Matt Chewning is not your typical Southern Baptist church planter. He did not grow up in a Christian home. He did not grow up in the South. He did not get a seminary degree. And, he has only been a believer for 12 years.
But, with the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) support, Chewning leads Netcast Church, “the fastest growing church plant among Southern Baptists in Greater Boston,” according to Curtis Cook, the Boston City Coordinator with NAMB and pastor of Hope Fellowship Church in Cambridge.
Three years ago God gave Matt and Beth Chewning an unlikely vision to reach Boston with the gospel. He left the financial security of a successful business to become an intern at 1.21 Church in Winston-Salem. Within a year they moved to the North Shore of Boston to begin the church planting process. Today he is the lead pastor of Netcast in Beverly, Mass., with more than 400 in worship.
Chewning described growing up in New Jersey: “I didn’t have any Christian influence in my life whatsoever. My parents were not believers – my Mom is Jewish, my dad is Catholic. My parents split up when I was four.”
Matt Chewning, seen here, surrounded by his wife and children, is lead pastor of NetCast Church in Beverly, Mass. Chewning hopes he can work with N.C. Baptists to help win his community to Christ.
He was recruited to play basketball at East Nazarene College in Quincy, Mass., near Boston. “I had no real reason to go to this school,” he said. “It is a Christian college, and they asked me if I was a Christian. I said, ‘I think I am because my Mom is Jewish.’ I had no concept whatsoever of spirituality or Christianity or Jesus.”
Chewning was quickly labeled the bad kid because, “I had a really bad mouth and a bad New Jersey attitude – totally different than most of these kids, who grew up in Christian homes.”
A fellow player on the team made an impression on Chewning. “He was one of those guys who was not weird, but definitely loved Jesus. I built a friendship with him and asked him one day what it meant to be saved. … He explained it to me and in that moment … I stopped and received Jesus. I became a Christian on Sept. 11, 2000,” he said.
There was some immediate transformation in his life. His language changed and his desires shifted. But he struggled with understanding what was wrong with some of his old lifestyle. In the middle of that internal conflict, Chewning admitted, “I wore a mask for a while, trying to pretend I was more spiritual than I actually was, because I was in an environment where if you’re a Christian you’re supposed to look a certain way.
“About four years later … I began to understand grace and the difference between walking with Christ and living the law.”
After graduation from college he began to climb the corporate ladder – living in Boston for two years and five years in Greensboro, N.C.
They settled into Daystar Church and began serving in the church’s youth ministry. The ministry grew rapidly from 30 to 500 students in about a year. That opened up unusual opportunities for Chewning to invest in the lives of young people and get a feel for what ministry looked like.
He said, “I was making really good money, and I thought that is what I would do forever. … God began to stir my heart for ministry and more specifically, church planting.”
One night he was wrestling with a feeling that the Lord was calling him into full-time ministry. “It freaked me out to be honest, because there was no money [in ministry], and I felt like money was very important at that time,” he said.
“I went to bed that night and I had a dream that I was literally planting a church in the Boston area. I didn’t think much of it. Then the next night I had the same dream. We were actually starting a church in Boston Commons, which is in the heart of the city. I had the same dream from different angles for five days straight.
“On the fifth day I asked my wife, ‘Honey, if God was going to call us to plant a church, where would He call us?’ She rolled her eyes and kinda huffed and said, ‘He’d probably call us to the Boston area again.’”
Startled, he told her about his dreams.
He shared the idea with four pastors in the church, admitting that he and his wife were young and not ready to do this. The church leaders worked with them and about a year later they gave the Chewnings their blessings to redirect their lives into church planting.
On the move
“I quit my job in 2009 and became a full-time intern at 1.21 Church in Winston-Salem. My goal was to study church planting, pray through some of the specifics and raise money,” he said. They moved to Boston in September 2010.
They went with the intentions of meeting and loving their neighbors. Chewning said, “We had the mind set of ‘we’re not necessarily trying to plant a church – we’re trying to plant the gospel.’ The greater Boston area is about 98 percent lost.”
Jesus was the primary message of every conversation with their neighbors. “Within 30 days we had what we called the ‘vision night’ on Oct. 10, 2010.” That night they shared with their friends and neighbors why they moved to Boston. They were surprised when 30 people showed up. A month later they had a similar event and 40 people came.
Since their home was too small, they explored venue options and settled at the YMCA. They launched the church Jan. 23, 2011, with 120 people.
“It blew our minds,” he said. “A lot of college students were coming, and we were shocked with that, because [experts] say that college students don’t care about church.”
They tried to get the people plugged into community groups and worked to sharpen up the service. “I had never preached two weeks in a row, so I didn’t know what that meant. I’m trying to learn what it looks like to pastor a church and be a communicator of the gospel, at the same time, planting a church.”
He said the church has baptized more than 20 people the first year, and about 20 are awaiting baptism now.
They outgrew the YMCA facility, so a middle school became the church’s home. Again they grew from 120 to about 225 people by February of this year. By the first week in September more than 400 people attended the service.
“We didn’t expect this to happen so fast,” Chewning said. “We’re only 18 months old.”
Not about numbers
Are numbers the true gauge of success? Not according to Netcast Church.
“We really try to gauge our effectiveness – not by numbers – but by the presence of the Holy Spirit in what we do,” Chewning said. “Our goal is to not be able to explain everything that happens in our church through systems, programs and organizational charts. We really want to do those things well, but we want to look at what we are doing as a church and ask, ‘has the Holy Spirit fallen on us? Has the Holy Spirit done things that we can’t explain?’”
Chewning said he has great appreciation for North Carolina Baptists and NAMB, which provides monthly support through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. “I want to share the victory of how God has used different N.C. Baptists to significantly impact a little local church like Netcast Church in New England,” Chewning said.
“NAMB has been incredible to us in their encouragement, support and love – not just for me, but my entire family and the church – this has been huge,” he added. “In New England you feel a sense of isolation because there are not a lot of churches. [But] Micah Millican (director of church planter relations for NAMB) calls to check on us. Jeff Christopherson (vice president for NAMB work in Canada and New England) comes to talk with us. This reminds us … there are people who are behind us. These little things are huge in the life of a church planter.”
Michael Sowers, who leads the office of Great Commission Partnerships with Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), strongly affirms the work in Boston.
He said, “The BSC partnership with Boston is laser focused on helping connect N.C. Baptist churches with planters like Matt Chewning. God is blessing Matt with a platform to share the gospel in an area that is practically unreached. N.C. Baptist churches who partner with Boston planters help accelerate the fruit that is being seen already and further cultivate gospel communities in Boston.”
NAMB’s city coordinator for Boston, Curtis Cook, added, “N.C. has been a huge and tremendous partner with the work in Boston – really engaged, helpful, motivated, significant follow through. We just can’t say enough about what a great partner N.C. has been and the difference it is making in Boston with multiple church plants.”
According to Cook the greatest need in the N.C. partnership is for churches to commit to a partnership for two to five years.
“We need churches who say, ‘we want to walk with you, we want to know you, pray specifically for you … share in your victories and challenges, bring mission teams, support you financially.
“The most fruitful partnerships we have seen are those that share a mutual, ongoing commitment, and walk with a church plant for several years. … Those are the churches that help these church plants get on a solid foundation.”
To find out about the church, visit netcastchurch.org; for information about N.C. Baptist’s partnership with Boston, visit ncbaptist.org/boston.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – If your church is interested in partnering with a Great Commission church plant, contact Mike Sowers at [email protected].)