When Steve Harris started New Life Community Church in Asheville, he envisioned a congregation that would be a “headquarters” to start other new churches.
As the church gets ready to celebrate its 12th anniversary, it has helped launch more than 100 others through pastoral training, financial support, prayer and encouragement.
“We decided that we were going to set that as a core value at New Life,” he said.
Harris became interested in church planting while working on a doctor of ministry degree at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.
His “entrepreneur spirit” was captured by stories about how newer churches were growing, but his calling became clear when he heard church growth professor C. Peter Wagner talking about starting churches.
Wagner said church planting is the most effective form of evangelism, that new churches baptize more people per capita than existing churches and that new churches serve as a “warm incubator” for new believers.
“When he said that I knew,” Harris said. “I said, ‘I have to do this.’”
Harris believes he was called to help start a “church planting movement.” To be credible as the leader of such an effort, he had to start a church.
When New Life began, it included an initiative called “Mission 20:20,” based on Acts 20:20, where Paul tells church leaders at Ephesus that he did not shrink from helping them, but taught them publicly and from house to house.
Harris was still training to be a church planter and New Life was still meeting in a school when Harris met the first church planter he’d help. He and Mike Madding met during a “church planter boot camp” and became friends.
New Life’s offer of support helped convince Madding that God wanted him to start a church.
“They became the first church to say, ‘We’ll support what you’re doing,’” Madding said.
The congregation Madding started, The Cove Church in Mooresville near Lake Norman, now has an average attendance of about 3,400 each Sunday, including about 400 at a satellite location in Statesville.
Based on Acts 1:8, New Life seeks to help new churches in its area and across the state, nation and world.
Currently, Harris is mentoring a Hispanic pastor who is starting a church in New Life’s building.
New Life is also helping church planters in Asheville, Hendersonville, Mooresville, India, Uganda, Ukraine and Honduras.
Harris often serves as mentor for the church planters.
He also trains pastors who are involved in other church planting movements.
Harris also leads the church planting team in Buncombe Baptist Association, which is currently starting eight new churches.
Craig Bailey, Buncombe Association director of missions, appreciates Harris’ work. It is important “to have guys on the cutting edge” to reach the “strange mix of people in Asheville,” Bailey said.
To have a leader like Harris helping is “invaluable.”
Because Asheville is an attractive city, Bailey fields inquiries every week from men interested in planting a church there.
“The first thing I try to do is discourage them,” Bailey said. “If they’re serious, they won’t be deterred.”
Harris said one of the biggest factors in starting a church is whether the pastor is gifted and called.
With training, support and encouragement the church planter is free to do what God is calling him to do.
“We’re not into building buildings,” he said. “We’re into training pastors.”
Harris said that a conservative estimate of more than 10,000 people worship at churches helped to their start by New Life, which has 265 members and about 360 in attendance.
“From the beginning, we always said that our concern is not just addition, but multiplication,” he said.
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