A City and a Hill

Overseas missionaries have always had to work to understand the culture of an area—the demographics and the needs—in order to contextualize the gospel to that culture. Churches that focus on multiplication, like College Heights Christian Church in Joplin, Missouri, use a similar approach. 

“Multiplication through church planting means you have to understand that community’s needs, and those needs change depending on the neighborhood,” says Lead Pastor Sy Huffer. “One neighborhood may have a meth issue. Another has a greed issue. Another a loneliness issue. The various needs change your strategy. It doesn’t change the gospel, but it changes the way you communicate the gospel.”

And sharing the good news is a priority for the folks at College Heights. They strive to plant here, near and far away, starting first in the four-state area around Joplin: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri. 

“As a church, we have become convicted about the 260,000 unchurched people within an hour of Joplin. We believe the best strategy to reach them is through a movement of multiplication,” says Huffer, noting that although Joplin is home to a lot of church buildings, not many are thriving. “We’re seeing a lot of rural and local neighborhood churches dying.” 

College Heights also wants to plant across the country in what they call regional hubs. These hubs would be cities like Joplin, which has 50,000 people living in the city center, yet swells to 250,000 during the week. Huffer says that there are similar cities across the United States that can influence a whole region, but few churches are involved in church planting because people are scared. 

“There’s a scarcity mindset that if we send people to a church we just planted, we’ll lose all of our people or we’ll not have enough money to pay our bills or our staff. We have to let go of the mindset that multiplication is going to destroy our church,” he says. “The harvest isn’t the problem. The harvest is plentiful. The workers are few. We need more workers.” 

The church is situated on a hill that overlooks a junior college, and the congregation is committed to raising up college students to be workers for the harvest. 

“We value reaching college students,” says Huffer. “We love them and think they’re worth pursuing.” 

In addition to its growing local ministry, the church hasn’t lost sight of its commitment to carrying the gospel to other nations. Over the past 20 years, College Heights has sent teams to the Rifians in North Africa and to the Pashtun people in Central Asia, both unreached people groups that are less than 2% Christian. 

During the pandemic, the church’s culture changed in a way that set it up better for rapid multiplication in individual homes.

“Most people are not unchurched, they are de-churched, meaning that they abandoned church because they had a bad experience,” says Huffer. Those who choose to take baby steps back into Christianity mainly would attend a Sunday morning worship service where they could blend in with a crowd. In light of COVID-19, however, some people no longer feel comfortable walking into a room filled with strangers. Many would rather go to a friend’s house for a small gathering. 

In addition, the pandemic normalized online worship. In fact, College Heights had already moved their services online in November 2019 because college students are online.

“You’ve got to get to the intersection of the places where people are, and the intersection of the world is online right now,” says Huffer. “We don’t see that changing.”

Christy Heitger-Ewing
Christy Heitger-Ewinghttp://christyheitger-ewing.com/

Christy Heitger-Ewing is a contributing writer for Outreach magazine. In addition, Christy pens the “Now & Then” column in Cabin Life magazine. She also writes regularly for Christian publications such as Encounter, Insight, and the Lookout. She is the author of Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat.