Roundtable interview with Chad Rieselman, Dan Trippie, Christopher Baldwin, and Ryan Kozey
by Amy Tartick
Have you ever wondered how many churches actually meet for worship services on a Sunday morning in Buffalo, the surrounding suburbs, even in the whole region of Western New York? Do we really need more locations and opportunities for people to hear the gospel? After all, how many people live in this region who still need a church home? The Church of WNY took a serious, prayerful look at these and other questions before developing the Church Planting Initiative (CPI).
On Mission had the opportunity to connect with several members of the CPI selection team who will better introduce us to this crucial new initiative and what is happening in our region.
On Mission: What is the Church Planting Initiative and why is it needed?
Chad Rieselman: CPI is an outcome of the collaboration of all the churches involved in everything that God has been doing through the Church of Western New York. There was already momentum in church planting through a collaboration of efforts of the greater kingdom work of a few churches.
Ryan Kozey: Over the past eight to ten years, we’ve seen roughly 25 churches planted throughout the region, which essentially has given us a beachhead of one church plant for every 50,000 people. CPI is designed to plant churches in greater Body partnership here in our region. The significance is the churches that have been planted possess an intention to see that every man, woman, and child has repeated opportunities to hear, see, and respond to the gospel message of Jesus Christ. CPI is helping the Church of WNY in what we call “Phase Two,” which is to plant one church for every 25,000 people in the region. Ultimately, we desire to see one church expression for every 1,000 people in this region, with that particular DNA. We have a lot of work to do, and this offers us a synergistic opportunity to do this with great intentionality together.
On Mission: How is CPI different from traditional church planting? What are the benefits and challenges you see in CPI’s approach?
Dan Trippie: CPI seeks to maintain a delicate balance of diversity and unity among partners. Many church planting movements can be monolithic; they seek to plant only one style of church. CPI is unique because we partner to plant churches that are one in the gospel, but different in form and tradition. We have partnered with Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Wesleyan and non-denominational churches. What unites CPI is an understanding of the gospel and a conviction that every man, woman, and child should have an opportunity to receive or reject the gospel.
Christopher Baldwin: Also, traditionally a church plant is a work done by itself or in a denominational connection. In CPI, you have an inter-church connection that is yielding more resources in finances. In addition, over the last 10-15 years we have a number of pastors who have successfully done the work of church planting. Now CPI has the tremendous resource of experience that can help other pastors and churches. The challenge is focusing on what brings us together and not on what separates us. There are some theological differences like women in ministry, and speaking in tongues, but when we can see what we all have in common is salvation in Christ, then there is much work that can get done for the kingdom. The greatest benefit for me is corporate prayer. When churches are working together, we are then praying together. The more prayer you have, the more effective you will be in what is taking place. God’s favor, anointing, and presence are present where there is unity.
Chad Rieselman: Another great benefit of CPI is our ability to resource church plants and planters with a larger network of support and relationships that go beyond the building of the team and the launch of the church. It’s more than just cash resources. It’s assessing, training where needed, and partnerships in ministry that go far into the future. There can be challenges to such a high level of collaboration across denominational lines for obvious reasons. However, the wide bandwidth of Church traditions and backgrounds that sit around the leadership table are creatively able to navigate those differences so that our ability to build the kingdom is not limited by concerns about compromising our convictions or crossing core doctrinal lines.
On Mission: What are greater Body partnerships and how key are they to church planters?
Ryan Kozey: Most church planters don’t realize how much they need partnership until they actually transition from dream phase to action phase. We have been around long enough to understand this need. While the planter might not know that in praxis, we are there for them when they discover that reality. We have more than 40 churches in the region that want to plant churches together. It is incredible to have that sort of base to build on. The cohort of relationships emerging from this intentional effort has been incredibly exciting!
Christopher Baldwin: A greater body partnership like the one we are seeing in Western New York sets a culture and atmosphere that encourages risk for there is a greater network of support. Just as prayer begets more prayer, church planting begets more church planting. Also, once you have church planting associations, networks, and denominations discovering the partnership and kingdom culture that exist in WNY, I believe they will be looking to send their very best to begin new works in our region.
Chad Rieselman: Christ is the head of His Church; His family is the Body. The family spans over many denominations, traditions, and backgrounds. A greater Body partnership to me is the setting aside of the things that make us different, and a bringing together of the things that hold us as the common Body of Christ so we can accomplish greater works together.
On Mission: How did you first become involved with the Church Planting Initiative, and what drew you to accept an invitation to serve on the CPI selection team?
Christopher Baldwin: I am guessing I was invited to be involved since I have a background of assessment, training, and coaching of church planters in our denomination. My choice to be a part of CPI was about relationships. I joined because of the relationship I have with Pastor Jerry Gillis, and then I looked forward to getting to know the other members of the CPI team. I heard such great things about their church and them as leaders; I was honored to be a part of them. I have learned a lot about ministry and church planting in particular in our time together.
Chad Rieselman: The church I lead, Lumber City Church, was one of the church plants that benefited from the opening wave of mobilization of resources through The Chapel’s efforts to plant churches in WNY. That led to a deeper level of relationship with the leadership there and access to a wider level of relationships to many other like-minded church leaders. Lumber City Church helped to create the Bridge Church Multiplication Network, which in itself is a network of church-planting churches for the Assemblies of God right here in Western New York. We have already said “yes” to do all we can with greater Body partnerships to see God’s kingdom multiply through churches that plant churches and revitalize churches in this region. These and other circumstances lead me to be very close to a larger conversation for church planting in Western New York, which I believe put me right in the middle of the CPI team, a team that I am honored and humbled to be a part of.
On Mission: For you, what was the most challenging aspect of selecting recipients for this year’s CPI grants?
Ryan Kozey: You want to help everyone, and you don’t have the resources to do that. It just stinks when you have to say to candidates that they have not been selected. We had 14 applications this year, and we invited nine to a vision night in February to share the vision they feel led by God to pursue. We were able to fund five and offer special gifts to the other four that weren’t chosen. I would love to be able to help more.
Dan Trippie: Finances! I hate to sound carnal, but all of the candidates cast a compelling vision, and I wish we had unlimited funds to disburse. The number of strong candidates is encouraging, and I can only wonder how much more could be done if there were more resources. As we seek to enter year two of CPI, I am praying God will entrust us with more financial resources so we can fund more planters.
Christopher Baldwin: The CPI grants are an investment. They are investment of partner churches, therefore they are an investment of God’s resources. The most challenging aspect was making sure that we were the best stewards of the dollars given. There is no way of knowing fully what the future holds, but there are ways of assessing where you think the funds are best spent and what situations have the greatest chances of success and impact for the kingdom. We are excited about the opportunities before us, and how God is going to use this initiative moving forward.
Chad Rieselman: I am easily excited to hear everything that God is doing, everywhere, big or small. I sometimes see more opportunities than there are resources to meet the needs of these opportunities. You just kind of want to give everyone who is pursuing God’s best for His vision something to work with. They are all so very passionate for what God is doing in their city. I pray for them daily.
On Mission: Could you tell us about the most interesting church planter application you received?
Ryan Kozey: For me, it was this Anglican pastor, who wanted to reach out to lapsed Catholics in the City of Buffalo. In some cities, you hear that and think, “Nice try, no cookie.” But here in Buffalo, you think about our context and you say, “that might work.” We ended up supporting him and the work that he feels called to do. I’m thankful that God has brought him, a native son, home to Buffalo to plant.
Christopher Baldwin: I guess for me, it was the application of the Anglican Church. John Wesley, from whom our denomination derives its origin, was for all of his life an Anglican. He sought to bring reform to this very traditional church. I am excited to see how God will use a traditional form, which many people are used to from their upbringing, to reach people of the region. I am excited about all the work God is doing in our region.
Chad Rieselman: There was so much passion in what God was leading so many of these folks to do. There was one application that sort of spelled out how God wanted to provide not just a church but an entire medical campus. You can imagine the kind of resources that that would take, but you might not imagine the boldness of someone to actually go ahead and believe that God could provide that through something like CPI.
On Mission: What did you find compelling about the church planters who received grants this year? What singled them out from the other applicants?
Dan Trippie: Clarity and conviction. Planting a church is hard work –really, hard work! At the beginning of a church plant, people are excited and expectations are high. It is not long before one realizes the hard work of preaching, exhorting, praying, and evangelizing. False conversions, spiritual warfare, the loss of people, and constant pressure begin to take a toll on the church planter and his family. Conviction and clarity on the gospel keep a planter plowing in the hard soil. The planters who received grants showed strong conviction and clarity of vision. These are important aspects of church planting.
Christopher Baldwin: Two things that are the most important, in my mind, are vision and plan. The first was church leaders who seem to have a good vision for what they saw developing as a church. The second was the most strategic and effective plans for how to get the work of church planting done.
On Mission: Over the next five years, how do you see the vision of CPI fleshed out and possibly change local church planting and genuinely impact the overall “lostness” of WNY?
Ryan Kozey: Well, first off, I think that we must realize that the goal for the region is the saturation of the gospel. Church planting isn’t the goal, but it’s a way that gets us to the goal. We want to be careful not to put church planting at the center of our strategy. That being said, it’s an important part. Over the next five years, especially if we increase in the diversity of planters throughout the region, I am confident that we will increase the saturation of the gospel throughout the efforts of those who are connected to CPI. God ultimately controls what happens with “lostness.” My prayer though—that as we saturate, hearts are drawn from all over by the irresistible grace of God. I think that CPI is going to be a strategic part of that process.
Christopher Baldwin: In Church history, anytime there was a renewal or revival that came to a region it began with prayer that led to church planting. What happens in prayer and then church planting leads the way to a renewal that comes to existing churches who want to be relevant in the day. Eventually you have new churches and existing churches incorporating the most effective ministry strategies and people in both kinds of churches focused on reaching those who are far from God and spiritually unresolved. I believe we will see the continuation of church-planting efforts along with the revitalization of existing churches. I am working on a proposal right now of a ministry called Cultivate: Planting and Growing Healthy Churches. This would be open to any church leaders who would like to meet with other church leaders to first pray, and then collaborate on implementing the most effective church strategies of our days. To come together and talk about outreach, assimilation, discipleship, small groups, visitor follow up, getting people plugged into ministry, and more. I believe what is growing is not only church planting, but also regional prayer and church revitalization. As these continue, we will see the “lostness” of the region genuinely impacted. I believe more and more people are waking up to the fact that we have an opportunity to leave a region very different from the one we inherited. This is exciting. In the days of Charles Finney, WNY was known as the “Burned-over district.” Many in the nation felt that quite possibly, because of all the revival that was experienced in Western New York, every person was a Christian in our region. This is the goal of gospel saturation that we may find ourselves in a similar place once again. It is God who does it, not us; we just join Him in it.
Chad Rieselman: My hope is that we continue to dig deep into the reality of the “lostness” of our city. I believe that will lead us to more conclusions for ways to engage that last “lostness.” I would like to see us invest in some of the existing structures that are struggling and need revitalization. I would like to see CPI become as much in the church multiplication arena as we are in church planting, or to produce another arm of the Church of WNY that creates streams of resources and relationships for churches that need revival.