Launch, Indiana Wesleyan University’s newest student organization, took off last week as they participated in a series of chapel services on Wednesday and Friday specifically devoted to their particular mission: supporting the church-planting movement in the United States.
IWU senior Gabe Melian, the founding president of Launch, says that church plants are one of the biggest draws for new converts in twenty-first century America.
“I think in many ways church planting shares Christianity in a different way,” Melian says. “It doesn’t look or feel like a normal church.”
Melian himself came to faith in Christ as a kid in a newly-planted church in Weston, Florida. The Venezuela native had spent a long time on a spiritual quest after realizing he only went to church because of family and tradition.
The Lighthouse Church was definitely different from churches that Melian been part of before.
“They met in an elementary school, in high school, in a park, basically everywhere they could meet,” Melian recalls. “Sitting in their living room, reading the Bible for the first time, the Gospel came alive to me. I mean, I had known the stories and the prayers, and who Jesus was, and God and the Father and the Trinity, but at that moment, as I was sitting in a couch with a bunch of students about my age, the Gospel came alive.”
Melian came to IWU to study ministry after feeling a call to work in church planting. Seeing all the students with their own unique gifts and passions made him think: “Hey, if I want to plant a church someday, I want to bring those kinda people with me, you know? The church is made up not just of ministry majors, the church is made up of everybody, and everybody has their own talents and skills.”
“I think he’s helping to bring the passion to the student body,” Dr. Jim Lo, Dean of the Chapel at Indiana Wesleyan University, says of Melian.
Melian, he says, came along just as a few IWU faculty and staff members — including Dr. Wayne Schmidt, vice president of Wesley Seminary at IWU, and provost Dr. David Wright — were feeling similar tugs toward increasing IWU’s support for church planting.
“It’s really been an intersection of a bunch of dreams and visions,” Lo said, “and that’s how God works so often.”
When Lo and Melian spoke in chapel on Friday morning, inviting students to consider getting involved in church planting, over 100 students came forward.
Dr. Lo says he plans to have another chapel soon, a special annointing service for those who are leaving IWU to join church plants. He also plans to send students to a South Carolina church plant over spring break.
One of the main goals of Launch is to connect students with people who are working right now in church plants across the country. At first they’ve been building connections mainly with Wesleyan church planters, but Melian said they’re not confined to any one denomination.
They also plan to hold an event in march called “Fit and Flourish” that will help individuals understand how their passion can be a part of the church’s mission.
“It’s not even really necessarily church planting,” Melian says. “It’s about understanding…how does an English major fit into the kingdom of God? If your passion is being a teacher, how does that fit into the kingdom of God? ‘Cause not everybody’s a pastor.”
Melian himself is looking into starting a church as part of a network of plants that The Wesleyan Church is building in the Tampa, Florida. area sometime this year. “I don’t know exactly what it will look like,” he says.
Being part of a network will help him as he takes his first steps: “A lot of times church planters…are kind of in a desert, trying to figure it out on their own, and they learn by mistakes,” he says. “The whole idea of the network is to share ideas, learn from each other’s mistakes, share resources and just be connected and try to impact an area that hasn’t been impacted yet.”
Melian has heard the standard criticism of church planting in America: why start new churches when America already has so many? But Melian believes that planting a new church can revitalize an established church by giving it a fresh focus on the church’s mission to reach the lost.
“Right now, if all the churches were filled up, you wouldn’t be able to fit all the people that need Jesus,” Melian says.