“I’m not the guy who goes to a conference and says, ‘Oh, I found the secret formula to saving our church,’” said Jeff Heerspink, pastor of F Street Neighborhood Church in Lincoln, Nebraska—one of two Christian Reformed church plants in Classis Heartland.
Located in the urban core of Lincoln, F Street Neighborhood Church does not look or operate like the established churches in its classis that have been around for decades. Jeff and his congregation face unique challenges, particularly in terms of sustainability.
“It’s a really impoverished area,” said Jeff. “It’s 95% rental. Most people are either young college students or older on a fixed income. A lot of drugs and prostitution. Addiction. All those things.”
Jeff notes God has provided financially from the very start—a donor bought the church’s building for them, and the congregation has received support from Classis Heartland and Resonate Global Mission.
Yet financial resources are only part of the equation toward sustainability.
“We as the church have a huge vision that we need to raise people in the neighborhood to be the next ministry leaders,” he said. “I believe they will be the mighty warriors for the neighborhood. But as romantic as that is, as exciting as that is, that’s a long journey with a lot of people who come and go.”
That is why Jeff participated in Cultivate, a year-long Resonate program that brings together a network of church planters for trainings and teachings on topics such as leadership development.
As Jeff notes, however, there is no “secret formula” for a sustainable congregation. That is why the network of ministry leaders learning together is key.
“I think sometimes you feel alone [as a church planter],” said Jeff. “Especially when you’re a church plant in the middle of a classis of established churches. It’s hard to find people who understand you … that’s why I think Cultivate is good. It brings you into a peer group of people to process and bounce some ideas off of.”
While Jeff participated in Cultivate in 2016, just as F Street was transitioning from a multisite of its parent church, Northern Lighthouse Ministries, Cultivate’s network is still there for him today. He has ministry leaders who work in similar contexts that he can call when he needs feedback on an idea or feels stuck. They are part of a network of church planters who are constantly learning together.
“We’re the church plant with hurting, broken and messy people,” said Jeff. “[Having that network] gives us ideas, it gives us encouragement, it gives us hope.”
A version of this story was originally published on The Banner.