In 2014, my family left Oklahoma to plant Valley Life Church in Surprise, Arizona. Surprise is a growing city in the suburbs of Phoenix. In the last 17 years, Surprise has grown by 100,000 people. Before planting, I pastored in rural Oklahoma for a decade and served as the Director of Missions for Mullins Baptist Association for three years.
Valley Life Church is a multi-congregational network of churches in The Phoenix Valley with the dream of having 10 Valley Life churches strategically located across The Valley. By God’s grace, we are already one of four. We were sent out strong from Valley Life Church | Tramonto (located in North Phoenix), blessed with 15 families on our core team that gave close to $50,000 in tithes and offerings our first year. We launched Sunday services on Easter of 2014 in an elementary school gym.
We had a big crowd on our first day but found that church in a gym felt a bit like a weekly informational meeting about a church we hoped to plant one day. We struggled for some time to exceed 65 attendees, but a few months ago we made staff adjustments, refocused our mission and vision strategy, and relocated to a high school auditorium. We are now a church of 100 people and growing.
While our city is growing, there are only a few churches that own buildings in Surprise. I’ve heard it said that 110 church plants have failed in the last decade in our city. Our location in a high school lends us towards best connecting with families who are new to our city, and the friends and family that we have personally led to Jesus. But, to the city at large, we are a church experiment that, like so many others, could blow away at any time.
Planting a church is hard work, but can also be very rewarding as we get to watch Jesus save our friends. I met Matt and Aundrea on Christmas Eve. Matt grew up Catholic, and Aundrea was not raised in church. But, having kids of their own drove them to find a church for their family.
Matt and I went to lunch, and when I asked him if he considered himself a Christian, he said, “I try to be. But I don’t want to get too religious or anything.” We talked about how being religious isn’t the goal, but rather trusting in Jesus. I made the comparison that once married, we don’t say we’re trying to be married, but simply that we are married, and being a Christian should be the same – you either are, or you aren’t. You don’t try. Since that time, we’ve had many conversations about what it means to be made righteous by trusting in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
At Valley Life Church, we share communion every week. Matt and Aundrea have been faithful to come every Sunday since Christmas Eve, and during communion, they have been reflecting and fasting from the table, not ready to call themselves Christians. But, recently, something changed. They feasted from the communion table! We are beginning to see strong fruit in their lives.
Even though there are difficult days in church planting, there is much to celebrate. There is also much about which to pray. We believe that we are part of Jesus’ evangelism strategy to reach our city. Please pray that Jesus would continue to save our friends. It is the reason our church exists in Surprise.
Also, pray that the Lord would run ahead of us and prepare an opportunity for us to lease or purchase a building that would transition us from portable to permanent for the sake of our city. A permanent facility, in our context, would be a strong tool in the hand of Jesus for making disciples and planting churches.
Each year, Acts 29 US West has the joy of funding a number of church plants. Valley Life Church | Surprise is one of 17 church plants we’re funding in 2017. You can read about more of these church plants on our blog!