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"Plant a New Church?"  Our Church-Planting Journey!

Sandra and I were surprised to hear the Lord calling us to become church planters!  Here is the story of the journey He's brought us through as we've developed this calling to plant a new church with the Alliance.

The story begins almost 8 years ago when were recruited as church planters by the church planting director of our district, Jon Martin.  Jon began to meet with us and "convince us" that we were would be good church planters and began to tell us about a potential opportunity the district was considering.  He sent us to church planter boot camp and Sandra and I began to consider if this was the road that Lord had for us to journey down.  I remember the day that Sandra and I sat across the table from Jon at Applebees in Rome and he told us the location of this new Alliance church plant.  "It's in a town called Cheektowaga," he said.  "Cheektowaga!"  I answered, "No way!  I'm from Cheektowaga!"  Now it was his turn to say, "no way!"

As our conversation continued we talked about the benefits of a church planting couple knowing the culture of the area they are planting in and he tried to convince us that this was God leading for us.  We weren't too sure yet.  Then we learned that the source of funding for this new church plant had dried up, so we put it out of our mind.

As our time in Athens came to a close we began to seek the next position that the Lord had for us.  We looked a number of opportunities, this time being more discerning as to the health of the church we were applying to.  I had numerous conversations with District Superintendents throughout the Alliance and I heard over and over again a recommendation that I consider church planting.  Hmm.  I was beginning to hear what the Lord was saying.

At the same time we were trying to sell our house.  It had been on the market for quite some time and we were receiving no offers to purchase it.  We spoke with a friend from Athens who was interested in renting our house.  You can't live in a house that you're renting to someone else, so we moved to Buffalo to stay with my mom until we found out where He wanted us to serve next.

Once we moved to Buffalo I contacted the District Superintendent with the Alliance in New York and talked through some options.  I told him there was this thought that kept coming to my mind and that I needed to say it out loud to him and see what his thoughts were.  If it was crazy, then I wouldn't think of it again.  If it was from God, then we wanted to prayerfully pursue it.  He said, "Tell me what you're thinking." 

I said, "I wonder if God has us back in Buffalo to plant that church in Cheektowaga that Jon Martin was talking to us about 7 year ago."  There was a bit of an interesting pause.  He asked me to explain how the Lord might be leading us in that direction.  I outlined some of the points that I make in this writing a few paragraphs below.  His next words were, "What are you doing next Tuesday?  Can you come to Rome and explain what you just said to me to the CM Team?"

On Tuesday, February 16, 2016, Sandra and I met with a church planting and health team at the district office here in the Northeastern district.  The CM Team is made up of a number of pastors from this district - most of whom are great friends from our time serving in Rome, NY.  We were invited to attend this meeting to discuss the possibility of being involved in panting a new Alliance church in Cheektowaga.

At the time our resume was still being considered in a few churches in New York State.  As we went into the meeting with the CM Team our perspective was to continue to see what the Lord might have for us in these opportunities AND pursue the possibility of planting at the same time.  I was still in conversations with the leadership of these opportunities and we wanted to be open to the leading of the Lord no matter which way He led us.

at the same time I was becoming more excited about the possibility of planting a new Alliance church here in Cheektowaga.  My first telephone meeting with David Linn, the district superintendent in upstate NY went very well.  He affirmed my gifting, my training, and the way the Lord has been working to bring us to this area.  It's very clear to us that God wanted us to be here with my mom during this time.  Being with my mother has been very good for her - and it's been good for us.  It's also been good for us to be in town for Sandra's parents as well.  As I continue to look at the openings currently available in the Alliance we haven't seen anything that would be a really good fit for us.  It appears as if the Lord is closing many doors and opening one door - the door that leads us to plant a new church.

The Lord has been strengthening our desire to remain with the Alliance.  Ken Furhl was the speaker the last Sunday we were in Logan.  He shared stories of the rich heritage of the Alliance and reminded us of the local and foreign missions work we're focusing on as a denomination as we move forward.  I appreciate our focus and am in full agreement with our mission.

As we've been in town we've been worshiping with the various Alliance churches in the area.  We've been connecting well to the worship time, the sermons, and were warmly welcomed by the pastors after the service.  Granted, we know some of them very well, but we feel so at home worshiping with the Alliance here in WNY.

After one of the services at Kenmore Alliance we chatted with one of the pastors.  He asked what we were up to.  I shared a brief update on our options with him.  He told me about a collation of pastors in the WNY area that are dedicated to church planting.  He told me that they are happy to support church planters, no matter which denomination they are planting, as long as they're focusing on planting healthy, evangelical, biblically-sound churches.  The Lord is opening the door of opportunity for us to partner with this healthy group of WNY pastors.

The following Tuesday we traveled to Rome for the CM Team meeting.  Sandra and i went into the meeting with the intention of exploring the possibility of planting.  We took part in some general discussion on planting efforts that began from 3-4 years ago to over a decade ago, including some talk about a perceived error in planting churches in smaller communities while overlooking the communities with larger populations.  The discussion covered some of the difficulties found in turning struggling churches around and they made mention that it has been a while since the district was involved in planting new churches.  There was new district leadership and they were interested in planting new churches.

Then we were asked to give an update on what the Lord was doing in our lives.  We talked about the end of our ministry in Athens and how the Lord brought us to Buffalo.  We shared about currently opportunities that we were pursuing and then we began to talk about some of the things that were leading us to ask if the Lord was leading us to plant a new church in Cheektowaga.

Here are some of the points we made:

  1. We're not fitting into the current traditional church model.
  2. We thought we had a really good fit for three opportunities and found that all three went to staff positions who were stepping up into the lead pastor position.  That's healthy leadership development and not an indication of a deficit in our leadership.
  3. As I've been talking with district superintendents most of them have asked us if we would consider exploring church planting within their district.
  4. The leadership tests that I've taken in the past couple of years indicate that I'd be a good church planter.  One reason is that I'm wired to start new things rather than maintain existing things - particularly when I can't see any fruit in them.
  5. 7 years ago I was recruited by Northeaster District leadership as a church planter.  I was told that healthy youth pastors make good church planters.  Our youth group in Rome was very healthy and I could transition the healthy aspects of that ministry into a new church plant.
  6. I know that most of the healthiest churches are those who are planted by a pastor who stays part of the church for more than 15 years.  Typically he then passes the leadership torch on to someone he's mentored into that position.
  7. I'm excited about the possibility of starting something new.  While many are paralyzed at the thought of stepping outside of their comfort zone, I'm not afraid to step out into new territory and see what God has planned for us.  It's kind of like living on an AIM mission trip.
  8. There are over 240,000 people who live within an 8-mile radius of the center of Cheektowaga.
  9. There isn't a significant evangelical church presence in Cheektowaga at all.  Most of the churches appear to be smaller and struggling.
  10. Because Sandra and I grew up in WNY we will be able to relate very well to the cultural distinctives found in the area.
  11. A great majority of those in Cheektowaga are non-participating Catholics.  Because I spend some time in a Catholic church (and school) at a young age, I can relate to their church experiences and know how to connect them to a personal relationship with Christ.
  12. I was surprised to learn that some of the catholic churches have closed, and others have been consolidated because of poor attendance.
  13. Our move to Buffalo has been a very good move for us.  We're feeling "at home" and are looking froward to seeing how the Lord is going to work in us and through us here.
  14. I think that Cheektowaga is primed for a healthy church plant and that the Lord is leading us to pursue it.

As we were sharing the above points with the group we could see their excitement begin to grow.  They mentioned that it had been a while since the district began a church plant and that it was about time for them to invest in planting again.  They were waiting for someone to meet with them with a passion and calling to a specific area.  They are ready to fully back us on this amazing God adventure.

Some of the pastor son the CM Team have played a significant role in my life over the past 15 years.  They helped us with our ministry in Rome and they were a support to us through some times of conflict.  They affirmed the fruit of our ministry in Rome and Athens and assured us that they believed we were called and gifted for ministry.  They shared a concern for Sandra and I to experience a time of healing from the hurt of ministry and affirmed that this appears to be God's leading for our lives at this time.

Sandra and I met to debrief the meeting during the afternoon.  It was during our debrief that I was reminded of some teaching and affirmation from some of my healthy church mentors and I was clearly able to compare the differences between an opportunity to lead an existing unhealthy church or plant something new.  I knew that I would choose to plant something new.  It was like I turned the page on the existing opportunities that we were pursing and choose to invest in a church planting opportunity instead.

Following our healthy leadership and ministry training, a new church would be focused on effective evangelism and discipleship - strategically making disciples of Jesus Christ who are actively making more disciples of Jesus Christ.  We're not going to play church.  We're not going to "get comfortable."  We're going to set the leadership bar high, work with those who are willing to strive to meet it, and prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to use us to transform a region for His Kingdom.

Would you consider partnering with us?  Check out the other links on ways you can partner with us and our updates along the journey!


Copyright 2016
James E. Bogoniewski, Jr.