During the first full week of March, a group of 15 Indiana Wesleyan University students headed down to South Carolina to serve at two Wesleyan church plants.
Both churches are called Providence Wesleyan Church and are led by Rev. Wayne Otto, an IWU graduate, who has a daughter currently attending IWU. One of the two meets in Charleston, SC at Southern Wesleyan University and the other is in Summerville, SC.
Otto was part of planting six churches in Michigan before being called to move to Charleston in 2011 in order to plant a new network of Wesleyan churches. He and his wife, Amy, began Bible studies April 1st 2011 and officially launched the plants on September 9th.
The spring break project included prayer walks in the communities the churches are targeting. Students also handed out information on church activities and asked for prayer requests from individuals they spoke with. When they had opportunities, students would also pray with those they encountered.
Zak Hubbard, an IWU sophomore, says that canvasing the neighborhoods was one of his favorite parts of the trip. “Getting to talk to people in the community and see what spiritual needs they had and then praying for them truly brought me joy.”
IWU Freshman Autumn Gochenaur shares Hubbard’s enthusiasm. “The trip was amazing! I learned so much and gained so many new friendships. It really put me out of my comfort zone to canvas throughout the neighborhoods, but I really felt God working in all of our lives. It was so encouraging to see the passion that goes into a church plant, and I learned a lot about the beginning stages of planting a church.”
Hubbard says that, like many other students, he had a preconceived idea of what church planting looks like. “I went into the trip with the common perception of church planting and not really expecting a lot out of it,” he says, ‘But, the first day that thought just flew out the window.”
Hubbard says the Ottos made the experience great for each student and he looks forward to having another experience with church planting.
“The presence of such amazing college students at the inception of our church plant was and is worth more than I can possibly communicate,” says Otto. “I wish I could lure the entire team to come back and live for a year and help out with the plant.”
Reaching Different People
“This is a wonderful start but we have a lot more that we can do,” says Dr. Jim Lo, Dean of the Chapel at IWU. The trip to South Carolina is part of the IWU response to the Wesleyan Church’s movement towards church planting. According to Dr. Lo, the Indiana North District of The Wesleyan Church has committed to planting two new churches every year.
Dr. Lo shares, “I really believe that if we are going to reach the next generation for the church, it needs to be done in a creative way and contextualized for them. That is why we need church planting.”
Rev. Tom Cochran, the pastor of a church plant in Wabash, Indiana, says, “In upcoming years, I don’t see church looking like it does now. That’s not a slam on tradition, but we are asking really good questions now about how to contextualize the Gospel to fit the culture that we are going to plant in.”
Cochran is a 2004 graduate of IWU’s ministry program. He launched New Journey in February of 2010 with support from The River, a 2006 church plant in Marion, IN.
Those involved in this trip are not the only students led into church-planting during their Spring Break. Robbie Corwin, IWU senior, spent most of his break visiting a church plant right outside Pittsburgh, PA. Pastor Rick Cox launched the church, called The Bridge, as a way of serving the culturally diverse community of Penn Hills, PA.
During his time there, Corwin committed to joining The Bridge after graduating this April.
Corwin shares, “I think a lot of people have realized that many, many established churches are building up walls and systems are keeping a lot of people out. Almost all the church plants I’ve had experiences with are all about breaking down those walls and going out into the community.”
Recent graduates like Corwin are invaluable for church plants.
Otto says, “To have solid believers that could help disciple, lead worship, handle administration, minister to teens and children, follow up on visitors and lead people to Jesus would be an amazing gift from God.”
It’s For Everyone
Dr. Lo believes that experiences are an important part of giving students a better understanding of the need, and their potential future involvement. He also believes that it’s important for adults in every profession to see their potential for ministry involvement.
“This whole church planting initiative should not only be for students, but it should be for everyone.” Dr. Lo believes that everyone should prayerfully consider how to be involved, including prayer support, financial support, and, if called, the willingness to go and serve.
To learn more about any of the church plants highlighted in this story, visit their website:
Providence Church; Charleston and Summerville, SC http://www.ProvidenceChurch.cc
New Journey; Wabash, IN http://www.newjourneycommunity.com/
The River; Marion, IN http://www.therivermarion.com/
The Bridge; Penn Hills, PA http://www.bridgepgh.com/
Plant Photo Source: Commonwealth of Learning/Wikipedia
Cake Photo Source: The Bridge