“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” — Jesus Christ, Acts 1:8 (ESV)
“My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else.” — The Apostle Paul, Romans 15:20 (NLT)
“The continual planting of new congregations is the most crucial strategy for the growth of the body of Christ.” — Tim Keller
“It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.” — Rick Warren
What is a “church planting movement,” or as missiologists abbreviate it, a “CPM?” According to David Garrison, it is “a rapid and multiplicative increase of indigenous churches planting churches within a given people group or population segment” (David Garrison, Church Planting Movements). I would add to Garrison’s definition that a CPM is motivated by an Acts 1:8 vision and marked by a growing obedience to follow the outward movement of the Holy Spirit. A church planting movement is first of all a Holy Spirit movement.
When I first heard the acronym, “CPM,” it was in context to international churches where missionaries were working. From that time, I started praying that God would let us be part of a church planting movement.
At first, God began to open doors for us to join other church planters in North Carolina in mutual encouragement and fellowship in a group that we helped start called the Innovative Church Community. I became a church planter coach with this group and experienced the joy of helping new church planters across the state. My wife and I had planted our church, so I already had the church-planter “bug.” But now, I was personally “infected” with the CPM bug! I wanted to see and be part of a church planting movement!
Then, around five years ago, God opened doors for us to work with church planters in Guatemala and Uganda. Now, not only was I going to help church planters, but we were sending our own church members on these short term trips. These members came home from these mission trips with the same CPM bug that had bitten me. I began to notice a stirring in our congregation at large as we sent more teams out each year.
Adam and Mandi, members in our church, became so moved by being part of our short term trips to Uganda, that they felt called to go for a longer stay. So, they raised support and we commissioned them to go and help with the churches in Kisoro, Uganda. They lived there with their young daughter for nearly a year working alongside Pastor George Mbonye, who has helped plant 18 churches there.
In the Summer of 2013, my son, Jonathan Combs, having finished seminary and working on staff at another church plant, came wanting us to help him plant a church in Eastern NC. I told him that learning to be a church planter with us would be more readily “caught,” than taught, so he agreed to be an unpaid church planter intern with us for a year. On October 1, 2014, we “hired” Jonathan to plant a church in Rocky Mount, NC. I say “hired” in parentheses because he had to raise his own financial support during his internship.
Jonathan, his wife Nicole, their three kids (number three arrived while there), and a number of members from our Wilson location started working together to plant a new church in Rocky Mount. They started meeting in homes, forming new small groups that we call, “Community Groups.” They had three “preview” services in the Summer months of 2015 to help them build momentum and fine tune. Then, on Sunday, September 27, 2015, Eastgate Community Church was launched, meeting in Rocky Mount Academy with 78 people in attendance. A new church was born!
Since then, we’ve seen a steady, but gradually increasing, movement of people wanting to be involved in church planting. For instance, a nurse named Mary, after coming home from a mission trip with us to Indonesia, had a conversation with the Lord where she sensed Him asking her, “So, you’ll go to Indonesia for Me, but not Rocky Mount?” Ultimately, she said, “Yes. I’ll go.” Packing her stuff, members of our church helped her move to a rental house in Rocky Mount. This past week, she quit her job at the Wilson hospital, having accepted a nursing position in Rocky Mount.
Another couple in our Wilson church, named Joseph and Amber, have recently caught the CPM bug too. Amber had gone on a recent mission trip with us to London to share Christ with the Muslim population there. She came home on fire. Joseph had ramped up his service at our Wilson campus, joining our lay staff, where he ultimately felt called to go and help with our Rocky Mount campus. Now they are considering selling their house and moving with their two children to Rocky Mount.
Recently, another couple in our church asked to talk with me. They are feeling called to move their family to work with one of our international church planter partners. I can’t name them now, but I’m sure you’ll hear about them someday soon.
Now, this coming Sunday, September 24, 2017, exactly 2 years from our Eastgate launch, we are having a Grand Opening service at our new location at 1113 S. Wesleyan Boulevard, Rocky Mount in a small store front that we are renting. Our members at both locations have been working hard over the last few weeks getting the place ready for worship. And it looks awesome! We just got the new sign installed today. so people driving by on highway 301 will know that we are there!
How would it look to be part of a church planting movement? Look around. We may be seeing the beginnings of one now.