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OHIO CHURCHES CELEBRATE GOD’S BLESSING
At a special convocation held at Metro Cleveland Grace Brethren Church (MCGBC), the 185 Grace Brethren churches of Ohio met recently to celebrate God’s blessing upon their church planting efforts for the past decade.
“Our church and our seven branch campuses did not even exist 10 years ago,” stated MCGBC Lead Pastor Tommy Stover. Among the churches represented, African-American pastors who have built a mutually supportive network of innovative black churches lead 10. Special breakout sessions were held in Spanish for the 17 Spanish-speaking Ohio GBC’s. The Driven Network, a special group of new churches and branch campuses that target 20-29 year-olds also offered special workshops.
“It is not just about our increase in numbers,” observed Susan Taylor, a lay leader from Queen City Grace in Cincinnati. “Our church was one of the earliest church plants back in 2010 and it was our first exposure to the Grace Brethren,” she said. “We traveled with our pastor around the state trying to raise money and were struck by how spiritually lifeless some of the churches were— everything seems different now.”
The missional energy created by the church planting thrust led to a parallel initiative to replant and revision struggling churches. It resulted in an atmosphere of expectation and sharing that helped many established churches advance significantly. This major advancement also effectively embraced many of the lifeless churches that Susan first met that are so different today.
Each of the 185 churches is unique to its culture and context. God has planted and grown different congregations for a variety of unreached people. For example, even in a small town like Ashland, Ohio, the resulting churches represent different subcultures. God is pursuing all people groups.
“We all became more aware of the unique culture of our communities and how we could better reach them,” commented Taylor Stephens, senior pastor of Columbus Hope, a thriving black church that is only seven years old and has planted four new daughter congregations around the state.
“Many people questioned my switch to the Grace Brethren eight years ago, but I felt that the strong biblical teaching that has always characterized Grace Brethren people would be the exact key that was needed to make a difference in the inner city.”
Churches in rural, micropolitan, exurban, and suburban contexts have found that they have been able to have a greater shared ministry of social impact without compromising the Gospel or biblical teaching.
“How could new believers who live in a small town like Mt. Sterling ever have significant impact on an inner city neighborhood, if we didn’t have strong, biblical partnerships with churches like Columbus Hope?” Mac Cordell, the pastor of Sterling Grace said. This impact continues in many areas as greater assistance for the poor and downtrodden has increased.
Pastor Mac along with Doug Shotsky, a gatherer in Mt. Sterling, continue to see God bless the effort of reaching the smaller, micropolitan areas with new churches. God has blessed the effort to raise gatherers and shepherds to begin core groups in towns like Washington Court House and Ironton. Tom Smith, as a gatherer, and Fred Miller, as a shepherd, are working to gain footholds in both Circleville and Laurelville as these two new Grace Brethren Churches strive to reach out to their communities.
Retiring Vision Ohio missionary Dr. Ron Boehm listed several key elements that led to the explosion of the past decade:
· Key churches like Grace Brethren Church, Columbus, and Woodville (Mansfield, Ohio) that created training centers. These training centers produced effective training tracks that assisted many bi-vocational as well as vocational pastors planting and serving these new churches. Pastor’s wives also benefited from training tracks that served them. Northwest Chapel (Dublin, Ohio) created and supported the prayer movement as well as base churches in Ashland, Woodville (Mansfield), Norton, and Fremont that blanketed their surrounding areas with new churches and branch campuses.
· Powerful expressions of the Gospel that led to many new believers in Jesus Christ. Through effective follow-up, more and better disciples of Jesus Christ were produced.
· Broad-based support by churches and individuals for the church-planting systems provided by VisionOhio and GO2USA and the willingness of planters and mother churches to take advantage of them.
· A new level of cooperation among District Mission Boards and church- planting congregations.
· A passionate movement of lay people who responded to the call to plant churches as missional families, gatherers, shepherds, and founding pastors.
· Broad-based, visionary, and generous support of ethnic and generationally progressive churches by individuals and churches in Ohio and around the country.
· The six local metro initiatives in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, Akron, and Dayton where the churches found visionary ways to cooperate.
· The micropolitan initiative that eventually led to a church in every one of the 88 counties of Ohio.
When asked what was next for the Grace Brethren in Ohio, Dr. Tony Webb, the executive director of VisionOhio said, “Vision 2030 was already outlined three years ago and includes a church a day by 2030.”
“Vision 2020 never really ended,” he continued. “We consider it an ongoing vision discovery process. We prayerfully revised our Future Story and our strategies every year throughout the decade. That was part of our growing sense of community and cooperation.”
The incontrovertible fruit of dependence upon God and godly cooperation with each other is the clearest testimony to God’s leading in the Vision 2020 process. “God has produced in our day the greatest affirmation of one another and each other’s ministries,” added Dr. Webb. “This affirmation has grown from the global connection we have had through our Charis relationships, and at the end of the day, it was God that received all the glory,” he concluded.