Board games and snowstorms build a new Pennsylvania church
Church planting & multiplication
Vadim Maltsev was enjoying a board game night with people he knew near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Vadim, who grew up in a Russian Orthodox church filled with his family members, didn’t know Christ yet.
Kevin Greene, who started ConnectUs Church with his wife, Alisha, in January, was at the board game night as well. He said Vadim sometimes experienced the Russian Orthodox church like a family gathering, not always a place where he encountered God.
“Being right where people are, finding people’s next step is what we’re all about,” Greene said. “We want to be there when you take that step and help you take your next one.”
A step might be liking a Facebook page, watching ConnectUs’ services online or praying.
The church plant models a four-step process for spiritual development, unfolding in a series of groups. There’s a first steps group, a grow group, a group focused on engaging and a group for people to be sent.
For Maltsev, not being a Christian at the board game night didn’t keep him from having fun or starting to make friends.
Shannon Stauffer, who leads worship for ConnectUs Church, was there that night as well. She was interested in getting to know Vadim more. And Stauffer is one of the first people who got to know Pastor Kevin and Alisha Greene as they were planting the church.
Kevin Greene began spending more time with Vadim and praying for him.
Vadim read John 1:29 in a Russian translation, and his life was never the same, Greene said. The translation said, “Behold the lamb of God who takes the sin of the world on himself.”
“Those two words ‘on himself’ made all the difference for him,” Greene said. “It just made sense what Jesus did for him.”
So, Vadim accepted Christ as his Lord, the first person in the ConnectUs Church community to turn to Jesus.
“For him to hear the gospel and understand the gospel has radically changed his life,” Greene said.
And it’s radically changed Shannon Stauffer’s ministry. She now has a new worship musician. Vadim taught himself to help lead worship and joined the church’s worship team. Vadim also helps with technology needs at the church.
“This guy, he’s brilliant,” Greene said. “He’s just applied that to his faith. He’s soaked up some biblical knowledge and love for people.”
Also, there’s been one other change for Shannon and Vadim. Kevin Greene will officiate their wedding in a few weeks.
For him, the faith and the friendship and worship of the Lord threaded through Shannon and Vadim’s lives are a clear reason why God led him and his wife to plant the church.
Finding their way to Lancaster and church planting
The Greenes were already living in the Lancaster area when they realized God wanted them to plant a church. Kevin had been studying in seminary and, in his last semester, he took a class on church planting.
He was working as an associate pastor at a church. His wife had an advanced degree in physical therapy, and they were living in Ephrata because the town was in between their jobs.
As his desire to plant a church grew stronger, a worship leader he knew at another church invited Kevin to start serving there. The spirit of that church’s leader was to join them and help for a while with that church plant. And then that church would help him out when the time came.
So, over the last five years, the Greenes researched where they wanted to be. They wanted to choose a different community that needed a new church in the Lancaster area.
They identified the northwest side of the Lancaster city region and moved there.
What is it like to live and serve in Lancaster?
Some people describe the area as rural, and others say it has lots of people.
In truth, it has both. Greene can drive five minutes in one direction and be standing in the middle of a cornfield. Or he can drive five minutes in another direction and be in the city. There are small towns in the county, but for the most part, he said suburbs are a defining identity for his church’s community.
That mix of a little bit of everything began to reveal itself as part of the spirituality in his church’s vicinity.
How does spirituality express itself in Lancaster?
He and others did a door-to-door survey, connecting with neighbors in the northwest part of Lancaster County. He learned that a town perceived as being Christian is often filled with people who don’t identify as Christian.
The statistics Greene heard indicated he could expect about two out of every 10 people would be strong, committed Christians.
For example, Sight & Sound Theatres is a popular attraction for tourists coming to the Greenes’ part of Pennsylvania. The theater produces high-quality productions of Christian narratives and events. Every show ends with a gospel presentation, and people travel to see these shows from all over the country.
But as he went door to door, talking with residents, he found only one or two Christian families out of roughly every 50 homes. What he encountered was rather different from what statistics or perceptions about a higher percentage of Christians had led him to anticipate.
With those he did talk to, he found people who didn’t speak English, people who didn’t like the church at all and people who could generally care less about spirituality.
Another lesson he’s learned about reaching into that community with Christ’s message of forgiveness and new life is there are many family churches. There are several churches where people go because a family has gone to that church for 150 years.
While Greene is not competing with those churches, he also said Lancaster County has diversified, and the population has increased significantly in the last 150 years. The county now has 600,000 people.
How ConnectUs leaders fit Lancaster’s needs
At ConnectUs Church, the leadership team includes a man from Kenya who married a Lancaster native and a few people who were adopted as children from Asian countries.
Greene grew up in Kelowna, British Columbia, a territory of Canada thousands of miles from Lancaster. Kelowna is a vacation spot beside a gorgeous lake.
His father, who works in information systems, got a new job in Wilmington, Delaware, when Greene was 5.
“I remember getting out the placemat that had the map of North America on it,” he said. “I was 5, and they were like, we’re going to move somewhere over here. We’re trying to find it on the map.”
Once they found Wilmington, his parents have never left, although his dad has changed companies several times in his technology career. Greene has two younger sisters and a younger brother.
Greene went to Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania, where he met his wife. He was studying digital communications and completed that major before going to seminary.
Navigating cultures and creating a church that emphasizes authentic relationships to everyone is something God has uniquely positioned the Greenes to offer.
Their primary value is being focused on Jesus. But the church also emphasizes authentic relationships, having fun together because fun authenticates forgiveness. They also regularly practice biblical teaching, being generous and making disciples as part of their worship and life together.
An example of having fun together and being in relationship comes from how they connected with their community this Easter. The church did Your Yard Easter Egg hunts for anyone within a 25-minute drive of the church who shared their contact info.
Pastor Greene emailed each family and shared a video about the Easter message. Bringing eggs to each family is “more personal, and it gives us an opportunity to make a personal touch with them.”
For one family, he delivered the eggs and something extra. That family mentioned the date of the oldest child’s birthday, so Greene delivered a few birthday balloons along with the eggs.
Somehow, a lady in Baltimore signed up to receive the eggs, even though she lives about 70 miles from ConnectUs Church. That’s not stopping anyone, though.
Greene reached out to some friends in Baltimore who delivered the eggs. They sent Kevin a picture of the fun his friends had with the lady and helped connect her to some churches closer to her home.
“We’re going to do our best to connect with you and connect you to God’s next step for your life, even if you’re in Baltimore.”
That’s why it’s no surprise their leadership team can be so diverse and offer something distinct from many of the churches that neighbor them.
ConnectUs reflects many of Converge’s commitments
Converge, as a movement of gospel-centered churches, has set a goal to plant 312 churches by 2026. Many of those churches, like ConnectUs, have already started.
ConnectUs received a grant from the Converge Cornerstone Fund, which provides financial resources and services to Converge churches that enable them to expand their ministry. Each new Converge church is eligible for a grant from the Cornerstone Fund.
Additionally, ConnectUs Church received a significant contribution from the Converge MidAtlantic district. Kevin also receives coaching from another Converge leader to help him with various aspects of starting a church.
“Being part of a network of churches is kind of a new thing for me,” he said.
For the Greenes, planting during COVID, of course, created some unique changes to their plans. But they have focused on their vision and stayed the course.
“There are certainly unique things,” he said, such as masks and social distancing. But they have found ways to meet in person as early as possible or as often as possible. He knows people don’t come to church as often or watch online only.
That doesn’t intimidate him since he was a digital communications major in college. “Digital was always at the forefront of my mind and still is,” he added. “Church is a whole new ballgame.”
ConnectUs meets in a movie theater on Sunday mornings and in small discipleship groups after the service on Sunday. The main group being intentionally emphasized now is the first steps group.
After the church launched, they immediately had a first steps group despite a snowstorm. The church leadership made sure to invite everyone back for the second meeting of the discipleship group.
However, an even stronger snowstorm happened that Sunday. Greene wasn’t sure how many people would come back for what he designed to be an intentional and necessary aspect of connecting people to Jesus and each other.
Even with a stronger snowstorm that weekend, several people returned for the discipleship group’s second meeting.
“It was confirmation from God to me that the worship service is important,” he said. “But [God was saying], I’ve given you this other thing that is even more important. Stick with it!”
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.