Untraditional Church Plant Settings

I teach church planting at a prison. Some men are serving life sentences, and others are incarcerated for decades. Their future church plants may be in other prisons if they are transferred, or on the streets if they are released. Nobody anticipates traditional church settings. Recently, I told them about my first few plants. 

As a brand new Christian, I volunteered at an Apache reservation in Arizona. That summer, I found myself in a church there while the pastor prayed about starting a new church in a nearby community. I asked him to explain why we were only praying, since the church was already equipped with Bibles and many unemployed people. He didn’t take my question well, but later decided that we would start the following week, and he put me charge of their first outreach.

Two years later I left my home church to attend seminary where I helped start two churches in three years. In neither case did I have any money, training, or experience. In the first situation, I joined a two-person house church team right after arriving at seminary. I still laugh about arranging the chairs for aisle and alter.

The second plant was with new Cambodian refugees. When I visited a church near campus one Sunday, I was surprised to see a group of 50 Cambodians petitioning the host congregation to help them become a new church. I knew the group leader, so the pastor, whom I had never met, asked me to make it happen.

By the time I left seminary, I had formal training, little experience, and still no money. Someone gave me a never-ending supply of bread, pastry and chips, which I used to negotiate with an apartment manager in exchange for using his courtyard to start another Cambodian church. Amazingly, it worked.

These stories encouraged my class. They told me that now church planting seemed real to them.  They know that God can start churches anywhere and any way He wants to do it. I am imagining the transformation God can cause when these men are released through his Spirit.