Pentecost Offering

May 31, 2020 @ 8:00 am 5:00 pm EDT

In 2001 the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada embraced a bold vision: to start 1,000 new churches in 1,000 different ways by the year 2020. And we did it! We started 1,000 new churches… and counting!

Today, we have welcomed 1,034+ new faith communities into the Church. The Table around which we gather has grown in language, diversity, and life experience. Our church has been transformed by the movement of the Holy Spirit and an audacious vision to start new churches.

Celebrating 1,000 new churches… and counting!

Courageous leaders have answered the call to grow the Disciples family through the new church movement. They have given their hearts to reaching the underserved, welcoming new neighbors, and creating communities of love. And we, as a church, have committed to supporting those who have stepped out in faith to start new churches.

We celebrate these brave leaders and recommit to continuing to support their call. Because, together, we started 1,000 new churches… and counting!

Participate in the 2020 Pentecost Offering. Express your gratitude for what God has done and contribute to the continued work of starting more churches. Each year, half of what you give stays in your Region to support and sustain new churches near you. The second half helps train, equip, assist, and nurture leaders across North America through New Church Ministry programs. Your gift to the Pentecost Offering will help the movement continue.

For more Pentecost Offering resources, including a brief video, visit: disciplesmissionfund.org/special-offerings/pentecost.

“We walk with our community:” How new church planters are doing ministry

UrbanMission, a joint congregation of the United Church of Christ (UCC) and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), lies at the intersection of White Avenue and Ninth Street in Pomona, CA.

The city sits just north of a men’s prison, and is one of the areas in which formerly incarcerated individuals are released. South Pomona struggles with gang violence and drug abuse.

None of that was a deal-breaker for Rev. Al Lopez, the congregation’s Lead Pastor. He felt called to plant a new church where folks could be themselves and still belong. 

In this New Church Ministry interview he shares how UrbanMission reframes church in the 21st Century.

What is UrbanMission?

We are a church without walls. We have several ministries that are interconnected and interdependent… plus we get together and worship. 

In our Open Table gatherings, people from all walks of life create a sense of belonging and provide a free meal.

An Open Table gathering

Rev. Nora Jacob, our Restorative Justice Minister, goes inside Chino State Prison every week and facilitates several groups. She also heads up the Reentry Coalition, which assists, and provides a place for, people coming out of incarceration.

Rev. Nora Jacob serves communion outside.

In 2014, we founded UrbanMission Community Partners (a non-profit organization) with a vision and purpose that really aligns with that of the church, although it’s an independent entity.

So UrbanMission has been kind of like a seed planter. UrbanMission Community Partners takes those seeds and helps them grow.

What was the impetus for you to plant UrbanMission?

A few years before starting seminary, my theology began to change. As it expanded from the faith that I had grown up with, I found myself feeling less and less part of my community because of our different insights and interpretations of scripture. There’s a very dualistic way of understanding who’s in and who’s out. 

When I received the call to start a church, I began meeting with Rev. Dr. Felix Villanueva, the Southern California Nevada Conference of the UCC, Conference minister. I indicated I felt the call to plant a church, but one where I belonged. I couldn’t find a community that I felt a part of, where I could be myself. The Southern California Nevada Conference really offered me the opportunity. 

They essentially handed me the keys once we looked at the property. A congregation there had closed. Rev. Villanueva said, “You do what you feel God is calling you to do and just keep reporting to us. You’re part of our staff.” They’ve given us the freedom to really pursue this the way that we feel led. 

I am Mexican American. I’ve learned in being part of the immigrant community that you don’t look at what you don’t have. You look at what you do have and make the best of it. 

I had: an empty building, no people, no connections to the (local) community. So, I started looking at communities where I had connections.

I had just started seminary at Claremont School of Theology. I was meeting people who were passionate about several issues that overlapped with (the neighborhood’s) needs. (We discovered) an organic fit.

I happened to know Rev. Jacob through other regional work. She started our prison ministry.

I was introduced to Rev. Stephen Patten by the Disciples Seminary Foundation. Steven is our Community Wellness Minister, and in his role, he addresses drug abuse in our community.

My main focus is the Sunday morning congregation.

The three of us approach this planting of a new church as a team.

An UrbanMission worship service

This collaborative leadership model is one other new churches use. How has it helped you be successful?

Our congregation is in a community that’s financially challenged. So, we knew going into this that we needed to approach church planting in a very entrepreneurial way. We were not going to be looking at the income from the Sunday morning gatherings as the main revenue in order to sustain the ministry and all the other work that we do. That shapes our understanding of leadership and what each individual contributes. 

We recently had our very first church council meeting. It’s made up of people who had previously come to UrbanMission that had never even attended church, or had never been part of church leadership, or were against the thought of church. We’re playing into their strengths. 

It has been a learning curve, especially because this past year was particularly difficult for me on a personal level. I haven’t been able to do the kind of training that I wanted to do. But that’s the wonderful thing about church. When you empower people, they take the ball and run with it. 

So, they each bring their gifts — that has made us successful. The impact we’re having in our community has gone above and beyond what I ever thought possible.

How do you measure that impact?

We use some traditional metrics, such as: How many families are being fed? How many community groups are we housing in our Community Wellness Center? The more life-changing (measure) for me has been, how many lives have been transformed? 

This woman showed up at one of the nonprofit’s art shows, where we highlight art created by people who were formerly incarcerated. This woman looked very familiar. Eventually, Nora pulled me aside and said, “You need to hear her story.” 

We had her on camera sharing that she actually was one of our guests on Sundays. She was houseless and dealing with addiction, so the only reason why she was coming was because she was invited with no strings attached. Just welcomed. She took that and went from there, little by little. Now she is a counselor working with people that are still on the street. She’s completely turned her life around. She came back just to show her gratitude.

She said: “This is where my life changed because of the way that you greeted me and what you were providing.” 

Our first moderator is the very first person that I met when I started in Pomona. When he found out that I was a pastor, he said, “I don’t want to offend you, but I don’t trust pastors.” We spent about six months developing a relationship over coffee, over food, over imagining what could happen in that place. Eventually he told me, “I want to be the first member of your congregation.” 

He went from having some really serious legal issues that prevented him from working, to becoming a contractor, to owning his own company. He’s been very successful at it, giving great prices to a lot of our congregations in the area. His company was hired to remodel the Conference offices. 

All of that from a conversation that started with us being vulnerable with each other. Me saying, “Hey, I need help. I don’t know anything about property,” and him saying, “I don’t trust church. Here are all the things I don’t like about church.” And me saying, “Hey, here are all of the things that I don’t like about church, either. A lot of them match up. How can we change that?” 

Do you feel like being a hybrid church has helped you folks do ministry?

Both denominations have wonderful things going for them, and they both have their unique challenges. I think for those of us who are somewhere in between the Millennials and the Gen-Xers, we have the ability to be part of both worlds, speak both languages – think in both ways. It gives us freedom to not be shackled by some of the things that would hold others back. 

Case in point, I was asked, “What about baptism? What about communion?” Those two happened to be some of the contentious areas between both denominations. At that point, baptism was far into the future. But I said we will teach what both bodies believe, and then we will leave that up to the person to decide. 

Rev. Al Lopez baptizes a woman while Rev. Stephen Patten looks on.

Having the congregation be in community with other churches both within our denomination and outside helps them see the way that they’ve been growing up in their faith with us. Sometimes a congregation from a well-to-do area will drop off donations. In the conversations after, one of our people will say, “Did you notice that they kept saying that they’re helping us?” It’s a very transactional way of doing mission work. They are able to tell the difference between the way that we approach it and the way that some other churches do.

How is UrbanMission responding to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Our leadership struggled to find an appropriate response that would honor our commitment to our community, while also ensuring the safety of our volunteers. We decided to continue supporting our community via an “Outdoor Open Table.” This includes distributing dinner in to-go containers and limiting contact as much as possible. Our food pantry continues to work with our partners to provide emergency food services during this time.

Volunteers of an organization that partners with UrbanMission on its Open Pantry.

What do you see in UrbanMission’s future?

We’re just about to start talking with both denominations about the UrbanMission Training Center. We have learned lessons that can help a lot of churches, both established and new churches, even nonprofits. Several of us are trained coaches now, so we would do some coaching. And that’s actually really transformed the way I approach ministry, by just asking deep questions and just doing a lot of listening. It’s very much walking with, instead of trying to lead. I think that’s one of the things that the Church really needs to own.

Is there anything you want to add?

The importance of vulnerability. I mean, we follow a man that, depending on where your Christology is, made himself, time after time, vulnerable with those that he was with. It’s something that we’re trying to emulate. I think that has been part of UrbanMission’s success. We don’t see ourselves as an institution, but as part of a community.


UrbanMission, and the 1,034+ new churches–and counting–that have formed or become affiliated with the Disciples since 2001, are supported by the Pentecost Offering. Half of this Special Day Offering is used by New Church Ministry to coach and train new church leaders, and the other half is used by local Regions to sustain new churches. Join us in celebrating the 2020 Vision by making a gift online or through your congregation when this Special Day Offering is received on May 31 and June 7.

Amie Vanderford, the pastor of The LabOratory Church, a new faith community that provides healing for those with mental illness in Indianapolis.

The LabOratory Church provides a safe space for health, healing, and hope in Indianapolis

Rev. Amie Vanderford has experienced trauma.

She knows what it’s like to distrust others; how damaging isolation can be to recovery. That’s why she and her husband, Thaddeus Shelton, launched The LabOratory Church. This new Indianapolis church offers safe space for those with mental illness to worship, cultivate strong connections and seek healing.

New Church Ministry spoke with Pastor Amie about The LabOratory Church, one of the 1,034 congregations (and counting!) that have formed or become affiliated with the Disciples since they adopted the 2020 Vision in 2001. 

Tell us about your new church’s name: LabOratory.

It’s a play on words. It’s a lab. But it’s also oratory, like preaching. We’re a new church with a focus on mental health and building community in new ways.

We really want to reach people who have been hurt by the church, people who are afraid of others. They isolate because they’re like, “I just can’t deal with humanity anymore.” We’re trying to create a brave space where people can be fully real. If they want to come in sad or angry or frustrated, or happy or joyful, they could bring their whole selves. We’ll still work with them, no matter what feelings or problems they’re having. I feel like too many churches try to be positive all the time. It has its place to be positive, right? But we can’t really minister to people if we don’t also name what is wrong, and name what we’re struggling with and have support in our struggling times. So, really, it’s a place to be whole and do relational healing.

Trauma psychologist Judith Herman talks about the three stages of healing. The first is about naming the trauma. You work through it in the second stage, like in the therapist’s office. The third stage is relational healing, being in relationship with each other. That was the stage where I had stalled. I felt like if I was fully myself, people would reject me. We want to be the place where people find healing in relationship.

We understand from what you were saying that this was a personal journey of yours because you’ve dealt with mental health issues and your partner is trained in therapy. Are these issues particular to the neighborhood that you’re in? Or are you addressing a local context of a wider problem?

It’s definitely a wider problem. I think it’s cultural. You have to start with yourself and the people around you. It’s a concentric circle sort of thing. We name individualism as the problem. That’s what damages relationships. All the sins that break our relationships are based out of our culture saying that individualism and competition is the only way to survive. But that’s actually the only way to make sure that no one survives. We are created to be relational. So, we have to learn how to be in relationship with each other, despite the cultural norms telling us, “You can’t trust anyone, they’re always your competition. They’re gonna’ steal your stuff, they’re gonna’ steal your glory.” It’s a scarcity mentality, right? We’re trying to emphasize an abundance mentality, a mentality of mutuality, a mentality of generosity, compassion and, shocking, “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Is your team-leadership style a response to individualism? 

Absolutely. We’re really focusing on training people to internalize (the values of the community) before we give them more power over decision making. Most of the people on our launch team get it. But we’re in the early stages. We’re being very intentional about making sure that the values are the most important thing. We’re open to suggestions on how we do worship, on who we serve, all of that. But what we’re teaching people is that every question has to go through the lens of, is this supporting individualism or cooperation? Is this supporting everyone? Or is it self-serving? We ask those questions every time we decide to do something.

Pastor Amie and Thaddeus, on the right, pose with a local painter and artwork that he created at The LabOratory Church’s first worship service.

I’m the main person because Thaddeus has a second job as a therapist, but he is in charge of the mental health aspects. I am in charge of pastoral care and worship. But we talk everything through together. When I figure out what scripture to preach on, for example, we’ll sit and say, “What is going on in the world right now? What sort of mental health challenge fits what people are dealing with? And how does that tie to the scripture? And how does that tie to our mission?” I’ll read through his stuff and he’ll read through mine, and we’ll give each other feedback. 

How is your community responding to the soul searching and in-depth questions you’re asking them?

They love it so far. I think they’re really understanding how it helps the healing. People have been drawn to us, to be in our launch team. They may have associations with other churches even. But they really like the fact that we’re going so deep, it’s not a surface level thing, and that we’re creating a safe environment. We’ve had some conflict already, but I preached on conflict resolution because I wanted, from the beginning, the bar to be set, that we are still human. We are not going to agree on everything. We’re going to misunderstand each other sometimes.

The key to building this type of community is that we have to be brave enough to be honest, and really deal with conflicts as they arise instead of the traditional way of just pretending like it didn’t happen, pushing it down, and developing all of these intense feelings that come out in other ways later.

Who are the current members of The LabOratory Church, or are you not at that point yet?

We have a solid group of people, but I haven’t called them members yet, because we’re still figuring out how we want to name that and what that looks like. A lot of the people that we’re reaching, in addition to the unchurched people, are fellow ministers. We have one minister who’s very active, and she’s a chaplain, and she also serves at another church, but she comes to our church and Bible study as well. We have two elders from another church where I used to serve who are not members because they’re members of another church, but they’re still very instrumental in our programming. So, we’re still figuring out membership.

I’d say if we counted the people who were regular worshipers, we probably have a list between 15 and 20. So that’s a pretty good number for us. We’re not in it for high numbers, we’re just getting to the people that need it and want it. It’s a good mix of people too – younger, older, middle-aged, single families, gay, straight, Black, white.

Because you’re an interracial couple, do you think that people of color consider The LabOratory Church a safe space to worship?

We did a statement of values, which I posted on our website and is in every single bulletin. I usually go over it every single service. We are very clear about everybody being welcome. We named the inclusivity across economic statuses, races, genders, sexualities. We name that we want honesty. We want you to be fully who you are, and we will accept you. In addition to us being interracial, I think, having that constantly represented, stated explicitly, helps people know where they stand.

Eight months ago, you planned to lease a storefront by January, meet on Saturday nights, and have a New Church Ministry coach. Have you met those goals? 

The storefront required way too much work. So, we’re planted inside another church that hosts five congregations. I love that. That’s part of what we loved about being there. Emerson Avenue Baptist Church is right on the border of our neighborhoods. But it also meant that we could only use certain time slots. We now have worship online once a month. But we’re thinking about increasing (the frequency of worship) online to twice a month, (eventually alternating between) once a month online and once a month in person. I’ve also been meeting with a coach. It’s Steven Smith. I’ve been meeting with him for three months. He’s helping us address our bylaw and constitution questions. We’re slowly working toward our goals.

Pastor Amie now conducts her worship services, office hours, Bible studies, and more on Zoom.

You’d been having in-person gatherings in the neighborhood coffee shop, right? 

We did Bible study and my office hours at the coffee shop. The coffee shop that we used, Rabble Coffee, they have just an incredible group of people. They’re very concerned about the neighborhood, they let homeless people come in there without buying anything. They will give them food and they’ll give them clothing and they’re like a church. They’re perfect. They’re not religious, but they do the work that religious people should be doing. So, it’s a really great fit.

Both Thaddeus and you attended Leadership Academy. How did that event impact your ministry?

The packet on demographics that we received confirmed that we had picked the right neighborhood. I liked that we went over budgeting processes. That was very helpful. One of the best things was the relationships we made with fellow church planters. Being a church planter can be lonely. Bouncing ideas off of others going through the same thing was awesome.

What do you see in The LabOratory Church’s future?

I personally have connections with people all over the world, because I was a traveling photographer before I started doing this. I like the idea of us being a dual-type of church, where we do serve our local Indiana neighborhood, but that we really focus on our online ministry to reach people who don’t want to attend (traditional) church who still have questions. We’ve got our Givelify link, YouTube channel, and social media up. We’ve got our messaging out there so that people looking for a place where they can be themselves will find us. We could go global because we’re trying to do life in a new way. It’s not just about church, it’s about how can we live together better as humans.

-=-=-

New faith communities like The LabOratory Church are supported by the Pentecost Offering. Each year, half of what you give stays in your Region to support and sustain new churches near you. The second half helps train, equip, assist, and nurture leaders across the United States and Canada through New Church Ministry programs. Join us in celebrating the 2020 Vision by making a gift through your congregation or the Disciples Mission Fund website. This Special Day Offering is received on May 31 and June 7.


Celebrating 1,000 New Churches… and Counting!

In 2001 the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada embraced a bold vision: to start 1,000 new churches in 1,000 different ways by the year 2020. And we did it! We started 1,000 new churches… and counting!

Today, we have welcomed more than 1,034 new faith communities into the Church. The Table around which we gather has grown in language, diversity, and life experience. Our church has been transformed by the movement of the Holy Spirit and an audacious vision to start new churches.

Courageous leaders have answered the call to grow the Disciples family through the new church movement. They have given their hearts to reaching the underserved, welcoming new neighbors, and creating communities of love. And we, as a church, have committed to supporting those who have stepped out in faith to start new churches.

We celebrate these brave leaders and recommit to continuing to support their call. Because, together, we started 1,000 new churches… and counting!

Participate in the 2020 Pentecost Offering. Express your gratitude for what God has done and contribute to the continued work of starting more churches. Each year, half of what you give stays in your Region or Area to support and sustain new churches near you. The second half helps train, equip, assist, and nurture leaders across the U.S. and Canada through New Church Ministry programs. Your gift to this Special Day Offering will help the movement continue.

Celebrating 1,000 new churches… and counting!