On June 15, 2014, the Park Place Baptist Church in Montgomery, IL was a 147 year-old American Baptist congregation with a dwindling membership, insufficient resources, a pastoral vacancy, a baptismal filled with church records instead of water, and a tired remnant of dedicated members.
Uncertain about how to proceed, the congregation partnered with Sam Hamstra of ChapterNext, for assistance. Together they began a discernment process to discover God’s will for their future. To facilitate that process they committed themselves to meeting two Wednesday evenings a month until the completion of the process. Borrowing a line from Kenny Rodgers, they called the process “Shall We Hold ‘em or Fold ‘em?” Before beginning, they prayed fervently that the Spirit would speak through the process.
The first meeting took place on Wednesday, July 15. Twenty Christ-followers gathered. Their first step was to affirm their identity as the people of God, the bride of Christ, and the temple of the Holy Spirit! Then, to acknowledge that the Father loves them so much that he sent his Son to die for them and His Spirit to indwell them. As such a beloved people, the group knew they could trust the Lord to guide them.
That was the easy part. The next step was more difficult. It required that each person agree to leave behind his or her opinions, convictions, and desires for their beloved congregation so that they would be liberated to seek and discover the Lord’s will for his bride called “Park Place Baptist Church.” In short, this step required that the group die themselves to find life in Christ.
The group wrestled long and hard with that decision but then committed themselves to sifting through every option to discover which one represented the Lord’s will for his bride. One of those options was to close their doors, sell their valuable property to a real estate developer, and donate the receipts to another ministry.
In October 2015, after months of prayerful deliberation, the Park Place Baptist Church settled on this option: they would become a legacy church. In other words, they would hand over their facility, properties, and all assets to another congregation. That decision eventually led them to New Life Community Church of Chicago, a thriving ministry led by Pastor Mark Jobe. New Life employs a “One Church – Multiple Congregations” model. At that point, New Life had twenty congregations scattered across Chicagoland.
Pastor Jobe was invited to meet with the group, accepted the invitation, and the two groups began a conversation. On Wednesday, November 5, the same twenty Christ-followers who began the discernment process unanimously agreed to ask New Life Community Church to enfold them as their newest congregation. If New Life would accept their invitation, Park Place would turn over the keys and all assets to New Life Church.
On Sunday, March 15, 2015, Park Place Baptist Church opened its doors as New Life Community Church – Montgomery, with Pastor John Palmieri as pastor. The sanctuary was filled to capacity, including the twenty who died to themselves to find new life as the bride of Christ. Their smiles were contagious. Their hopes and dreams renewed. Three weeks later, Easter Sunday 2015, fresh water filled the baptismal and several individuals were baptized.
It is a remarkable story of transformation. In nine months, Park Place Baptist Church was transformed into New Life Community Church – Montgomery. The congregation went from survival mode to growth mode, from a nearly empty sanctuary to an overflowing sanctuary, from hopelessness to hope.
How did that happen? Clearly, God is using New Life Community Church in ways beyond imagination. However, and more importantly, there would be no New Life – Montgomery without the decision by twenty dedicated Christ-followers to deny themselves in order to follow the Lord. They agreed to enter a process that could have led to closing the doors of their beloved Church. They promised to listen for and hear the Lord’s voice. Once they knew the Lord’s will, they went forward in obedience. They turned over the keys of their beautiful facility and all their assets to New Life Community Church Chicago. Now God is doing more than they could ever ask or imagine.
The names of these twenty saints are unknown to most but the Lord knows them well. They recognized him as the head of their Church. They entered a special conversation with the Lord waiting for him to answer one question, “Shall we hold ‘em or fold ‘em?” And the Lord said – Both!