John “Jesus Lover” Baptiste recently graduated from an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college. After three or four years of superficially studying the Bible, John received his unaccredited degree in Jesus-Loving, Devil-Chasing, Sin-Hating Pastoral Ministry. Now what?
Graduates are encouraged to go into all the world — well mainly the United States — and win souls for Jesus. The best way to do this is to start a new church.
Here is what John “Jesus Lover” Baptiste needs to do to start a brand spanking new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church.
First, find a town where there are churches on every corner and convince yourself that ALL of those churches are liberal, apostate, using the wrong Bible translation, or using worldly music.
Second, confuse your own desire and ambition with the Holy Spirit leading you and God calling you to start a new church.
Third, rent a meeting place or building. Make sure get the building as cheaply as possible. If the building owner is a Christian, lay a spiritual guilt trip on him to get him to lower the rent and then invite him and his family to the first service.
Fourth, put a puff piece in the newspaper telling locals why you are starting a new church in their community. DON’T tell them that you think ALL the other churches in town are liberal, apostate, using the wrong Bible translation, or using worldly music. You want to be able to poach members from other churches later, so it is important no one knows what you really think of every other church in town.
Fifth, every day pray that God will bless your endeavor. Convince yourself that God put you in the community to win everyone to Jesus and that without you they will all go to hell.
Sixth, tell your wife and children that you love them, but they are going to have to understand that Jesus comes first and that you will have to neglect them in order for a GREAT church to be built. Also, tell them that they will have to mow the church yard, clean the church, play the piano, work in the nursery, teach Sunday School, and anything else you demand ask them to do. Try to explain to them that, Yes God called YOU, but he expects you to bring luggage.
Seventh, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses before you, knock on every door in town and witness to everyone who dares to answer. Lie to them by saying, I am not here to take you from your church home. All that is important is that you know Jesus as your Savior. Don’t let them know that if they get saved you will expect them to come to the church that cared enough to lead them to Jesus.
Eighth, run some ads in the local newspaper and put up flyers on every public bulletin board. Church-hopping members from nearby Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches will notice the ads and see this as “God leading them” to leave their church. This is the quickest way to start a new church. And just remember, when they leave your new church a few years later for another newer church, that you were willing to sacrifice your integrity for numerical gain.
You are now ready for your first service. Remember one thing: most new church plants fail, especially new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches. Perhaps, it would be better if you join up with one of the other churches in town and help them. Silly me, you will never do that. You are a God-called, Holy-Spirit-powered, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor, and such a calling deserves its own church, and a BIG sign that says, in BIG type, JOHN BAPTISTE, PASTOR.
If where you live is anything like northwest Ohio, new Evangelical churches are sprouting up like weeds in a gravel parking lot. You know — the weeds that keep returning no matter how much Roundup you spray on them. Here in Defiance County, they have spiffy new names, hiding the fact that they are generic, mostly-Baptist, churches. They present themselves as fresh, new, exciting places to worship God, complete with a relational pastor and the best damn worship band in town (props to the Ohio State marching band). One local new church called itself Fresh Life. Two years later, Fresh Life turned into same old shit, different building, and the pastor felt called to go somewhere else.
Here in Defiance County, Ohio there is zero need for new churches. We already have over one hundred churches for 37,000 people. The population is aging and in decline and almost everyone professes to be a Christian. God, guns, and Christianity are on display everywhere one looks. Out-of-the-closet atheists are few, and even traditionally liberal churches tend to be conservative. Why then are there a plethora of new churches?
I’ll give the Independent Baptist church movement credit for one thing: their churches are initially and primarily built on evangelism. Granted, they think everyone who doesn’t believe like they do is non-Christian and headed for hell, but they do make a concerted effort to evangelize the unchurched.
I was taught in college that the best way to start a church was to find the meanest, baddest man in town and win him to Jesus. If this man became a Christian and started living for Jesus, it would be the best possible advertisement for the church. Here in Defiance County, I am not the meanest, baddest man in town, but I am considered the resident atheist who hates God and Christianity. I would think that pastors would be lining up at my door trying to win the preacher-turned-atheist to Jesus. In the eight years Polly and I have lived in the shadow of five Evangelical churches, not one preacher has knocked on our door.
In the 1970s, the charismatics came to this area and began pillaging local established churches. Overnight, churches lost membership and income. In the 1980s and 1990s, these new churches experienced meteoric membership and income growth. Today, these same churches are in decline as their members move on to the latest, greatest church in town. You see, it’s not about Jesus, worship, or even doctrine. It’s all about getting the best show for the dollar. Entertainment-driven Evangelicals want to be pampered and have their “felt” needs met. Fail to do this and they will leave, complaining that they are not being fed or God is leading them elsewhere. If you want to study religiously-driven narcissism, just stop by one of these new Matt Chandler, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Bill Hybels, Ed Young, Andy Stanley, Perry Noble, Steven Keller wanna-be churches. Services are consumer-driven buffets for fat Christians who are only interested in having their “felt” needs met.
Where do most of the members of these types of churches come from? Other local churches. Overwhelmingly, their growth is transfer growth. One new church in Defiance has multiple services filled with people who used to attend another local church. Church leaders think they are being blessed by God, but what they are really doing is cannibalizing other churches. I am sure there are a few new converts, but, for the most part, the growth is driven by people changing pews.
And here’s the thing…a decade or so from now, another new, glitzy, we-have-the-most-awesome-hip-preacher-in-town church will come to town and Christians will leave the old-new church for the new one. I have watched this happen time and again, like the rising and setting of the sun. Evangelicalism is driven not by devotion to God, concern for the lost, or care for the sick and hungry, but by a narcissistic need to be relevant. This is why they spend enormous amounts of money on buildings, staff, technology, and feed-lot fattening programs for Christians.
What’s really happening is that Evangelicals are changing which club they belong to. And that’s fine as long as Evangelicals are willing to admit this. However, they aren’t willing to admit that their new hip hop church is just their old church with a bigger sound system, better drum player, and a man who can really “speak” to them.
I watch from afar, amused at their self-absorbed attempts to be relevant in a culture that increasingly has no interest in what they are selling. Much the same as when a town becomes saturated with fast food restaurants and they begin trying to steal each other’s customers, new Evangelical churches come to areas already saturated with Jesus and steal members from other churches. It’s fun to watch. May the best band win.
Anyone can start a church. In most cases, the new church will be considered tax exempt by federal, state, and local government.
The IRS lists the following generic (albeit very Christian sounding) characteristics of a church:
The term church is found, but not specifically defined, in the Internal Revenue Code. With the exception of the special rules for church audits, the use of the term church also includes conventions and associations of churches as well as integrated auxiliaries of a church.
Certain characteristics are generally attributed to churches. These attributes of a church have been developed by the IRS and by court decisions. They include:
Distinct legal existence
Recognized creed and form of worship
Definite and distinct ecclesiastical government
Formal code of doctrine and discipline
Distinct religious history
Membership not associated with any other church or denomination
Organization of ordained ministers
Ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study
Literature of its own
Established places of worship
Regular religious services
Sunday schools for the religious instruction of the young
Schools for the preparation of its members
If a group of people generally exhibit these characteristics they are considered a Church by the IRS. State laws are different from federals laws and vary from state to state.
A Church is not required to file for 501c3 status to be tax exempt. 501c3 status does grant certain additional benefits to the church, BUT it is not required for tax exemption.
Congress has enacted special tax laws applicable to churches, religious organizations, and ministers in recognition of their unique status in American society and of their rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. Churches and religious organizations are generally exempt from income tax and receive other favorable treatment under the tax law; however, certain income of a church or religious organization may be subject to tax, such as income from an unrelated business.
Churches and religious organizations, like many other charitable organizations, qualify for exemption from federal income tax under IRC section 501(c)(3) and are generally eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions. To qualify for tax-exempt status, such an organization must meet the following requirements:
■ the organization must be organized and operated exclusively for religious, educational, scientific, or other charitable purposes, ■ net earnings may not inure to the benefit of any private individual or shareholder, ■ no substantial part of its activity may be attempting to influence legislation, ■ the organization may not intervene in political campaigns, and ■ the organization’s purposes and activities may not be illegal or violate fundamental public policy.
Churches that meet the requirements of IRC section 501c3 are automatically considered tax exempt and are not required to apply for and obtain recognition of tax-exempt status from the IRS.
Now, get out there and start a church. You can do it!
Bruce, surely it is more complicated than that? I assure you, it is not. I’ve thought about starting a new sect, The Church of Bruce Almighty®. Donations would be tax-deductible and my church could buy buildings, property, cars, and other essential ministry tools and not pay tax.
Pastors Joe Maldonado, Bruce Gerencser, and Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church, Fall of 1993
Pat Horner and I had a common theology: Calvinism. Outside of that, we were very different from one another. From the way we preached to how we interacted with parishioners, we were as different as night and day. I thought it was important for me to get to know each family in the church, so I did a lot of in-home visiting. When someone was in the hospital, I would visit them. When someone had a family member die, I would attend the funeral. Pat did none of these things. He was much more standoffish than I was. This is not a criticism of him as much as it is an example of how different our personalities were.
This difference began to be a problem when parishioners started to favor me over Pat. After services, I would talk theology with the young men of the church, and they found me easy to talk to. It wasn’t long before Pat began to criticize for being too familiar with parishioners. He told me that it was important to maintain a space between pastor and parishioner. I was told the same thing in college: the pastor can’t be friends with anyone in the church because it will hinder his ability to minister.
Both Pat and I preached expositionally (preaching verse-by-verse, in context), but our styles were very different. I tended to be more human, earthy, and at times humorous in my preaching. Pat tended to be more dogmatic and rarely used illustrations. To him, it was all about doctrine. While I thought it was important, I knew that it was also imperative for me to make a human connection with parishioners. More than once, Pat criticized my preaching for being too light or not doctrinal enough. Again, I suspect this had to do with the fact that, personality-wise, we were very different from one another.
After a few months, I gathered up a few willing church members and we started two new Sovereign Grace churches, one in Floresville, Texas and the other in Stockdale, Texas. Every Sunday morning we would hold a service at Floresville and then drive 20 miles to Stockdale and hold another service. During the week, I would take groups from Community down to Floresville and Stockdale and go door to door evangelizing and inviting people to church. While we worked hard to get the churches established, neither church did well attendance-wise.
I also started a street preaching ministry and a nursing home ministry. Being the workaholic I am, I was busy and I loved it. Later in the summer of 1994, I helped the church start a Christian school. There were fifty children in the school. Many of the church families homeschooled before the school was started. Several teachers were hired, along with a school principal. Once the school was up and running, I had little to do with it.
Community Baptist Church, Elmendorf, Texas, 1994
During this time, Community was building a new 10,000 square foot building. Pat had a construction background, so he was well suited for overseeing the project. A group of Calvinistic church builders came in and helped frame, roof, and side the building. The concrete slab was poured by a group of undocumented immigrants, and various men in the church took care of the plumbing, electric, and HVAC.
The busy-ness helped to distance me from the increasing conflict between Pat and I. It seemed like every time we got together there was conflict and we bickered like two old married people. Neither of us was a shining example of temperance, deference, or respect. In the fall of 1994, I realized that things were not going to work out for me at Community, so I talked to Pat and the elders about it. Things quickly went south, like Mexico-City-south, and it became evident to me that Pat and I were headed for a messy divorce.
I told Pat that they we needed to sit down and talk. I asked John Sytsma, one of the elders, to join the meeting. John did his best to bring peace, but it was not to be. We got into an angry shouting match and I finally told Pat to leave my office. The next day or so, Pat gathered the elders together at John Sytsma’s house and had a secret meeting where I was the topic of discussion. I found out about the meeting and crashed it. I was still a pastor and I should have been included in the meeting.
Bruce Gerencser, preaching at Community Baptist Church, Stockdale, Texas, 1994
Pat and I exchanged angry words and he told me that I had to stop pastoring the churches in Floresville and Stockdale and come and sit in the services at Community for a while. He told me that I was not fit to be a pastor. I suggested that I was willing to leave the church and pastor one of the new churches I started, but Pat would have none of it. Finally, when it became evident Pat had his mind made up, I said, Fine, I resign. Pat replied, You can’t resign without our permission. My last words to him were, Really? Watch me. A few days later, Polly and I packed everything up in a U-Haul truck and we moved back to Ohio. As we were driving down the lane from our home, the church was holding a special meeting to deal with the “Bruce Gerencser problem.” Of course, Pat was the moderator of the meeting.
Several church families begged us to stay. Some even suggested that Pat should be the one to go. But, I was not going to be party to a church split. Besides, all those that were in my corner when we moved later went over to Pat’s side. I knew that nothing I said or did would make a difference. As the old gambler said, You got to know when to hold them, and know when to fold them. It was definitely time for me to fold my hand.
I am often asked, What happened? I think what happened was that two strong-willed men with very different personalities wanted to own the same piece of real estate. Due to the fact that we both were quick-tempered, conflict came easily. I regret the conflict, but my time as co-pastor of Community Baptist Church taught me a lot about myself and I left Texas a very different man. For the first time I saw what I had become, and I didn’t like what I saw. It was at this point that my fundamentalism began to die. It was a slow death, but this was the moment when I saw what fundamentalism had done to me and I knew that I needed to change. Pat, however, is still a fundamentalist Calvinistic Baptist. He later left the church, started another church, and last I heard was working a secular job and doing mission work in India.
In my final post in this series, I want to write about how the church dealt with the “Bruce Gerencser problem.” I also want to write about the vicious discipline the church (Pat Horner) used to manipulate and control parishioners.
Several weeks ago, someone contacted me and asked:
“Regarding the churches you pastored and started, do they still exist today or have they changed their names ? I could not find any of the church’s personal websites. Sorry if you feel I wasn’t trying hard enough. I don’t know what I missed as there are hundreds of ‘google’ links.”
When I get questions like this, I have to consider, what is the person’s motive for asking this question? Do they really want to know or are they part of a small group of tin hat Christians who think that my story is a lie. Yes, even after blogging for seven years, there are those who doubt that I am telling the truth. They question if I pastored when and where I said I did. One man told anyone who would listen that he knew someone that lived where I did at the time I lived there and they didn’t know who I was. This was PROOF, at least to this reason challenged Christian, that I was lying.
My gut told me that the aforementioned letter writer was just curious or nosy, so I decided to answer his question. He also asked a question about my mother’s suicide, a question I did not answer. While I gave him a brief rundown of the churches I pastored and what happened to them, I thought I would turn my email into a blog post.
Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976. Polly in the first person in the first row from the left. Bruce is in the third row, eighth person from the left.
I was baptized at Trinity Baptist Church in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
I was called to preach at Trinity Baptist Church in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
I preached my first sermon for the Trinity Baptist Church high school youth group in 1972 at the age of fifteen. Bruce Turner helped me prepare the sermon. The text I preached from was 2 Corinthians 5:20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
In the fall of 1976, at the age of nineteen, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. I met my wife at Midwestern. We married in July of 1978. In February 1979, unemployed and Polly six months pregnant, we dropped out of college and moved to Bryan, Ohio.
Montpelier Baptist Church, Montpelier, Ohio
In March of 1979, Jay Stuckey, pastor of the church, asked me become the bus pastor. My responsibility was to build up the bus ministry which consisted of one bus. On average, the bus brought in 15 or so riders. I went to work aggressively canvassing Montpelier in search of new bus riders. Several church members helped me with this task. A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, the bus attendance was 88. The head of junior church met me in the church parking lot and asked me what he was supposed to do with all the children. I told him, that’s your problem. I just bring ’em in.
Several months later, the church bought another bus. On the first Sunday in October, the church had a record attendance of 500. The Sunday morning service was held at the Williams County Fairgrounds. We had dinner on the grounds, a quartet provided special music, and Ron English from the Sword of the Lord was the guest speaker. Tom Malone was scheduled to be the speaker, but, at the last moment, he cancelled on us. Bus attendance was around 150.
The church started an expansion program to accommodate the growing crowds, The next week after our big Sunday, I resigned as bus pastor and Polly and I packed up our household goods and moved to Newark, Ohio. Pastor Stuckey left the church a few years later. The church hired a pastor who was a fundamentalist on steroids. Attendance began to decline, he left, and another man became pastor. About a decade after I left the church, it closed its doors, unable to meet its mortgage payment. The Montpelier First Church of the Nazarene bought the building and continue to use it to this day.
Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio, Bruce Gerencser’s ordination, 1983
Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio
In January of 1981, my father-in-law and I started Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake, one of the poorest communities in Ohio. I was the assistant pastor, primarily responsible for the church youth group. The church quickly grew with most of the growth coming from the burgeoning youth group. I was ordained in April of 1983, several months before Polly and I moved 20 miles south to start a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church, Somerset Baptist Church.
In the early 1990’s, the church closed its doors.
Somerset Baptist Church, Mt Perry, Ohio, Bruce and Polly Gerencser and kids, 1985
Somerset Baptist Church, Somerset, Ohio
In July of 1983, Somerset Baptist Church held its first service. There were 16 people in attendance. The church met in several rented buildings until it bought an abandoned Methodist church building in 1985 for $5,000. The building was built in 1831.
Over the years, church attendance rapidly grew, ebbed, and then declined after we could no longer afford to operate the bus ministry. In 1989, we started a tuition free Christian school for the children of the church. Most of the church members were quite poor, as was Perry county as a whole. Unemployment was high, and what good paying jobs there were disappeared when the mines began to lay off workers and close.
In February 1994, I resigned from the church and prepared to move to San Antonio, Texas to become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. Because I was a co-signer on the church mortgage and no one was willing to assume this responsibility, the church voted to close its doors. There were 54 people in attendance for our last service.
Pastors Joe Maldonado, Bruce Gerencser, and Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church, Fall of 1993
Community Baptist Church, Elmendorf, Texas
In March 1994, I began working as the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church, a Sovereign Grace (Calvinistic) Baptist church. My fellow pastor, Pat Horner, had started the church in the 1980’s. The church ran about 150-200 in attendance.(I am uncertain as to the exact number since attendance records were not kept) Horner and I alternated preaching, with me doing most of the preaching on Sunday night. While I was there, I helped the church start a Christian school and plant two churches, one in Stockdale, the other in Floresville. I also helped the church start a street preaching ministry and nursing home ministry.
Olive Branch Christian Union Church, Fayette, Ohio
In March 1995, a few weeks before my grandmother died, I assumed the pastorate of Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette Ohio, a rural church 23 miles northeast of where I now live. Olive Branch was a dying, inward grown church in need of CPR. Over the course of the next few months, I set about getting the church on the right track. The church was over 125 years old. I had never pastored an old, established church, but how hard could it be, right? Seven months later, I resigned from the church. Despite the best attendance numbers in decades, the church was increasingly upset with my brash, bull-headed style. It all came to a head one Sunday when one of the elders found out I had moved a table from the platform to storage. He confronted me just before Sunday morning service, demanding that I put the table back. I looked at him, said NO, and walked away. Three weeks later, I resigned, and Polly and I moved our mobile home off church property to a lot 1/2 mile north of the church. We sold the trailer in 2007 to the brother of a friends of ours.
Joe Redmond took over the church after I left. He remains the pastor to this day. The church does not have a website. The church is located at the corner of Williams County Rd P and US Hwy 127.
Polly Gerencser late 1990’s, none of this would have been possible without her.
Grace Baptist Church/Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio
In September 1995, two weeks after I had resigned from Olive Branch, I started a new Sovereign Grace Baptist church in nearby West Unity, Ohio. The church was called Grace Baptist Church. I would remain pastor of this church until July of 2002.
We bought the old West Unity library building to use as our meeting place. None of the families from Olive Branch came with me when I left the church, but over time three families left Olive Branch and joined Grace Baptist. In the late 1990’s we had a church conflict over contemporary music and spiritual gifts. Five families left the church. A few weeks later, we changed the name of the church to Our Father’s House, a nondenominational church.
It was during this time that I began to have serious health problems. In July 2002, for a variety of reasons, I resigned from the church. The church body decided that they didn’t want to continue on as a church, so they voted to close the doors and sell the building.
If I had to pick one church that had the nicest, most loving people, it would be this church. After the five families left, things were quite peaceful. This is the only church where Polly and I have the same opinion about the church. Great people, a pleasure to be around
Victory Baptist Church, Clare Michigan
In March of 2003, I assumed the pastorate of Victory Baptist Church, a small, dying Southern Baptist church in Clare, Michigan.
There is little good I can say about this church. I worked my ass off, the church body, for the most part, was quite passive, and in October of 2003, I resigned from the church. I never should have become the pastor of this church. It needed to die a quick death. I don’t mean to say that the people were bad people, for the most part they were typical Southern Baptists. Good people, intrenched in the ways of the past, and unable to their way clear to the future. The church and I were a wrong fit.
After we left, so did a few other families, moving on to nearby Southern Baptist churches. A year or two later, the church closed its door.
From October of 2003 to April 2005, I had numerous opportunities to pastor churches or start new works. In the end, Polly and I decided we no longer wanted to be in the ministry. All told, we spent 25 years in the ministry.
The Elevate City Church is an Evangelical church located in Fort Wayne, Indiana. According to the church’s website, Elevated City Church is:
Under the Weekend Experience (link no longer active) tab on the church website, Elevate lets everyone know that they are “come as you are” church. A year ago, I was watching a TV program on one of the Fort Wayne TV channels and the station aired an ad for Elevate City Church. The ad was quite syrupy, with various members of the church saying the church was, drum roll, roll your eyes, please:
Ah yes, the three buzzwords of the modern Evangelical church. Rarely do people stop to consider that churches like Elevate are saying that other churches in their community are NOT real, NOT relational, NOT relevant. While the leaders of Elevate City Church would never publicly say these things, it is implied in everything they do. Rarely does anyone ask, why does Fort Wayne, Indiana, a city with hundreds of churches, need another generic, more-awesome-than-sliced-bread, Evangelical church? As I have stated before, we need FEWER churches in the United States not more. Most every community has a plethora of churches and there is no need for more. Fort Wayne, in the heart of the Midwest, is hardly under-served when it comes to churches for Evangelicals to attend.
I titled this post The Elevate City Con Job. Why? Simple. The church wants to present itself as a we will accept you as you are church. While this may be true as far as sitting your ass in a seat, they most certainly have no intention of letting you stay as you are. If you want to do anything besides listen to Pastor Kyle Mills’ awesome sermons, then you will have to change.
Kyle Mills is a graduate of an Evangelical Baptist university, Liberty University. The doctrinal beliefs of Elevate City Church are decidedly Evangelical and Baptist. A quick perusal of the church’s official doctrinal statement (which has since been removed) shows that the church believes that the Bible is the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God, salvation is through Jesus Christ alone, and, to use the words of the statement:
After living on earth, the unbelievers will be judged by God and sent to Hell where they will be eternally with the Devil and the fallen Angels…[heaven] and hell are places of eternal existence.
Standard Evangelical boilerplate language. Again, exactly why does Fort Wayne need ANOTHER Evangelical church? According to the church’s website (link no longer active):
The majority of Americans are spiritually restless
180,000 of the 300,000 people in the Fort Wayne area do not regularly attend church
A new church is emerging (and Elevate City Church is part of the new emerging church)
The Elevate City Church is almost three years old. They were started with the support of Eagle Rock Church and The Association of Related Churches. I wonder, in three years, how many of the 180,000 Fort Wayne residents who don’t regularly attend church have walked through the doors of Elevate City Church?
I am sure Pastor Mills and the Elevate City Church members are fine people. I suspect he and I would get along famously. This post is not meant to be a personal attack of Mills or the church. It is me calling bullshit. It is my challenge of the assumptions that led Mills to start Elevate City Church.
Church planters like Mills can never answer me when I ask, so why is planting a new church the answer to 60% of people in the Fort Wayne area not regularly attending church? What is the new church going to do that countless other churches haven’t already done? Of course, Mills would likely say God told me to start the church.
Church planters think that the church they plant is special; that they have a mandate from God. In Mills’ case, God told him at the age of nine to plant a church in Fort Wayne:
“God” also gave Elevate City Church a permanent meeting place, so I am sure Mills and the church see this as a sign that God approves of them starting the church. Countless churches have come and gone in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Every church planter thought his church was special, that God wanted him to plant the church. Church plants fail, and those that don’t, in time, become just like the churches they swore they never would be like. Their new church, if it survives, will become an old church, and new church planters will move to town, claiming to be new, exciting, and different, and they will proceed to poach members from the old new church.
The dirty little secret of Evangelical church planting is that the vast majority of people who attend a new church plant come from other churches. Few people are new converts. Why? Because almost every American, especially here in the Midwest, has already heard the good news of the gospel. It is not a lack of information that keeps people out of churches. Americans are increasingly rejecting Christianity and turning to spirituality, eastern religions, or atheism/agnosticism/humanism. Why?
Evangelical Christianity is slowly dying. Instead of trying to strengthen that which remains, hip, relevant church planters start new churches. They poach the members of old, established churches and this “growth” hides the fact that the disinterested are still disinterested and they haven’t flocked to the new church. The truth is, more and more Americans think Evangelical Christianity is irrelevant. Evangelicals have a huge PR problem, and as long as their beliefs, practices, and lifestyle are tethered to an inspired, inerrant, infallible ancient book, Evangelicals should not expect the disinterested to rush to their churches on Sunday. Playing rock and praise and worship music, dressing down, getting rid of pews, and acting all hip and cool, hides the fact that the message is still the same; repent and believe the gospel or you are going to be tortured by God in hell for all eternity.
I have no objection to Evangelicals starting as many clubhouses as they want. This is America, and corporate, capitalistic, libertarian thinking dominates the Evangelical church-planting scene. They just need to understand that some of us see through the smokescreen. By all means, plant another church, convince yourself that “God” is leading you to do so, but the facts on the ground remain the same. Planting a new church will not fix what ails America. Americans no longer are buying what Evangelicals are selling. Perhaps it is time to follow the command of Jesus: go sell all that you have and give it to the poor. Perhaps when Americans see THAT kind of Christianity, they might take an interest in it. Even though I am an atheist, I can, from a distance, admire a church and a pastor that takes seriously the teachings of Jesus. All I see right now is the same incestuous, irrelevant church, with a new name. It is time to burn the institutional church to the ground and start over. Or so says this atheist.