“A God thing”: School principal’s suggestion leads to unlikely church plant

Ben Greene

Pastor & guest writer

  • Church planting & multiplication

When making big life decisions, Kevin and Brooke Llanos like to make sure they get it right. Well, truthfully, they really, really like to make sure.

“I have a very rational mind,” Kevin is quick to say.

Kevin and Brooke have invested years in developing a thoroughly biblical worldview. They deeply embrace scriptural worship music and strive to form rigorously tested, apologetically sound perspectives on knowing God and living life.

So, how did this Central California couple rely on two sticky notes, one in each of Brooke’s hands behind her back, to make a significant decision? Was a huge decision about their church riding on which sticky note Kevin picked?

Absolutely.

“I saved them, and they are in my journal,” Brooke says, with a lively laugh, about the two critically significant yellow squares of paper.

Is this meant to be more than a Bible study?

A year ago, long before the night of sticky notes, the Llanoses started a Bible study in their home outside Madera. They had moved to Tesoro Viejo, north of Fresno, with their daughters Lilly, a junior in high school, and Felicity, a high school freshman.

In the master plan subdivision, they were finding people intentional about community. The homeowners association schedules softball nights, food trucks, meet and greets and other neighborhood events. There’s a pool, and the whole community is built around an elementary school.

Although the Llanoses had long been active in college and young adult ministry at their church, they sensed God was leading them to faithfully live out Christ’s grace and truth in these new relationships.

When Kevin and Brooke wanted to start the Bible study, they talked to the HOA, explaining they loved to host people in their home. So, they had a conversation with the HOA about how several cars could park near their home.

The HOA chair said to ask the principal about using the school parking lot. So, Kevin went to the principal, who had a surprising response.

The principal said to Kevin, “You could use it for a Bible study.” But the principal added, “We’d love to have a church plant in the school.”

Chris Lovelace, the church planting director for Converge PacWest, shares the surprise.

“That’s not the norm in this community,” Lovelace said. “That’s a God thing. God has gone way before them and already laid some work.”

It’s like God was building a wave of support and opportunity for the Llanos family and their community of neighbors they love.

For Lovelace, the team of church planting servants who represent each region in the PacWest make sure couples like the Llanoses have someone nearby for support, partnership and prayer in the challenges and joys of planting a church.

The PacWest district is committed to planting 25 churches in five years. Across Converge, all 10 districts have joined together with a goal of planting 312 churches by 2026.

Related: Converge 5-year church planting goal (video)

So far, Converge PacWest has seen God provide six of the 25 church plants in just over a year.

“Without that team, I don’t know how we would assess all the people we’ve been able to and launch all the churches we’ve been able to,” Lovelace said. “That team creates the structure and relationships that enable the 25 in five to happen.”

It’s people on that team who directly connect with the Llanoses as they plant Redemption Hill Community Church.

“They have so much wisdom and support for you,” Brooke said. “I’m so encouraged by the unity within diversity that we have out here.”

Redemption Hill Community Church, Madera, California

The church had its first service on Easter Sunday when 114 people worshiped outside the school in Tesoro Viejo.

Related: America’s next great mission field

Planting a church wasn’t their natural inclination

Not to say the Llanoses saw this all coming. When the principal expressed his eagerness for a church plant last year, the Llanoses weren’t church planters. Not yet.

Instead, Kevin, a retired police officer, was a police chaplain in a nearby city. He loved ministering to police officers. And he could indulge his eagerness for teaching God’s word through the Bible study.

For the most part, his ministry was shaping up to be just the ministry he expected. He is deeply influenced by Precepts International Bible study materials and A.W. Tozer and C.S. Lewis. So, teaching Bible studies, worshiping at New Covenant Community Church and being a police chaplain was going great. And even when they shifted from ministering to young adults, Kevin still felt satisfied with being in ministry in two spheres that expressed his gift and sense of calling.

Meanwhile, Brooke was playing guitar and learning to sing worship music. She wasn’t aspiring to be a worship leader. She just loved to worship with family and friends. Christian worship music from Hillsong, Third Day and other artists filled her mind and heart with Scripture and God’s character.

She thought learning to sing and knowing how to play the guitar would help during those private moments with family and friends.

“I always said I’d never sing in front of people,” Brooke joked. But Kevin encouraged her, the two of them believing she’d never be a worship leader and he’d never be a pastor.

That’s even despite a seminary education for Kevin, who graduated with a master’s in divinity from Liberty University’s Rawlings School of Divinity. Together, they’ve had a long history of teaching others God’s word from a sound apologetics approach.

They worked with college students for years at their church, New Covenant Community Church, a Converge church in Fresno they worshiped with for nearly 20 years.

It was important to the Llanoses to train college students to know God is worthy of trust based on the revelation of his word.

“God’s so gracious to give us good reasons to put our trust in him and be able to know Jesus did exist and he is who he said he is,” Brooke said. “When I became an adult and moved out, I started questioning everything because I really didn’t have a solid base for anything.”

As a senior in college, on the edge of significant life decisions, Brooke was aware in her core just how vital truth or ultimate reality was about her life.

“There had to be a purpose beyond what I was determining for my own life,” she said. “This can’t be what life is about because I was trying to make myself happy and never ended up having it work out.”

So, she started seeking a god ― if there was a god. “What lined up with reality?” she asked. “What was really true?”

Planting a church kept coming up ― in others’ minds

While serving college students, guys would joke with Kevin, calling him Pastor Kevin. And they’d ask, “When are you going to start a church?”

Kevin grew up in a law enforcement home and went straight to the police academy to pursue that career. He never thought of himself as a pastor and certainly not as a church planter. He said he’s an introvert and likes structure and planned-out ways of operating.

However, church planting tends to be unpredictable by nature. Even so, their pastor at New Covenant, Scott Borman, encouraged them to talk to Chris Lovelace at Converge.

Out of that conversation came an awareness that church planting was going to be difficult, that it wasn’t a natural next step for the pair in ministry.

Related: Church planting: How it looks different in 2021

Connecting the disconnected

Still, the Llanoses saw God working, especially through some of their neighbors. People repeatedly expressed an openness and a desire for a church, like the school’s principal at the center of Tesoro Viejo.

“Are you going to start a church out here?” neighbors were asking the Llanos family. There are a few small churches but nothing close to this neighborhood. The planned community is expected to one day encompass seven different villages with hundreds and hundreds of homes.

Since the pandemic, people from the Bay Area have been moving to the community to enjoy better living and affordable homes. Many of their neighbors also work at a children’s hospital nearby.

Some want to strengthen their faith in Christ but don’t know how to do so. They also have neighbors who are not interested in Christ and people who are Sikh, Buddhist and Latter-day Saints.

“That was one of the things that really pushed us in the direction of a church plant,” Kevin said. “We ran into people who were disconnected, didn’t have a church home, didn’t have a relationship with Jesus.”

But throughout their life, they’ve loved serving behind the scenes more than the stage. Kevin loves to teach, but he said he never wanted to be on the stage. And Brooke had never thought about being a worship leader.

So, as their pastor, neighbors and fellow Christ-followers kept asking them about starting a church, they entered the tension of being self-aware and divinely attuned.

As significant times of prayer, fasting and reflecting, and consultation with those they trusted continued, they gradually realized this was a time to plant a church.

“Discipleship is the main goal,” he said. “My goal is really to try and get fellowship groups happening every day of the week in homes where believers are studying the word of God.”

Being people who want to know God’s will with precise certainty, they were dialoguing with their Bible study about what to name the church.

It would only be a few hours before they needed those sticky notes. But for now, the perspective of the Bible study was valuable to the Llanoses because the Bible study group had been supportive of the church plant.

And they were trying to choose between two names: Redemption Hill Community Church or Treasure Hill Community Church.

See, in the middle of Tesoro Viejo is a street named Treasure Hills. And Kevin liked the name Treasure Hill Community Church because such a name reflected their location and the people who were first on their hearts and minds.

They went as far as asking the developer if they could use that name, explaining their story and how influential and important the community was to their family and friends. But the developer didn’t respond to the email for a while, and Kevin and Brooke felt like they had to make a choice.

So, they went to the Bible study, ready to choose Redemption Hill. However, the developer emailed Kevin back right before Bible study: they’re free to use Treasure Hills in the church name.

Now what?

Well, they take a vote among everyone in the Bible study. The majority preferred Redemption Hill Community Church. Now, the matter was almost settled ― except for Kevin and Brooke, who still wanted God’s ultimate clarity and confirmation. So, of course, they cast lots, Kevin jokes.

With her back to her husband, Brooke held a sticky note for Treasure Hills in one hand and a sticky note for Redemption Hill in the other hand.

When Kevin grabbed the yellow square of paper, Redemption Hill Community Church was officially the name.

The family is drawing on the geography of California as well. They live in the hills of California, and they love having an image of a cross high on a distant hill in the church logo.

“What has God done?” He’s redeemed us,” Kevin said. “We wanted to point to the hill where he redeemed us. It’s the hill where Jesus hung on the cross and paid for everything.”

Converge is committed to starting missionally minded churches until every people group and community has heard the gospel. When you plant a church with Converge, we will be with you every step and provide a clear pathway for you to start a new church. Each step has been strategically designed to improve your success so more people will have the opportunity to accept Jesus. Learn more about church planting and how Converge can help you reach others with the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ.


Ben Greene, Pastor & guest writer

Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.

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