After 20 years in the Vineyard and 10 years in ministry, we had been on two church planting teams, but never planted a church ourselves. I felt that God was asking us to do this, but my wife, Jacinda, wasn’t sure she wanted to step into planting again. We knew it would impact not only us, but our three daughters; This would be for the long haul. However, we couldn’t budge this persistent sense of calling within us. God is a heart-changer and in a short time Jacinda went from “probably not” to “I can’t wait”.
Trying to discern a call from God is never just one thing in isolation. For us, in this decision, it was a combination of things coming together over seven years with increasing intensity and recurrence.
Trying to discern a call from God is never just one thing in isolation. For us, in this decision, it was a combination of things coming together over seven years with increasing intensity and recurrence: key conversations, words God spoke to us personally and through others, our hearts being drawn to a certain place and its people, pieces of scripture coming alive, and a conviction that this was what he had prepared us for.
In December 2012, we invited heaps of people to our home and shared what we believed God had placed in our heart, a vision for a new church on the Hibiscus Coast. We knew if God was leading us to plant a church, then he would lead others to be a part of it too. Our job was to sing the song of the kingdom and God would draw the people that were humming the same tune.
As we began to think about the church plant, we realized we needed to assume every single person we met each day could be sent by God to join us. We engaged, shared vision, and invited lots of people. We encouraged our team to be looking out for people who were uncommitted, unconvinced, new to the area, or spiritually parched.
Jacinda and I had coffees and meals with everyone who showed interest. We cast vision for not just the end goal but the steps to get there. After six months of this, we kicked off weekly Sunday services. We gathered people through word of mouth, a community mailing to 13,000 homes, and three preview services so people could try the church out. 136 people came along to our first service. We averaged 80 people over the next 10 weeks and have slowly but steadily grown since.
One woman called me at that time to say she received our flier and couldn’t seem to throw it away even though she had vowed never to return to church. I told her God was wooing her and he wanted her to know his deep love for her. We got to be a part of her slow journey towards reconciling with God, getting baptized, getting healed of cancer, and seeing her friends get healed and saved. We’re blown away by God doing his thing.
We now average 240 people on Sundays between our morning and night services and have 340 people who call our church their home. Many of them are Christians who had given up on church. They are coming alive in God and are excited to be part of a church family again.
We’re so glad we said yes to God. Though we’ve been doing ministry a long time, we are continually surprised by the way God is providing for us, growing us, and working in our community. Our “Coasties” are just regular people who are grateful for a community that loves the word of God, loves to encounter the empowering presence of God, and who are real. We’re so glad we get to be part of this incredible story and that we trusted God to keep using us to bring his kingdom.
Are You Called to be a Church Planter?
Reflect on these 10 questions to help discern your calling.
Matt and Jacinda Lilly are Lead Pastors of Coast Vineyard Church, New Zealand. They fell in love with the Vineyard as they were falling in love with each other. They have three daughters who are co-creators of Coast Vineyard. Training is a passion of theirs and they seem to attract international interns which makes life fun!