Any given Sunday will find Vista Church’s congregation of 180 gathered for worship in the local elementary school in Heartland, a small bedroom community just off Interstate 20 outside Terrell, near Forney and Dallas. As members assemble for worship, they do so aware of a common bond with the 17 churches from Boston to Toronto to Seattle to Bangalore that Vista Church has helped plant since its own founding in 2007.
“For many in our congregation, church planting introduced them to something they would have never known. Now it has become part of our DNA,” said Kevin Cox, the church’s pastor. “‘When is the next one?’ people ask.”
Excitement about planting new churches has resulted in generous giving. A special offering the first Sunday in December 2015 brought in $35,000, Cox said, adding, “Our people have a kingdom mindset. Our giving [to church plants] will not expand our church numerically but will expand the kingdom of God.”
Cox’s commitment to planting churches solidified in 1997 when he and his wife started a church in Seattle. The Coxes returned to Texas nine years later, determined to make church planting a priority in whatever congregation they served. That chance came when Cox and five others sat around the family’s kitchen table in May 2007 to start Vista.
“We wanted to plan and multiply,” Cox said, noting that from the beginning, the six Vista members set aside 1 percent of their budget for assisting the first church plant. Within 14 months, the Vista congregation had grown, accumulating $2,500, which they used to assist a Southern Baptist church plant in Seattle.
“We started giving money to the Seattle church before our own grand opening in 2008,” Cox recalled.
Vista assists church plants in three-year cycles.
“We commit to three years of monthly giving to the churches we work with and partner with,” Cox explained. This January, Vista began supporting church plants in Las Vegas and Portland, Ore., in addition to continuing partnerships with churches in Bangalore, India, and the Texas communities of Rockwall/Heath and Mont Belvieu. Vista contributed $45,000 to partner churches in 2015 and will give the same amount again in 2016, Cox said.
This generosity comes from a young church in a commuter suburb of starter homes and young families. The average age of adult attendees at Vista is 32. Heartland is not even a town but rather a Municipal Utility District with a Forney zip code within the Crandall school district. Some 1,700 homes exist now; more than 6,000 are plotted.
Eventually Heartland will be a community of 25,000 with seven schools, possibly annexed one day by Forney or Crandall. For now, it is “really a gigantic HOA,” Cox said. Laws forbidding door-to-door solicitations make advertising church events or ministering to residents challenging, so Vista church has engaged the community through volunteering at local events and serving the elementary school where Cox’s wife, Kathy, teaches special education.
Vista is the only church in a community where, for many, Sunday is just another day.
“Out here off I-20, we are under the radar,” Cox said. “Many have gotten out of the habit of going to church.”
Meanwhile, Vista Church remains united behind sister congregations across the nation and world. Partner churches are chosen partly as an outgrowth of the church planter training Vista offers in a facility built for that purpose by a family in the church on 40 acres of private property.
“Teams come, stay for four days, and we work through the process of church planting with them,” Cox said, adding that Nic Burleson, pastor of Timber Ridge Church in Stephenville, has assisted in the training.
Last Easter, 275 attended worship services at Vista. But across the world, more than 4,000 worshipped in the churches with which Vista had partnered.
“We want to grow, but we want to see the kingdom extended even more,” Cox said. “You don’t have to be big to partner with churches. Don’t wait till you are big to partner with another church. You can be small and still have a huge kingdom impact.”
For more information on Vista Church, see their website at thisisvista.com.