How many existing churches does it take to bring about a new church plant? In the case of newly established Cornerstone Congregational Church in Westford, Massachusetts, the Lord has been pleased to use two key churches in a primary role, along with many neighboring churches in a supportive role.
This article originally appeared in the Forsee as “Around the Conference: Church Plant Collaboration”. The author, Steve Burkett is the Pastor of the Congregational Church in North Chelmsford and serves as the 4C’s Area Representative in Northeastern Massachusetts. We amended the article in a few small areas.
Immanuel Church in Chelmsford, which joined the CCCC in 2003, is one of the two key churches. When new senior pastor Dana Smith came on board three years ago, the church elders and members began a season of prayer about the possibility of planting a church in a nearby community. A year later, Immanuel Church hired Jonathan Romig as an associate pastor. Jonathan and his wife Monica had both just graduated from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. During their final year at GCTS, both of them took a church planting course, and “just so happened” to do their major course project of a mock church plant proposal on Westford, a town bordering Chelmsford. God was already at work behind the scenes for something special to develop!
The second key church to help bring about this new church plant was the Westford Bible Church. This fellowship began as a home Bible study in the late 1960s, and was officially founded as an independent Baptist Bible church in 1972. The members built a place of worship that same year. For the first two decades, this church did well. But as the demographics of Westford changed from a smaller farming community to a larger bedroom community, and as the church members themselves grew older, attendance began to decline. Then on March 7, 2001, the sanctuary roof collapsed due to an unusually heavy snowfall, just hours after a Sunday morning worship service. The pastor at the time, Ken Keele, was a friend of Steve Burkett at the CCCC Congregational Church in North Chelmsford. The members and friends of the Westford Bible Church were invited to hold their worship services on Sunday afternoons at this church in North Chelmsford while plans for the future were made. They did so for the next six weeks, before finding another temporary place of worship back in Westford until their building was finally beautifully repaired and remodeled.
With this setback, however, the membership continued to decline. Pastor Keele retired in 2006, and CCCC credentialed pastor Bruce White (who had to commute fifty miles each way) served as a parttime pastor for the next nine years. The Westford Bible Church, with 12 official members, joined the CCCC in 2007. Wondering what their options might be, the church had conversations with Conference Minister Ron Hamilton about the possibility of becoming a legacy church. The members declined that option four years ago. But in early 2014, Pastor White and the four remaining official members contacted CCCC Area Representative Steve Burkett, who put them in touch with Pastors Dana Smith and Jonathan Romig and the elders at Immanuel Church in Chelmsford.
As a result of much prayer and many conversations, the Westford Bible Church voted to give their building to Immanuel Church, who agreed to pick up the remaining mortgage. The members of the Westford Bible Church wanted the lampstand of an ongoing Gospel witness to continue in their community. A joint service of worship and praise for the passing of the Gospel torch was held at the Westford Bible Church on Sunday December 21st, 2014, attended by members of Immanuel Church and many former members of the Westford Bible Church.
A core group of 35 members has agreed to hive* off Immanuel Church for the establishment of the new church plant. Jonathan Romig has been appointed to be the first pastor of the new plant, Cornerstone Congregational Church. The church planting team is planning on three preview services this summer. They hope to officially launch the first weekend in October. They desire to reach, in particular, families in Westford.This church is the only current evangelical fellowship in Westford.
The vision statement of the Cornerstone Congregational Church is as follows: “a Gospel-centered church that changes lives through sharing the message of Jesus Christ in word and deed.” The mission statement is: “to make, mature, and multiply followers of Jesus.” The core values of the new church are: Bible, community, discipleship, love, outreach, and prayer.
In addition to the two key churches noted above, a good number of neighboring churches have been supportive in prayer and encouragement. Pastors Romig and Smith from Immanuel Church are both a part of a community pastors’ group with pastors from the CCCC churches in Tyngsboro, Dunstable, and North Chelmsford. In addition, the CCCC church planting hub in New England (NEX) has been an ongoing helpful resource, specifically through hosting a Quest Training weekend in November for the whole team. The CCCC pastors’ roundtable at the CCCC Andover church, which meets monthly, has been supportive as well.
So how many existing churches does it take to bring about a new church plant? Again, in this case, many! Praise be to God!
*hive. The word “hive” is sometimes used by church planters when a group from the mother church breaks away with the blessing of the mother church to begin a new church plant (such as taking a number of bees away from a bigger hive to start a new hive.)