It was in the fall of 2003, more than nine years ago, when presbytary home missions representatives and the staff of the denominational Committee on Home Missions decided on a bold course of action. Ten cities in North America were chosen where the OPC had no presence. And it was determined to lay those places before God and the church in prayer with the hope that he would raise up new churches there. While most of our new churches have been started by helping mature congregations begin daughter churches or assisting interested groups who approach us, it was felt that it was time to have a second, more intentional approach to our church-planting efforts.
For five of those chosen cities—Chicago, Detroit, Miami, New York, and Washington, D.C.—we zeroed in on the urban centers. For the other five— Memphis, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Tampa, and Toronto— we targeted the sprawling metropolitan areas, where we had few or no contacts. With clear resolve to undertake this difficult task through hard work and extra funding, those ten places were publicized in printed materials, talked about in presbytery meetings, and prayed about in congregations all over the OPC.
Over the intervening years, we have watched in awe as God has powerfully answered our prayers and blessed our efforts. The first to develop was Providence OPC in Bradenton, Florida, at the southern end of the greater Tampa area. When organizing pastor David Smiley arrived in the fall of 2005, he was greeted by a group of nine families who had been divinely assembled where no contacts had existed a year before. Today a thriving congregation worships in their own 8,600-square-foot building.
Then it was Mission OPC in St. Paul, Minnesota – one of the Twin Cities, along with Minneapolis. Although the following up of periodic requests for an OP presence there had met with failure for two decades, something was different when organizing pastor John Shaw arrived in the summer of 2006 to work with just three other families who shared a desire for Reformed worship and witness within the city of St. Paul, rather than in the surrounding suburbs. Five years later, the growing, multicultural congregation of eighty was able to purchase the historic 17,000-square-foot Warrendale Presbyterian Church building, where they had rented meeting space since their start, in the Como Park neighborhood in the very center of St. Paul.
In 2008, an unexpected call came from Christ Presbyterian Church (PCA) in the north St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood, inquiring about joining the OPC. By the end of that year, God had opened a new OP frontier in Missouri with that mature congregation’s presence. Two years later, the session of the now Christ OPC responded to a call for help three hours south in Doniphan, where Kent Harding is now the organizing pastor of Sovereign Grace Reformed Church. And earlier this year Gateway OPC began in the south suburbs of St. Louis, where Todd Wagenmaker serves as the organizing pastor.
In the spring of 2009, John Ro became the organizing pastor of Gospel Life Presbyterian Church in the Loop area of the city of Chicago, and that fall Brad Hertzog began his labors as organizing pastor of Reformation Presbyterian Church in Queens, New York. And finally, in the fall of 2010, Mark Winder arrived in the Memphis suburb of Collierville to be the organizing pastor of Wolf River Presbyterian Church.
Not everything we tried turned out well. Things didn’t work out for Chris Sandoval, who labored to plant a Spanish-language church in Chicago from 2006 to 2011, or for Jorge Barros, who worked among Portuguese-speaking immigrants in Toronto from 2004 to 2008, or for Josh Curl, who tried to establish an inner-city church in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C., from 2008 to 2010. But their labors and our support were sincere and significant.
Isn’t it amazing how much God has blessed our prayers and our plans! We certainly have a long way to go in our efforts to establish new churches in urban centers. But our praying and planning continue. So don’t count out Detroit, Miami, and Washington just yet. Jesus reminded us to pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Let’s pray and plan some more.