authentic stories. authentic churches.

80% Men, 100% Relationships. (Radiant Church, Fairbanks, AK)

In alaska on March 16 at 6 pm
 

Caleb Richardson and family. Radiant Church, Fairbanks, AK.

Almost Bear Season. Doing church in Alaska is different.  “I just finished shooting bow with one of our guys in his backyard,” said Caleb Richardson, pastor of Radiant Church (Fairbanks, AK).  “He’s about to go bow hunting and the bear are about to come out, so he had to get his gear ready.  So I spent two hours with him shooting.”

Radiant Church’s story begins on the Yukon, where Caleb’s dad was a missionary.  “I’m from Alaska and I have a real burden for our city and our state, and I really felt like God was asking me to launch a church.”

From Forty to Seven.  “We ran a Bible study out of our house and had about thirty or forty people coming.”  At some point, it became clear that it was time to pivot from Bible study to church.  “I’d been clear about it the whole time, but when I said it was time to start a church, we went from forty to seven people.  The thing was, I was clear that I didn’t want them to go to church.  I wanted them to be the church.”

When one of the seven announced that he was going to start tithing, “I thought, well, I better get this incorporated, and that’s how we started,” said Caleb.  “I continued to work full-time.  We never want to be a big show, but we want people to live missionally.  That’s our DNA.  We’re a group of missional communities.”

Transformed Lives.  Most of Radiant’s growth isn’t been transfers.  “Most of our  growth is people who either haven’t been to church in twenty years and found themselves in a rough spot, or people who haven’t been in church ever.”

Calling a Friend and Changing a Life.  About four months ago, one of Radiant’s members felt like he was supposed to call an old friend – a welder – in town.  They hadn’t spoken in ten years.  The phone rang as the welder was lying on the floor of his cabin having attempted an overdose.

“He’s a big old dude, all tatted up.  He had tried every sort of substance to fill the hole,” said Caleb.

The Radiant member said, “I’m coming out to see you.”  When he arrived, the Radiant member said, “You’re coming to my house for dinner and you’re coming to church with me,” said Caleb.

“He began to walk with him through every aspect of life.  The welder was broke, had two DUIs, so he  was walking to work, and no one in his life was in contact with him.  He was on a downhill slide to death.”

The Radiant community decided to care for him.  Some mornings, the welder would find that Radiant members had come to fill his gas tank… despite the fact that the weather was 30 below zero.

“It’s been amazing watching God break into his heart and transform him, so now he truly is a new creation and God is transforming him in every way.  He shared his story with our church at Easter.  The theme is: I destroyed it and God is rebuilding it.  I’m wretched and I can’t fix it, but God has been bringing restoration in my life.”

A New Beginning.  “There’s another woman in our church who’s been through several marriages, four children, single mother, barely has enough to put food on the table, and not even 30 years old,” said Caleb.  “Sitting around a meal together a few weeks ago at one of our groups, she received Christ with the group sitting around her.  It’s a church birthed out of that.”

 Relationships Are the Whole Game.  “We’ve chosen not to market ourselves at all,” said Caleb.  “You can’t find us in the Yellow Pages.  Everyone who walks through the door is there because of a personal relationship.  We’re not afraid to spend lots of time relationally with people and we’ve built that into the culture of our church.”

Ministering to Men.  “We’ve got a lot of men up here,” said Caleb.  “God’s really given me a real burden for them.  At one point, we were 80% men and we have a fiercely independent culture up here and a lot of people don’t have family around, and don’t feel like they need family.  That doesn’t work well when it comes to the church.  Ministering to men is about calling men to step up and lead, even as they are dependent on God.  That’s the heartbeat of what we do.”

 

Worship at Radiant Church, Fairbanks, AK.

Where God Is Leading Next.  Radiant has grown to nearly 100 people in two years, relationship by relationship.  “I think the next step is for us to continue to grow the way that we’re moving. The vision for our city is more churches planted and what God’s asked us to do is to see ten churches in the next ten years.  It’s not that we want to plant churches just to plant churches.  But we want to be people who are multiplying ourselves outward.”

Serving Hot Drinks in the Desert. (Old Town Bible Church, Scottsdale, AZ)

In Arizona on February 19 at 9 pm

Serving drinks at Sola Coffee Bar, an independent coffee shop operated by Old Town Bible Church.

Pastor of the Coffee Bar. An hour and a half ago, Heath Taylor, pastor of Old Town Bible Church in Scottsdale, Arizona, was sitting in Sola Coffee Bar.  “There were guys surfing the free wifi, some guys were listening to Ryan Adams on vinyl, and others were on the couch discussing Elliott Smith,” said Heath. 

What’s so unusual?  Heath’s church owns and operates the coffee bar. 

Being Missional in Scottsdale.  Three years ago, Heath Taylor came to pastor Old Town Bible Church in Scottsdale, Arizona.  Scottsdale is Phoenix’s affluent next-door neighbor. 

“We were trying to embrace the idea of ‘missional,’” Heath said.  “Everyone’s got a different definition of that.  We mean that we want our members to think as if they are strategically placed in their communities as missionaries to that community.” 

The church wondered how it could be missionaries to the community.  Like many young churches in high-cost cities, buying space is tough. 

 

Old Town Bible Church serves Old Town Scottsdale. (Image from arizonaresortsgetaway.com)

 

Saying No to Thomas Kinkade.  

“We were meeting in an elementary school.  We were a bunch of young families.  We didn’t have a church building, so we looked for community space,” said Heath.  “We wanted to be a ‘third place,’ so we found a great space and put our offices in the back.  We made the front a coffee shop.  There are no Thomas Kincade paintings.  No cheesy Christian art.  We intentionally wanted a place that non-Christians would feel comfortable.” 

Old Town’s approach is working.  “When you walk in, you see young, grunge, indie rock people.  You’ll see them hanging out.  We’ve got live music, and then there are moms with strollers, and business guys surfing on their Macs.” 

Cello Shots.  Michael plays the cello and recently stopped by Sola Coffee Bar, interested in playing some evenings.  “He found out we were a non-profit,” said Heath, “and then he had some questions about why we’d be a non-profit coffee bar.  We explained that we were a church and he wondered why a church would have a coffee bar.  It’s because we value local, and we value community.” 

“He’d never sit in a normal church office,” said Heath, “but at Sola, he’ll come back and hang out in my office.  He’d probably never come to church, but he’ll play music in my shop.  That’s been our success so far – to get into the lives of people that would never come to church.” 

Heath Taylor pastors Old Town Bible Church.

 Changing Believers.  Old Town’s missional approach isn’t just connecting them to non-believers; it’s changing believers.  “What we have found along the way is that this is addressing our people’s sense of their own identity,” said Heath.  “They feel like, ‘I shouldn’t just go to church, I should serve; I should be here.’”

Church Planting in the City of Churches. (Fellowship Bible Church, Jonesboro, AR)

In Arkansas on January 19 at 9 am

Chuck Gschwend and family. Fellowship Bible Church, Jonesboro, AR.

In the City of Churches. Jonesboro, Arkansas, was once known as the “City of Churches.”  “We’re in the south in the Bible belt and we’re trying to show people the real personality of Jesus,” said Chuck Gschwend, pastor at Fellowship Bible Church.  “Jesus has got humility and joy and optimism and courage.  There’s the religion that people encounter – the rules and legalism and self-righteousness.  We don’t want to be those kind of people.”

Loving the City.  “We’re just a small church and we started with a dream of loving our city and trying to see what the needs are and incarnating ourselves and emulating Jesus,” said Chuck.  “We’re a community of people out on a mission.”  The church’s mission is “Be the church for each other and our city in everyday life.”

Building Community Around Identity.  “We’re launching some missional communities around town,” said Chuck.  “We’re trying to cast the vision of people starting groups about identity: high school athletes, one in a poorer neighborhood, several with college adults, one with international students at the college.”  Chuck practices law and said, “I may start one with lawyers.  We’re just forming groups that will engage each culture.”

Living and Working Among the Poor.  “We’ve been putting one story of a changed life in front of our body every week,” said Chuck.  “Recently, we had a guy who used to be a big-time successful company owner.  He was a friend of mine and had been angry at God for years.  I was praying for God to bring him back.  Nine months ago, he came back.  He joined our lunch buddy program and started hanging out with young kids” whose dads weren’t around.  “Finally, he realized that none of them had any male influence in their life.  And then he realized that the best thing he could do for the kids was to get down among them and try to just be part of their lives.  So he’s now living and working among the poor in our city.”

Fellowship Bible Church: "Be the church for each other and our city in everyday life."

“You know,” said Chuck, “Nothing works out your faith like a God-ordained vision.”

And in the City of Churches, the Church is reconnecting with the City.

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