, located only ten miles away, was in an ideal position to encourage a daughter church. After becoming involved in the new work, they sent forty people to it, including two elders and two deacons. Frank Marsh, the pastor at Spencer Mills, had some concerns when those forty members were commissioned to serve in the daughter church. How could such gifted people be replaced? Would the ministries at Spencer Mills suffer? But God has quieted those concerns by sending seventy new people to the mother church since they relinquished forty people to Rockford Springs.
Rockford Springs Community Church has been blessed by the leadership of an experienced pastor, Lou Wislocki. The congregation has also profited from the energetic involvement of Don Stanton. While retired as the former pastor of the Spencer Mills Church, he continues to be a leader in presbytery home missions endeavors.
A new church building was recently dedicated on a well-traveled highway. Already the worship area is almost filled to capacity. Plans are taking shape for building expansion. Generous giving by members of the congregation enabled them to end Home Missions support one year ahead of schedule.
Pastor Marsh says that Spencer Mills is already considering where they can start their next daughter church.
Hot off the press ... the newest (known) daughter church in the OPC is in Bohemia, New York. The mother church is our established Franklin Square OPC, where Bill Shishko is the pastor.
For a number of years, the Franklin Square church has considered starting a daughter church to the east in central Long Island. But until now, it did not seem to be God's timing. Meanwhile, the congregation continued to experience growth, with every pew being filled and other worshipers watching closed-circuit TV in another room.
Recently, in God's providence, a church building and a manse came on the market in Bohemia, forty miles east of Franklin Square. With a loan from the OPC Loan Fund, the property was purchased. Fifty people from the mother church are providing a strong nucleus that includes three ruling elders.
One of the elders, Meindert "Meint" Ploegman, had been running his own business while preparing for ordination as a minister. He was called to serve as the organizing pastor and began his ministry on April 1.
Franklin Square now has room for visitors, but they do not plan to sit still. Pastor Shishko says the session is already talking about having another daughter in New York City.
As we have seen, planting a daughter church has many advantages over more common methods of starting churches. In my own work as a regional home missionary, I have usually been involved in building churches from the ground up. Sometimes a church gets started with one interested family. It may therefore take several months to gather a small nucleus. Daughter churches have a great advantage in beginning with a large core group.
In starting a daughter church, those involved need to work through several questions: What kind of church will we be? How will we worship? What will our philosophy of ministry be? Do we like each other, and can we work together? Who will be our leaders? It requires time, patience, prayer, and flexibility to get everyone on the same page. These questions should be settled before a daughter church is launched.
One of the more important supports that a mother church provides is prayer. They also provide financial help and people gifted in music and teaching. Daughter churches are secure and go forward boldly with this backing.
Perhaps your church will be the next mother church in the OPC. You may fear that you will be crippled, or even die, if you give away too many of your own resources. Let me encourage you with a quote from Charles Spurgeon. Someone once asked him if it would be possible for a church to give so much to missions that it would die. He answered, "I never heard of that happening. But if you do, let me know and I'll preach the funeral sermon for the church. My text will be 'Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.' "
There are risks in childbirth. There are labor pains, but there is also enormous promise. All the people we have mentioned in this article were excited about the process. Listen to the testimony of one church planter who started a daughter congregation:
"The session of the mother church became committed to a model of church growth that was built around the planting of new churches. Following a unified decision of the session to move forward with planting a daughter church, we carefully communicated the project to the congregation. Then we concentrated on cultivating a vision for the mission project in the lives of interested people and we sought their commitment. We also searched for a location where the needs and opportunities were great. Soon the empty chairs left by the departure of some of the daughter church began to be filled, so that attendance was soon back to what it had been. Finances did go down a bit, but before long were above where they had been before we left. Six weeks after we began, we were able to send a sizable gift to the mother church. Both groups are happy and healthy. People (together with their gifts) have come out of the woodwork in both groups because of the challenge and stretching involved in the process. There is a cost to be paid, but the blessing and reward are tremendous!"
Mr. Stonehouse is the regional home missionary for the Presbytery of Philadelphia. Reprinted from New Horizons, May 1998.