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.”
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.”