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Spreading the Gospel in Ashland

Ashland, Oregon

Our session of elders unanimously and enthusiastically decided to move forward, and to set aside a year (2018) to explore planting a church in Ashland with church planter Erin Crowley. As when Joshua sent “spies” to explore Jericho before entering the Promised Land, we will prayerfully explore with the hope of planting a church in 2019. 

Why plant a new church?

The single best tool for reaching the lost is church planting. While existing churches tend to reach people who already attend church, new churches tend to reach new people—especially younger adults. New churches have a missionary energy, and partnering with a new church can revitalize existing churches. 

Why Ashland?

To share the gospel of Jesus Christ! Ashland is a mission field. Church attendance is less than 10% of the population—similar to estimates in China. At the same time, Ashlanders are spiritually seeking. Many explore various forms of spirituality. There is a significant college student population, who are seeking a life of significance. They are asking solid questions to which Jesus is the true answer. Erin senses strongly that the Holy Spirit is calling her to Ashland. 

What would the new church be like?

The vision is NOT to plant a church like Westminster, to compete with existing churches. The vision is like the early church: for Erin to train a team of missionaries, who will go to Ashland and form a community of disciples, to share the gospel of Jesus Christ through word and deed. 

This community may never have a building. It may never have staff-run programs. Families might seek to grow together, instead of in age-separated programs. The focus would not be attracting people to worship services, but rather reaching people with the gospel, training them in spiritual formation, and equipping them to be missionaries of Jesus Christ, in meaningful community with one another.

Sound familiar? This model is like the early church, or like missionary movements around the world—both of which have seen tremendous success at reaching new believers, producing deep disciples, and transforming communities. This model also fits the community of Ashland, where many people yearn for spirituality and significance but have not found it in a traditional church model.

Who is the planter?

Erin Crowley has a passion to see people enter God’s kingdom. She came to faith in a church plant as a young adult. She planned to enter medicine, but felt a calling to ministry, and went to Azusa Pacific for both college and seminary. Before graduating she volunteered at Flood (a young adult-focused church) and served at First Presbyterian San Diego. After seminary she served Rolling Hills Church near Portland as outreach director, and currently serves an interim role in a Methodist church in Vancouver, WA. She will be pursuing ordination in ECO.

How will this proceed?

First, our session has already prayerfully considered this idea over the past few months. They met with Erin, then held a discernment session of our College of Elders to broaden the pool of wisdom. They formed a team who examined Erin Crowley herself, checked her references, reviewed the Church Planter Assessment that ECO (our denomination) conducted on her, listened to feedback from the congregation, and prayerfully considered the idea. Both that team and our elders unanimously approved moving forward.

Now, we will take a year to explore. We will communicate with the congregation what the discernment team and elders have seen in Erin, and in this venture. Erin will come on staff at Westminster as a “church planting resident” in January. She will form a team of people to research the community, including its needs and mission possibilities. During this time, she will go through ECO’s training program for church planters, and will also be getting supplemental training in preaching, reformed theology, and other points as needed.

We will be getting training, too! Erin will also train both this team and other Westminster people in outreach and missional living. Some of these people will become a launch team for the new church. Others will remain at Westminster, to instill a more missionary mindset in the rest of us.

During that exploration year, there are clear goals and benchmarks that need to be met for the church plant to go forward (vision-casting, fundraising, forming a launch team, training, etc.). If these are all met, then in 2019 we will officially commission a launch team of roughly 25 people (including children) to start. That launch team will commit to be part of the church plant for one year, after which they can continue with the new church or return to Westminster.

For a few years after the new church launches, they will be under the accountability of our session and presbytery’s church planting committee. There will again be goals and benchmarks in place to measure their progress, until they are ready to be fully chartered as an ECO congregation. (This is similar to the process when Westminster was launched.) During the same period, Erin Crowley will be going through the process to be ordained in ECO.

This plant will cost money. Westminster will pay Erin’s residency salary and benefits: 100% in the exploratory year, 75% in the second year (when the plant launches), and 50% in the following year, plus some program expenses. We are working with the ECO denomination and another ECO church for Erin's training, and Erin will be raising support from outside Westminster as well. Once the new church launches, people in the church will need to support it. The total cost to Westminster is around $120,000 over three years, or roughly 4% of our budget. While the mission commission enthusiastically supports the project, we also hope the congregation will financially support this venture with above-and-beyond gifts.

What do we do now?

Pray!!! Your elders are discerning this now, so please pray for wisdom, for clarity, and for unity.

Learn. Take a look at the following resources: 

  • Erin Crowley's handout given to the College of Elders meeting, describing her vision for Eden Grace Church. (Click here.
  • Discernment Team's recommendation to session. This includes Frequently asked Questions (and answers!) from the congregation. (Click here.)
  • Proposal, approved by our Session of elders, for how we hope this will proceed. (Click here.
  • A summary of the ECO Church Planter Assessment of Erin. (Spoiler: it's terrific!) (Click here.)

Listen and Share. Listen for God’s voice and direction. Share your excitement, and share your good, hard questions. Above all, listen for the voice of the Spirit, and seek to speak the truth in love. If God is in this, we want to be part of it! 

Please do pray!