Our core team spent nearly two years praying weekly for what would become Story Church in Rancho Cucamonga, California. We primarily prayed for things like salvations, finances, a building, and gospel opportunities. We also prayed that we would wisely navigate the unknowns, instability, and disorienting nature of planting a new church. If we could’ve known then what we know now, perhaps we would’ve prayed that last line more.
Our church officially launched about six months ago. We experienced rapid numerical and financial growth. Each day we aimed to be faithful stewards and the Lord kept bringing fruit. But in March, just five months post-launch, everything was halted due to COVID-19. We expected instability in the church-planting process—but not from a global pandemic. We anticipated an unknown future—but not from an inability to gather.
Our team continues to pray for wisdom, trusting God to guide our daily decisions. In navigating this crisis as a new church plant, we’ve committed to six pillars.
1. Priesthood Embraced
As a new church, we have few resources to provide benevolence to our congregation. Yet we’re quickly learning how the church organic can outpace the church organized. I’m hearing stories of quiet, unseen provision from one saint to another. This planter’s soul is refreshed by watching the body function the way God intended.
2. Focused Teaching
As I continue to teach our church—Sunday virtual gatherings, devotions, weekly newsletters, and regular pastoral care—I’m attempting to communicate a few essential truths. First, I’m often using this phrase: “When we don’t know what to think, we know how to think.” God’s Word shapes our thoughts and our affections.
We expected instability in the church-planting process—but not from a global pandemic.
Second, I’m teaching God’s attributes. God is sovereign and eternal, infinite and enthroned, holy and good. Humanity is finite and frail and riddled with sin. The Creator-creature distinction is more apparent than ever before. Now is the time to run to God precisely because he is not like us in these ways. These are weird times; we must have focused teaching given through the lens of the gospel.
3. Unity Pursued
The thing I’ve cherished most during the coronavirus is watching our network display unity that is both beautiful and also enticing to a watching world. During our first virtual gathering, we had a man come to faith and reach out to us. He lives on the other side of Los Angeles, which on most days could take three hours to reach. We’ve connected him to another Acts 29 church in his area. All churches, not just new ones, have an opportunity to lay down our differences on methods and embrace unity in the mission.
4. Hyper-Local Mission
I’ve seen predictions that we’re on the cusp of the greatest evangelistic opportunity we’ll see in our lifetime. With daily deaths on the rise, people are desperate for good news. We have the opportunity to tell everyone that death has been swallowed up into victory! We can be more present in our neighborhoods. As a family, we’ve knocked on doors, went on long walks, played out front, offered to meet needs, and prayed for many people. In our usual daily rush, we miss all of that. Our physical presence, combined with God’s power and the need for hope, lets us share Jesus more than ever before.
5. Welcoming Slowness
Church planters typically enjoy the grind. But the daily grind leaves its toll on our souls. It’s easy to neglect spiritual disciplines, healthy rhythms, date nights, play dates with our kids, good diet, and vigorous exercise. The screeching halt of this pandemic has forced a slower pace. There is opportunity right now to read slowly and deeply, to ask God to search our hearts and reveal our idols to us. We can have longer conversations with spouses that have been neglected.
6. Biblical Ecclesiology, Flexible Strategies
Our simple ecclesiology is surviving this pandemic. Most of what we were doing can still be done with technology. We’re still a Word-driven, prayer-saturated, communally-focused, and missions-minded church. We continue to develop leaders and move people toward meaningful membership. This pandemic clarifies that our ecclesiology is biblical, but our strategies must be flexible. We didn’t expect to ask these questions five months in, but we’re thankful for the opportunity to consider them.
At the end of each day, I rest in one promise and am invigorated by one conviction.
At the end of each day, I rest in one promise and am invigorated by one conviction. The promise comes from Matthew 16:13–20. This is Jesus’s church. He’s building it and will continue to do so. The conviction is the need for more healthy churches everywhere. Story Church is insufficient to reach our city and care for the confused, hopeless people around us. But with more churches, we can meet more needs, proclaim the gospel more widely, and mature more disciples.
So, let’s put our hands to the plow and continue to be faithful. God is redeeming sinners to himself through his Son even—and especially—during times of perplexing pain.