“Bill Hybels coined a phrase years ago that is true of me: The rate at which I was doing the work of God was destroying the work of God in me."
What are the roots of NewSpring Church?
In 1996, I was taking an apologetics class. The professor was James Emory White, the pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C.
One night he got up and said, “I am going to talk to you about the most effective form of evangelism in the world.” Well, right there he had my attention. That’s like telling a crack addict, Tonight I’m going to give you a 100 pounds of crack. I will never forget the words that came out of his mouth: “The most effective form of evangelism in the world is church planting.” He talked for an hour and a half about the church in the book of Acts. I began to see that God’s plan for the church wasn’t for it to be an institution, but a movement that literally changes the world. I mean, the whole thing started because a dead guy came back to life. What could be more exciting than that?
What’s the difference between a movement and an institution?
A movement is focused on moving forward. To move the church forward means not holding onto the past. We desire progress. We want the numbers to go up. When some people object, “It’s not about the numbers,” I say, “Hey man, why don’t you empty out your checking account and give me all your money if it’s not about the numbers?” The numbers matter to God because people far from him are of far greater value than money. I also believe a movement helps people in your church take their next steps in their walk with Christ. The church can’t move forward unless the people are moving forward in their love for God.
When did you fully understand your gift for evangelism?
In 1998, I was working at the church in Anderson [S.C.]. The church was not paying me much at all. I had an apartment provided to me free at the college, where I was a residence hall supervisor. Somebody came to me and asked if I would start a Bible study in that apartment. I looked at my schedule and told him the only time I could do it was 11 p.m. on Saturdays. He said, “I’m not sure anyone will come,” and I said, “That will make it easy then. We just won’t do it.” The first week we had eight people, the next week 22, the next week 64 and the next 150. We started to realize, Hey man, this is unique.
What was unique about it?
God began to show me that I had the ability to teach and lead people. A lot of the people who were coming were not Christians, and the thing I consistently heard from everyone was that they understood what I was talking about. For the first time, Christianity made sense to them. Because I want people to understand, I speak in a language people use. I work real hard to try to make sure to put the cookies on the bottom shelf.
Was there an “aha” moment involved in NewSpring’s plant?
In 1999, I felt the Lord speaking: “It’s time to start a church.” It didn’t really make much sense on paper. I was 28 years old. I was engaged to be marred. I was in debt over my eyeballs. I was a seminary dropout. I didn’t really feel qualified, just called. I fought it for a long time. A friend of mine took me to lunch one day and asked me a question that changed the entire course of my life. He said to me, “What would you be willing to attempt for God if you knew you could not fail?” I just looked at him and said, “I would start a church.” And he said, “You’re a coward if you don’t.”
What did the early days of NewSpring look like?
About 15 people started meeting in October of 1999. We didn’t start a church because our community needed another one. I would literally drive by six or seven churches on my way to the living room we were meeting in. It just meant doing things differently. I honestly think one of the biggest problems in the church world today is an obsession with answering questions no one is asking. Church leaders respond by saying, “Well, they should be asking those questions.” The reality is they don’t. We want to engage people like Jesus did and meet them where they are and then bring them where they need to be.