This March, nearly 200 Alliance leaders and church planters gathered in Orlando at Exponential, one of the world’s largest church-planting conferences. The C&MA hosted a pre-conference centered around the theme Don’t Plant Alone, highlighting the importance of planting churches that embrace intimacy with the Holy Spirit, intentional fellowship with others, and collaboration with a broader church-planting network and movement. During the pre-conference, a panel of church planters sat down to discuss their planting contexts and the exciting things God has been doing in their midst.
Sometimes, it’s easy to be so focused on international missions that the reality of the harvest here at home is overlooked. The United States still desperately needs the love of Christ and the hope of the gospel. As you read through this conversation with Alliance church planters, don’t forget—we’re not done yet! So, let’s continually ask God how we can be a part of what He is doing here at home.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:19)
Kent Sovine, assistant to the superintendent of the MidAmerica District
Elvin Torres, church planter out of One Hope Church, Omaha, NE
Jamison Horton, co-lead pastor of One Hope Church, Omaha, NE
Joel Repic, director of church planting in the Western PA District, pastor at The Gospel Tabernacle in Aliquippa, PA
Myron Pierce, pastor of Mission Church in Omaha, NE
Tell us about the churches and communities where you serve.
I am currently serving in a new role as the director of church planting for the Western PA District. I’m also in the process of transitioning out of being a pastor of a 105-year-old Alliance church called The Gospel Tabernacle. My great grandparents met Jesus in that church, and I live in the neighborhood where it was planted when the steel mill was still open in our community. The steel mills in the region closed in the mid-80s, so our city is in its third generation of systemic poverty.
When I came on staff as the youth pastor, The Gospel Tabernacle was a hurting and declining church. But as we started nonprofits and businesses in the community, the church experienced renewal. Eventually, we had a whole family of missional communities, nonprofit organizations, and businesses as mission. We started an incubator organization to help people start things, which then became a network. Now we’re exploring what it would mean to have a decentralized, released micro-church network in partnership with a denominational district.
I get to lead a phenomenal church in the hood, a church in inner-city Omaha called Mission Church. We’ve only been around with The Alliance for almost five years, and it’s been a pleasure to run with this tribe.
Mission Church is interesting because we are right in probably the poorest zip code in Omaha. My background is also interesting. I grew up with a mom on crack cocaine and a dad on heroin. I went to prison, went back to prison, and was facing a lot of time—and that’s where I met Jesus. When I got out of the penitentiary, the Lord impressed on my heart, “The place that you brought the greatest havoc is where I want you to bring the greatest hope.”
Our whole goal at Mission Church is multiplication. Our vision is that God would use our church expression to unleash unprecedented hope in every inner city around the world. I think if Jesus was on the earth right now, He’d be kicking it in the hood, hanging out with gang members and prostitutes. So that’s our heart. It’s messy, but it’s rewarding to be a part of what God is doing.
I’ve been co-leading One Hope Family for three years. Before that, I was planting a multi-ethnic church in northwest Omaha. A few years ago, One Hope was called Citylight Benson (CLB), and they had lost a co-lead pastor. They were a predominantly white church, about 99%. They were praying through what it would look like for them to reflect their community, because the neighborhood was diverse, but the church did not reflect the neighborhood. I was planting another church—a multi-ethnic church—and Tyler, the other co-lead pastor at One Hope, reached out and said, “Would you consider merging your church with ours?”
You know, when you plant a church you have to keep things open-handed and always follow God’s voice. So, we started praying and asking the Lord what it would look like for us to merge with this predominantly white church. I said, “God, I don’t know if you’ve called me to that.” God said, “No, I called you to do this.” So, we kept praying, and a couple of months later, in February 2019, we merged churches.
If I told you it was easy, that would be a lie. But as we continued to press in, God continued to bless us. We gained momentum, and God was doing a new thing. Then 2020 came. People love the idea of multi-ethnic church, but there’s a lot of work to it. So, when 2020 came, we had to have a lot of hard conversations. Through it all, we kept saying, “God, we want to lean in and press into who You called us to be.”
A year later, we kept praying, and we decided to plant another multi-ethnic, diverse church in south Omaha. That area is predominantly Hispanic, and that’s where Elvin is leading.
Today, One Hope is about 50% diverse. Being part of a multi-ethnic expression is hard work. But the Kingdom is beautiful and diverse, and we want to reflect the Kingdom here on earth.
Culture gets shaped by three things: the stories you tell, the language you use, and the things you celebrate. What are some of these elements you use that have shaped the culture in your churches?
We’ve banned the word “volunteer” in our church. We’re not a business, we’re a family. I also drop the title “lead pastor” because it’s not helpful. It disenfranchises those who want to be a part of what Jesus is doing. In fact, we also started changing and shifting structure so that I pull back, even the amount of time I preach, because I don’t want to build a church on personality. I want to see the King build His church. In our gatherings, we meet around tables now. And I cut my sermon time in half.
I want our church and community to have a flat structure that doesn’t create distance between the leaders and the church. We lead as a team. When you take somebody from the hood, and they get redeemed and they find out what God has called them to, we want to celebrate that. Every single person deserves to be mobilized.
One phrase Myron didn’t mention is “hope dealer,” going from dope dealers to hope dealers. Those words have absolutely shaped a culture in north Omaha. It doesn’t matter if they have a clue who Jesus is or not. They know who the hope dealers are.
There are so many things in our ecosystem that get said over and over at all levels. I’ll just point out two. One is something we took from Vineyard that John Wimber used to say: “Everyone gets to play.” Everyone has something to bring to the table. We want to get to a radical yes with anybody who’s hearing a call from God over their life. Living this out requires new structures. So, our systems are built for that. I’ll share about two of my favorite micro-church leaders. One is a boxer who came to Christ a few years ago. In 2019, his boxing gym led more people to Jesus than any of the other micro-churches in our network. Another is a woman who is the quintessential steel mama. For a lot of the newer believers in our network, she is like a saved version of their mom. Her missional community draws people who are coming out of difficult situations. So, we’ve got to figure out how to say “yes” to these emerging leaders—because Jesus is saying yes to them. We have to align our yes with Jesus’ yes for them.
Right now, we’re figuring out what to do with this network in relationship with a legacy church and a denominational district. A phrase we say all the time is, “Honor what is and go around it.” It’s a very western Pennsylvanian thing to honor our institutions. I’m living in the neighborhood my great grandparents lived in, so there’s multi-generational connection to our institutions. So, when we think of starting new things, we can’t do that in a way that burns down all of our institutions. Honor what is, deeply honor it, and celebrate it. But if all you do is honor it, and there’s no way to do anything new, that’s not honor anymore, that’s idolatry. You’ve got to love it, but not be constrained by it. Jesus loves that institution, too, but He isn’t confined by it.
Like Myron said, our church is also a family—One Hope Family. Ephesians 4 says that we’re all called to this one hope, which is Jesus Christ. One hope, one Lord, one faith. That’s what unites us together. It’s important for us to think of ourselves as family, otherwise we’ll always be arguing and distancing ourselves on non-essential issues.
Another thing we say every week is, “We exist to multiply diverse disciples in churches.” Multiply, multiply, multiply.
People come up with a lot of their own ideas, and you have to be intentional about shaping culture. First, people have to get healed from things they’ve gone through and experienced so they can actually reach a community. Hurt people hurt other people. But I believe healed people heal people. You get healed to go off and be witnesses.
What has the enemy put in your way, barriers that you’ve had to pray down? What have you faced and how have you got through?
I think this goes back a little to the culture question, but one barrier is the idea that speed, growth, and bigger are better. But all of this is work. Diversity may be the word that we use, but reconciliation is the work. And that’s real work. You got to do the work in the trenches. I have a machinist friend that says, “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” You have to slow down enough to do the actual work of reconciliation, helping people be reconciled to God and to one another. It takes time to do that in a way that’s healthy. We want to be a family that is actually healthy.
Another real obstacle and challenge is the constant comparison game that we play regarding what the next ministry is doing, or the next movement is doing. It’s hard to not be constantly comparing and wanting to do so many things. I think the comparison game is a significant obstacle.
I’ll just be real with what I’m facing right now. My wife and I have been in our community for 18 years. When we first moved into the community, we were on a drug and prostitution corner. We had people living with us right away. Sometimes we’ve been shaken in terms of safety, and you know, the enemy will throw this kind of thing up when a movement gets going.
I know we’ll be fine. But when we are embracing people who are not easy success stories for our ministry, these are the moments when I really grieve for the state of the Church, because this is when it feels lonely. Hear me, I’ve served and loved a 105-year-old church with all my heart. I love the Church, but when something like this happens, I can’t find very many places in the Church where I can process with people who aren’t racist. Where I can find people who won’t call my community something or reinforce things we’ve been working for years to flip the narrative on. This is how the enemy isolates these works of God that are happening, by stirring up fear of certain kinds of people.
What’s next when you think about multiplication in your context?
We’re still trying to figure that out. I have a burden for the macro-church—the big C Church—and I think it will be important for me to spend more time with other churches and leaders talking about the inner city. Because here’s the reality—urbanization is coming fast. Our world’s going to become more urban and more diverse faster than we know it. I want to work with leaders, and church planters as well, whose hood will change within the next five to ten years.
What’s next for Mission Church is also to raise up more missionaries, and not just church planters.
I really do feel the call on our church is for multi-ethnic churches doing the work of reconciliation. I think God has graced us to be in that space. In Omaha there are still dividing lines. Where Myron and I are at in north Omaha, it is a predominantly Black community. South Omaha is predominantly Hispanic. West Omaha is 90% White. There are lines that people don’t cross. We want to continue praying about what it looks like to break barriers in our city.
I believe the Church is the hope of the world. And if the Church doesn’t know how to love each other, how can we tell the world how to love each other? If the Church can’t come and worship Jesus together, because we have our own privileges and preferences, how can we tell the world how to do it?
As I was thinking through this time together, the words of Haggai jumped to mind. I wonder if this is a word for the Alliance family, maybe particularly for those who feel like you’re not seeing the Lord work in your context yet.
“’Be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD. ‘Be strong, Joshua . . . Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the LORD Almighty” (Hag. 2:4).
I love this charge—y’all get to work! We’re not done yet! I told you how this is going to go. I’m going to be among you. My Spirit is with you. I know you’ve got things to be scared of, but don’t fear, just work.
“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace’” (Hag. 2:6–9).
Amen. I want to see the King have the opportunity to do whatever He wants in and through us.