In my mid-twenties, I was pastoring a church in Oklahoma that was a part of an association of Southern Baptist (SBC) churches in the area. There was some restructuring in our association that led to a budget surplus. We decided to pour this all into church planting, an effort that I led for the association. We sent Brian Bowman out to plant the first Valley Life Church in Phoenix, and I thought my involvement at this leadership level would assuage a desire for church planting that I knew was buried somewhere inside of me. It didn’t.
During that time as a pastor, I also realized that though I had been taught a lot of pragmatic things, I did not have a solid foundation of robust theology. I began listening to teachings from some of the men that started Acts 29 and immediately felt well cared for by them, even from a distance. I respected what I was learning about them, and was drawn in by the band of like-minded brothers that I saw in the network. While network churches all look very different because of denomination, location, leadership, or a host of other reasons, they are all gathered around one main goal – to be churches that plant churches, and I knew that was a growing passion of mine.
Since leading the church planting effort for our SBC association didn’t satisfy my desire to plant churches, when Brian Bowman asked me to consider planting a church in Surprise, Arizona, just outside of Phoenix, I was intrigued. My wife and I decided to move our family of five kids to Surprise in January of 2014.
When we moved, I’d already begun the assessment process to join Acts 29. While assessment was a powerful tool in preparing me as a planter, it also functioned as marriage counseling would for a husband and wife. Because of the process, we were able to celebrate the healing of wounds in our past. And find our hope in the work that Jesus was doing in us and through us. That experience led me to a firm belief that things like an assessment process are extremely useful to those being assessed and as intense as I’d heard that it was, I was excited to go through Acts 29’s assessment, and for Valley Life Surprise to be a part of the network.
More than three years after planting Valley Life Surprise, we were stuck. We’d started strong, and I thought my preaching gift had been affirmed and would be enough to grow the church. But, I found out a few years in that a church can’t grow JUST by good preaching (though it’s a significant part of it!). You also need systems, structures, on- and off-ramps for leaders, assimilation processes, and more. More than three years in, and we had been stuck at 60 attendees for quite a while.
It was at this time that I received the opportunity through Acts 29 US West to join a coaching cohort led by Josh Reich. This online cohort met once a month via video calls for nearly a year. We talked about things like offering goals, choosing and training elders, connecting first-time guests, permanent locations versus temporary, and more. The cohort connected me to people who were down the road and could speak wisdom into the things we were thinking about and doing as a church. I received help to think through plans we were rolling out. I felt that our church was able to think more strategically as a result of my attendance in this cohort.
One year after this coaching cohort, we had moved from a temporary facility to a permanent one. We’d seen our attendance double to nearly 120 each week. We met our Christmas offering goal. And these are just a few of the great results we can attribute, at least in part, to participation in the coaching opportunities offered by Acts 29 US West. I am so grateful I joined a group of guys I didn’t know before and spent a year learning with them. Our church may never be the same, and that’s a good thing.