Archer releases Arrows. Targets Air Force base and first responders.
Pastor & writer
Church planting & multiplication
“The thing I love about arrows is they’re really kind of useless on their own,” Arrows Church pastor Robert Conn said. “They require the archer who in his power and strength aims the arrow and releases it.”
On Easter, nearly 300 people worshiped at Arrows Church’s grand opening service in Papillion, Nebraska. Some there that day quit church during COVID, while one family hadn’t been to church in 17 years. When he sees those people, Conn thinks of Isaiah 49:2: God’s people are his chosen arrows.
The new church, Conn’s wife, Shelly, added, represents more of Christ’s power and strength through their roots in the community.
“We’ve been here for over 10 years, building those relationships with people who are not in church,” Shelly Conn said. “We’re seeing families come because of Jesus and the relationships we’ve built. We can look at those families and have hope.”
Planting in Papillion was God’s plan, even when it wasn’t their plan
Shelly and Robert came to Nebraska to do student ministry and lead worship at an Omaha-area church. Robert eventually became a campus pastor for that church.
Then, God began setting up a new ministry role for the couple. Leaving Nebraska seemed a real possibility as 2021 began. However, church after church and interview after interview didn’t achieve what God was orchestrating.
Eventually, the Conns realized the archer wanted them right in their Omaha-area suburb. By April 2021, the Conns had an openness to starting a church in Papillion. Still, Robert desired God to make it plain.
So one April day, he asked the Lord to supply a place where worship could happen. Before that week ended, he heard from four different people who knew of available buildings.
“It was like God pounding in, ‘That’s nothing for me,’” Conn said. “It got me unstuck enough from my pride to say, ‘What if we stayed here and did something?”
Now, Arrows Church meets at a high school, approved for them even though other churches have tried to rent the building for the past 12 years.
A few weeks later, Mo and Tara Wiley called the Conns. They met Robert and Shelly 10 years ago at church before moving to North Dakota. The Wileys felt led to quit their jobs and help start Arrows Church.
“We felt like God was in it,” Mo Wiley said. “It was our prayer in that season: ‘Lord, you have our yes, but you’re going to have to move mountains because we don’t know how this is going to work out.’”
It turns out Robert and Shelly Conn saw the situation similarly.
“We just said, ‘OK, we don’t have a clue what we’re doing. We don’t even know how to do it, but we’re going to start walking down this road,’” Robert said.
Prayer gatherings and other churches display God’s goodness
The Conns hosted a prayer gathering, and more than 100 people showed up.
“It was affirmation for us that God does want us to do this,” Robert said. “As weird and awkward as it might be and feel, it’s clearly what God wants. Everything we did toward starting a church was like yes and amen.”
For example, a church charged Arrows $30,000 for worship equipment and kids ministry supplies at portable churches. The trailer and plug-and-play sound equipment on rollers are worth about $180,000.
God’s goodness continued when a family that doesn’t go to Arrows Church called Robert. They asked if the new congregation had a way to stream worship services. When Robert answered not yet, the family immediately said they would buy all the equipment to produce online services.
Moreover, God motivated the entire launch team to become recurring givers early in the church’s creation. Their generosity made ends meet for the Conns, who have three teens and a 20-year-old.
“Literally, everything we’ve needed, God has provided and provided fairly quickly,” Shelly Conn explained. “Anything we need, God’s like, ‘What else do you need?’”
Finally, Easter Sunday worshipers gave so generously that Arrows Church bought the projector they had been renting from another church. Seeing how the people of God came around the new plant encourages the Conns so much.
“I never understood how important it was for existing churches to come alongside new church plants,” he said. “It’s such an encouraging thing for me because I know I’m not competing with you. I just want to expand the kingdom in the best way possible.”
Something different is coming to life in Papillion
That outward focus toward people who need to hear the gospel is deeply embedded in the culture the Conns are creating. They know their community draws on a Catholic history that isn’t always helping people navigate the pains and perils of the present life.
“I can share the gospel, and still, people come up to me after the service,” he said. “They’ve never heard it. There’s still that raw need for the gospel in its truest form.”
Moreover, Shelly adds that families and struggling people tell the Conns they see something different at Arrows. They tell Shelly after worship how they felt God’s presence. She’s quick to attribute that influence to prayers of surrender to God’s plan in all they do.
“There are people that need healing and a lot of hope, and he’s positioned us to do that,” she added.
Arrows Church has identified who they’re aiming to serve
There are two primary groups within the church’s geographic area that Arrows has chosen to serve. The first is military families from Offutt Air Force Base. The second is the first responder community. Robert’s dad was a police officer for his entire career.
“There are unique challenges in those communities when it comes to life,” Robert explained. “We just want to be that place where people know they can go. How cool would it be if people just knew, ‘Hey Arrows Church, that’s where you go,’?”
While military families and first responders go through the same things as everybody else, he said the resources and access to resources are slightly different for military personnel or the emergency response community.
Like many more affluent communities, people cope with life’s hardships differently. Some choose comforts like idolizing kids’ sports or Cornhuskers football. Others choose drugs or alcohol to manage their moments.
Nevertheless, Robert believes God will do gracious and mighty works in people’s lives. Therefore, the Conns are confident in God’s love and the work of the Spirit to transform people. They’re excited to see the archer hold his precious people. They know the master potter will reshape a life, adding what’s needed and removing what’s not good, pleasing and perfect.
“Then the arrow does the only thing it’s designed to do: fly straight and hit the target,” he said. “I love how arrows are already pointed out.”
Being an arrow sometimes means working at the grocery store
The Wileys see an uplifting fellowship at Arrows Church that provides people with meaningful relationships and redemptive purposes.
“They want authentic community and want to be part of something that will make a difference in their community,” Wiley explained of his neighbors. “We want to be a church that makes this community a better place through the gospel’s message while living out the ‘one anothers’ in our neighborhoods, businesses and community.”
The Conns know the Papillion community is exactly where they’re pointed. First, serving God took them around Texas. Then they came to Nebraska to offer student ministry and eventually filled a campus pastor role. They now see how God knew what he was doing all along.
“He’s placed us here,” Robert said. “These are our people. This is where God has us. So let’s do something here.”
Thus, the Conns’ commitment to this place stands apart. Robert worked part-time at a grocery store for several months last year as Arrows was in the early stages. As he progressed from pondering to planting, Conn said his relationships at the Hy-Vee grocery store became precious in his sight.
“Everyone knew we were trying to start a church,” he said. “I felt like the grocery store chaplain. Being around those people did so much in me.
“I’m an arrow in God’s hands,” Conn said. “In his power and authority, he pulls me back and aims me where he wants to hit.”
Thanks be to God, the number of arrows fit for the master’s use is on the rise in Papillion.
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.