The “Wonderful Evolution”

bootcampBob Goldenberg had never liked the idea of sending 100 people from a stable congregation to another town to plant a church. His personal goal was to pastor a church of 1,000 people before what he calls “hiving off members.” But God changed that notion for Pastor Bob with one visit to a “BootCamp,” led by Church Multiplication director, Mickey Noel. As a result, Circle Drive Alliance Church in Sidney, New York, is reaping the benefits of committing to plant a daughter church. 
 
Before coming to Sidney, Pastor Bob had roots as a church planter at Community Alliance Church in Wickenburg, Arizona, a rural cowboy town. After 15 years the church had grown to 250, was healthy and the Goldenbergs felt “released and ready to go somewhere else.” Pastor Bob adds, “We were ready to go to a place that had seasons and snow—something different. We sent out resumes…and God made it clear He wanted us in Sidney.” 
 
Subsequently, on July 4, 2000, Pastor Bob joined the staff of Circle Drive Alliance Church. For at least 15 years, the church had remained steady at 160 attendees or adherents. Pastor Bob says, “It was a strong church, but they had realized that they weren’t effective in reaching their community. This was a church that had experienced many first-time pastors. Some had been there for many years and, although they had provided a stable environment, it had been their first church.” Many Nyack College students “cut their teeth” there to earn the one-year church experience requirement for ministry before going to the mission field. 
 
This created an environment, the pastor says, of being safe. But now the congregation was ready for a seasoned pastor; someone with experience who could take them “beyond the plateau.” Pastor Bob began ministry there, and soon they made the decision to switch from a traditional worship service to a contemporary one. Later, when they went to three worship services they added back in a traditional service. In the process, they also launched a successful Saturday night service… at that time unheard of in the area. 
 
This “area” of Upstate New York, in which Sidney (pop. 3,500) is located, is made up of numerous villages that make up the suburban landscape. A rural community, Sidney is blue collar and middle class. Another item of note for evangelical activity—18,000 people dwell within 10 miles of the church in several surrounding villages. And, notes Pastor Bob, “These are large families, sometimes four generations strong within the church.” He adds, “We have a lot of stability and history.” 
 
Circle Drive Alliance has taken on the model of the “Purpose-driven Church,” which the pastor says, “has been useful for us in making the ministry work. We’ve more than doubled to from 250 to 300. We’ve added a service every year that we’ve been here. The budget has grown strong, and missions giving is up!” 
 
So what does all this success mean? Pastor Bob contends that what he learned at “BootCamp” a few years ago contributed to the growth that Circle Drive is now experiencing. He describes his story: “My history in the C&MA includes ‘1,000 more by ’94.’ ‘Easter 100,’ and several other C&MA church-planting endeavors. I believed we had too many unhealthy small, anemic churches. I felt we needed to grow the healthy churches before we should concentrate on planting new churches. I wanted my church to have 1,000 people before even thinking of starting a new work.” 
 
But the Church Multiplication director in the Northeastern District, Jon Martin, was persistent when suggesting to Pastor Bob to rethink his mindset. Pastor Bob says in retrospect, “Jon would not leave me alone, so I said I would go to BootCamp just to get him off my back.” 
 
The purpose of the BootCamp was to learn more about the C&MA’s plan for planting churches. Pastor Bob says, “I said no, but they talked me into it and I was happy to go to the hotel to sit in the jacuzzi.” His attitude changed almost immediately. 
 
Mickey Noel, the U.S. C&MA’s director for Church Multiplication, spoke at the BootCamp. He expressed the commitment that the Alliance supported the idea of growing the mother church into a strong, healthy church before the “birth process.” Pastor Bob learned that the goal was not to “hive off congregates but rather to develop a leadership team to provide leadership to the daughter church.” 
 
Pastor Bob became willing to listen to what God had to say. He says, “I realized if God was speaking to me, I would not be stubborn. God was changing my mind. I think it shows a wonderful opportunity of what can happen when a district and local church partner together. The Northeastern District is giving us finances up front, and we will assume responsibility at the back end. For me, it’s been a ‘wonderful evolution.’” 
 
Upon Pastor Bob’s return from BootCamp, he realized God had been preparing the heart of an elder, Kelvin McKnight, for ministry. While Pastor Bob had been away, God spoke to Kelvin about planting a church 20 miles east of Sidney in the university town of Oneonta. “Clearly,” Pastor Bob says, “God was in this.” 
 
The C&MA has endeavored to plant a church in Oneonta three times, most recently 20 years ago… and each never “made it out of infancy.” Despite the challenge, they began to pray and in so doing have a plan to plant a church in that nearby community in six months. Associate Pastor Kelvin has become a licensed C&MA pastor and he, along with wife, Penny, will head up the church after training at Circle Drive Alliance. 
 
For now, they will start small groups that will become the fifth worship service of the mother church. Pastor Bob says, “We think we have a big shot at having a healthy church there. We are in the process of pulling this together, and already we have six strong families from that area who come to our church, with 30 to 40 percent of our visitors originating from Oneonta. I see that as a way for God to give us the nucleus for what we hope to start there. We’re getting almost a built-in congregation before we ever even get started. It’s exciting!” 
 
Pray as those at Circle Drive seek to follow God’s leading and plant a church.

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