When I was newly pregnant with my first child, I was overjoyed yet overwhelmed with the unknown. I wanted to understand each stage of pregnancy. The classic “What to Expect When You Are Expecting” had a permanent place on my bedside table. The weekly drawings of each stage of development helped me envision my baby. I found out what was coming in the next trimester by peeking ahead. The book also offered suggestions for the challenges along the way.
Church Extension has a similar guide, The BFC Church Planting Guide, for our church planting teams who birth baby churches. Like eager expectant moms and dads, Church Extension has been watching our newest church plant in Topton go through the five stages of church planting. Here’s a brief overview of the five stages and how Topton in particular has been doing.
Stage 1: Identification and Approval
Pastor Gene Smith of Whitehall BFC grew up in Topton, PA. Although he attended a church in town, he did not hear the gospel clearly preached until later in life after he moved away. Gene was burdened for his hometown and the lack of gospel presence in the community.
Gene Smith shared this burden with Randy Grossman from Grace BFC, Reading, PA. Randy also grew up in Topton and desired to see a strong gospel witness there. Together they approached Director David Gundrum. “Would you consider a church plant in Topton?”
Director Gundrum had Ray Bertolet, Assistant Church Planter, complete a demographic survey in Topton to study the population growth, the population statistics, and the current church presence. He interviewed sixteen shop owners, realtors, essential workers, school employees, local government officials, and community leaders to see how receptive they would be to having a new church in town. All indicators showed Topton needs a church.
David Gundrum gathered a prayer team including Gene Smith, other men from the Lehigh Valley, and pastors from the Berks County Region. Through prayer time together, the pastors from New Life BFC, Oley, PA, expressed that the Lord was leading them to participate in a major way by providing people and resources for the Topton church plant.
Once the need for the church plant and the necessary resources were determined, the potential mission was presented to the Board of Church Extension. The Board voted to officially open the mission. There was just one last step: identifying and calling a church planter. The Topton group continued to meet and pray that God would provide a church planter. Dan Hoffstetter, who grew up at Calvary BFC, Coopersburg, PA, and was pastoring in Massachusetts, had a desire to move back to the area and to church plant. Dan reached out to Pastor Tom Shorb from Calvary to share with him. Tom Shorb knew about the potential project in Topton and got Dan connected with Director Gundrum. Pastor Gundrum and the assessment team interviewed Dan and his wife, Heidi, and found them to be the answer to prayer. Both Dan and Heidi have a strong desire to see people come to Christ and to build a church to the glory of God.
Stage 2: Cultivating/Gathering Stage
In October 2020, Dan and Heidi with their two young children bought a home in Topton. They are attending New Life BFC while sharing the vision of the Topton church plant in order to gather a Core Group Launch Team. In December 2020, Pastor Dan Williams of Trinity BFC, Blandon, PA, hosted a Topton BFC Vision meeting so Dan Hoffstetter could introduce himself and share the vision of the Topton church with people who attend the Berks County Region churches.
Now Dan Hoffstetter is in the midst of gathering a Core Group who will pray for Topton and consider attending and serving at the Topton church plant. “So far it looks like there are about 10-15 people from our Core Group who live in or right outside Topton. There are also several people who may not be on our Core Team, but are willing to help with outreach and marketing who live in or near Topton,” said Dan Hoffstetter.
At the same time that the team is coming together, Dan and Heidi are also getting to know the community of Topton. Dan said, “In an attempt to get to know our neighbors we have made it a habit of playing at the playground and meeting the families there. We have a close relationship with one mom in particular. We regularly go to the diner and coffee shop in town and meet the employees and regulars. We delivered cookies and Christmas cards to a few of our neighbors which has led to some exchanges of numbers and tentative plans to chat some more once COVID restrictions relax a little. I also do regular prayer walks through town in order to get to know the area better and to meet anyone who happens to be out and about.”
The Cultivating/Gathering stage can take up to two years. However, because the Lord has provided so much support from the region, this stage is moving quickly for the Topton plant. Once the Core Group Launch Team is developed and there is momentum in gospel conversations with unbelievers, it will be time to develop and plan the first public worship service.
Stage 3: Development Stage
Every detail needs to be planned out before the public launch of a service. Where will we have the service? What will children do during the service? Who will greet people? What kind of bulletin will there be? What kind of songs will we sing during worship? What bank will we use for our church finances? In the Development Stage, these decisions are made; leaders and helpers needed for each task are trained and equipped.
Once the public services are launched, then the church plant comes alive! Although this is yet future for the Topton church plant, Church Extension is already praying for the people who will come to know the Lord and will grow in the Lord through the church plant. Dan Hoffstetter will pastor the people of the church while continuing a major focus on outreach. On average the Development Stage lasts two years.
Stage 4: Growth to Maturity
As time goes by, Dan Hoffstetter and the Core Group will be able to reflect on what is working or not working to reach Topton for Christ. Navigating changes together through prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit will bring maturity to the church body. Along with spiritual growth, there will be numeric and financial growth. Monthly reports are kept to record the indicators of growth. Once the reports show sufficient resources and steady growth for the church to provide for its needs on its own, then Dan Hoffstetter and the Topton church plant can plan for graduation.
Stage 5: Graduation Stage
In the Bible Fellowship Church, we graduate church plants who are financially self-sustaining, have at least two qualified men to be elders, and at least 20 committed participants. When Topton reaches this stage, the Board of Church Extension will send an assessment team to personally meet the potential elders and the committed participants. This team will approve church to the Board for graduation. Upon the Board’s approval, the church plant will be recognized as a particular church at BFC Conference. And there will be much rejoicing!
What to Expect at Topton
Although every baby church goes through these five stages of development, each church plant has its own unique story. Who will Christ save in Topton? Who will God lead to be in the Core Group? How will the church plant come together? We prayerfully watch and wait to see how Topton’s church plant story unfolds as God works through Dan and Heidi Hoffstetter and the Core Group Launch Team.