WAXAHACHIE — The role of the church has adjusted throughout the years, as it has continued to shape each era with divine purpose, edifying tradition, and prolific community service through church multiplication.
Recently hosting the Church Multiplication Network (CMN) "Start Conference," Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) is maintaining its calling of faith.
“The Church Multiplication Network exists to equip, fund, and network Assemblies of God church planters across the United States. What we’re doing is attempting to catalyze a movement of people starting new churches all around the country, which happens to be the single best way to bring people to Jesus and to expose people to the Gospel,” stated John Davidson, Discovery and Development Director for CMN, after the conference held Tuesday, March 7. “We’re engaging a new generation in that process, and we do that by going to college campuses, talking to students in how they can get involved. Students play a critical role in that, not only are they the next generation of people who will be starting them but they’re also able to get involved as team members."
Being one of the major Christian denominations, Davidson noted The Assemblies of God has witnessed steady growth since the early 2000’s.
According to The Christian Post, a representative from the U.S. General Council of the Assemblies of God (AG) offered IRD specific data that stated since 2007 the AG in the U.S. has grown by 8.4 percent. Since 2001, 21 percent of the growth has been in the 18 to 34-year-old demographic. Now, 54 percent adherents are under the age of 35.
Tailoring the seminar towards college students, the conference focused on AG church planting throughout the United States and overseas.
“There are still people in America that don't know God, and if we truly believe that lost people matter to God than lost people must matter to us,” expressed Jason Exley, Lead Pastor of Life Church in Midlothian and AG church planter. “Statistics tell us that new churches win more spiritually lost people to Christ than established churches. The Assemblies Of God has shown an increase year over year, and the majority of new believers are coming to faith in a newly established church."
Providing an opportunity for students to learn how they can participate in church establishments, regardless of their chosen career path with modern church planters, the speakers noted the event turned out to be a total success.
“There were probably over 100 students that were engaged in the opportunities to connect with church planters,” affirmed Dr. Mike Clarensau, SAGU’s Dean of Bible and Church Ministries. “The goal is opening students eyes to the possibility of being apart of something like this. We’ve had students with different degree plans put their skills to use to provide their support and help out with the new congregation."
Exley added, “The Start Conference allows students to see themselves fitting into a new faith community and finding a way to serve without being in traditional ministry roles. It inspires students to get a degree in their field and contribute to a local community.”
With roughly 350,000 or more churches in America, Hartford Institute estimates that 24,000 are Catholic and Orthodox, 12,000 are non-Christian beliefs, and 314,000 are Protestant and other Christian congregations.
Among the broad classes of religion throughout the United States, the Assemblies of God denomination holds a total of 10,406 churches shared throughout the land of opportunity, with 943 locations confirmed within Texas since 2015.
“There were over 400 churches started last year in America, and to my knowledge, that’s the most growth for us in one year - it’s extraordinary,” Dr. Clarensau recognized.
While the numbers climb, so do the needs of many communities without a church.
“The goal of a church planter is to become aware of needs in the community and find ways to serve others. That happens through praetorships with organizations that already exist, conversation with city leaders and neighbors. The community should be better off because there is a church there,” Exley encouraged.
Grooming the next generation for future leadership of the church, Davidson articulates one key element to successful church planting.
“Church planting is extremely important for the future of the church in America, and our work on the campuses is a critical component,” Davidson clarified.
“The students there at SAGU are among the most responsive in the country to the message we carry on the campus. SAGU is both a culture and an environment of receptivity, and one of the leading Christian schools that develops and deploys students who will become church planters,” he added.
Combining leaders and students for a “meet-the-planters” session, the undergraduates had a chance during the seminar to meet with Exley, Truston Baba of Mansfield’s Living Church, and Preston Ulmer who recently planted Doubters Church in Denver, Colorado.
“One of the church planters that was with us at the conference, Preston Ulmer, who’s a product of SAGU himself, not only has he started a great church, but they’re also providing reconciliation within their community,” Davidson disclosed.
“They are reaching out to people who have been hurt by religion and bringing them back into a relationship with God. They're also there to provide healing for families, and helping people who are in distress,” he concluded.
Among the inspiring stories heard throughout the conference, a select group of speakers educated students about the need and process of church planting, which included Davidson, Adelita Garza, Lead Pastor of Puente de Vida Church in Santa Paula, California, and Jeremiah Feicht, a SAGU alumnus and church planter in Wyoming.
Promoting the importance of church planting and its vital role in ministry, CMN has been reaching out to AG universities with many SAGU graduates jumping on board, starting their own network.
The event was also a great way to promote SAGU’s own student-led church planting ministry called “Rooted.” Equipping and disciplining students who are interested in church planting, the ministry connects them with resources, speakers and a list of churches to further their involvement.
Passing scripture to the next generation, and networking a promising fellowship, the church continues to stand as a beacon of hope. As for the future of the next generation taking the reigns, Dr. Clarensau is confident in his students calling and the conference’s success.
“Obviously, God is the one who calls, we just want to put the opportunity in front of them,” he finished.
To connect with SAGU, visit www.sagu.edu or call 1-888-YES-SAGU.
Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer