Planting a Church with the GSE Process
I first learned of Dr. Tony Webb's Gatherer Shepherd Elder (GSE) process in the church planting orientation course that my wife Sarah and I took while we were in seminary at ATS. It was during that time that God began to nudge us in the direction of unpaid pastoral ministry. It took some time finding an occupation that would pay the bills so that we could start a church that would intentionally not pay me to be their pastor. Five years after seminary, I finally arrived in an amazing career as a hospital chaplain while continuing to serve in the Army National Guard part-time as a Chaplain. This opened the door to plant a church without the added pressure of needing it to financially support our family. Once we reached this point, Sarah and I attended the 2018 Brethren Church General Conference and had the opportunity to connect with Tony Webb in his GSE Church Planting workshop. He retaught us the process, and we were hooked.
He spent most of the workshop explaining the role of a gatherer. Most of us are familiar enough with the terms shepherd and elder as needed positions in the church, but we often neglect to focus on the importance of a strong gatherer. A gatherer is a “people magnet,” the type of person who is constantly making new friends everywhere they go. This is not necessarily a spiritual gift, but it certainly is a talent that God values highly, and one that is vital for a new church. It is their job to gather people into the community of the church. The shepherd in the GSE process is someone with a similar skill-set to a person that you would trust and support leading a small group in their home. The elder then would provide pastoral leadership.
It just seemed so much simpler than I had ever imagined. With GSE, if you have a shepherd and a gatherer on board, you can start a church in two weeks. An elder can show up later on in the process. This is an incredible method for rapid church multiplication!
Of course, it is never quite as easy as it looks on paper, but the process for our family has been quite enjoyable. We moved to Marion, Indiana in July 2018 and immediately started gathering while at the same time looking for a “professional” gatherer. Sarah and I were relatively confident that we could cover the shepherd and elder roles if we could only find the gatherer.
In the meantime, Sarah reached deep down and came in contact with her inner-gatherer. We were in the third year of home-schooling our oldest, Josiah. At first, we were dismayed to find that the homeschooling community in the county lacked a lot of leadership and did not have a great way of communicating with each other. Sarah quickly turned this into an opportunity to meet other homeschooling families. She started a Grant County homeschool Facebook group that has quickly grown to over 70 families and has become the main way that homeschool families in our county communicate. She also started a bi-weekly Lego club (Just what it sounds like, a club to play with Legos) in the public library that soon had around 30 attendees.
Another important thing to note is that we made a decision when we moved to Marion that we were going to risk everything to make friends. So, with that in mind, we started inviting people over for dinner like crazy people. Sarah would meet women and their children at the park, at a homeschool function, or on Facebook. Then, she would text me while I was at work, telling me who she met and that they were coming over for dinner that night. We were way out of our comfort zone. It felt exhilarating!
We made as many new friends in the first six months of living in Marion than we had in our entire 12 years of marriage. Transforming acquaintances into friendships became second nature. One instance that sticks out as a sign that I had lost all sense was when I received an email from a man stating that he had gotten my information from a mutual friend, that he was a retired Army Chaplain and wanted to meet for coffee. I was about to accept his invitation when I saw that his email address had the word church-planting in it. I replied to his email with: “I think we have too much in common to just do coffee. Would you, your wife, and any children you may have be able to join us for dinner this week?” He and his wife were over at our house that week, and thus we started a valuable friendship with a house-church-planter who like me, was an Army Chaplain and lived a mile away from us on the same road. Sarah and I have decided there is way more reward than risk when it comes to recklessly inviting the people we come into contact with into our homes and lives.
Now, on to the really good stuff! We eventually “let” a gatherer gather us into their circle of friends. We will call her Pilgrim. As we grew to be friends with Pilgrim and her husband, we found that she was an incredible gatherer. We just had to get the nerve up to invite them to do church with us. Sarah and I discussed how to approach the topic with them at length and prayed a lot too. The time had come, and Sarah was going to make the pitch during a sourdough bread tutorial that she was giving Pilgrim. In planning on how we would invite her, we had an epiphany. We knew that Pilgrim was interested in the style of homeschooling called “un-schooling.” The concept throws out traditional ways of teaching and focuses on using the child's interests to lead the education process. It is incredibly unstructured and would look nothing like what you would find in a public school classroom. I suggested that we should explain that we are doing un-church, a more relaxed approach to church that would not look like a traditional church. Well as you might guess, the pitch worked, and Pilgrim was hooked. Probably the coolest part about this is that both Pilgrim and her husband did not have a relationship with Christ and had been looking for a place where they could learn about God and the Bible. During our first week of church, Pilgrim described her current place in her spiritual journey by saying “I am just so lost. I want to understand the Bible, and I am so hungry for God.”
Several days after Pilgrim's family agreed to join us in planting a church, she successfully recruited her best friend's family to what we were now referring to as Unchurch. About three weeks after that, Unchurch met for the first time, Monday night at 6:30 in our living room. Four families including ours joined together that evening, each looking for a deeper relationship with God and others. It looks like we all came to the right place.
Each week, as we have gathered together in our living room, we have met with God in marvelous ways, and we continue to grow closer to each other. From the start, we have not asked others to “come to church,” instead we have asked them to “do life with us.” In a world so starved for deep, authentic relationships, this invitation is almost irresistible.
Following the GSE process along with our aggressive approach to making new friends has made this the smoothest church planting experience we have had so far. For those who have toyed around with the idea of starting something new in your home, office, or at the local coffeehouse, your dream is more attainable than you might think. You could very easily be two to three weeks away from the birth of a new church.
So glad to hear how God is using David and Sarah to plant an Unchurch. Love it!
Great to hear what’s happening in Marion! Thanks for sharing.
Awesome! So glad to hear this.
Thanks for the support! It is really an exciting time!
Thanks for the support! It is really an exciting time!
We have been praying that God would raise up works in our region that are reaching lost souls. What a tremendous encouragement to all of us to see how it can be done. Thanks David and Sarah for your obedience to Jesus!!!
This is exciting! Keep up the good work.