New Hawaiian church modeled after Jesus’ needs-meeting ministry
Pastor & writer
Church planting & multiplication
Jim and Aileen Playter, who moved to Hawaii to start a church, like to ask their neighbors one question.
“What do you need?”
They are serving at Aloha Christian Fellowship in Kapolei on the island of Oahu. The small congregation lost its pastor about the time the Playters moved to Hawaii, eager to plant a church.
Their calling for starting new churches goes back to the early 2000s in Wisconsin. Playter finished a career in the Air Force and served two existing churches. Then he started a church in Johnson Creek, Wisconsin.
That’s where he learned the value of connecting with the community about needs. For example, the people in Johnson Creek said the town needed a grocery store and a daycare.
“In an effort to complement our culture rather than compete, and in an effort to show people how much we care, we started creating needs-meeting ministry,” Jim said.
The Playters already had a ministry for families who’d been through the pain of divorce. The second effort they initiated was the daycare the community wanted.
“The difficult experiences we went through in our lives fueled the passion to help others going through the same kind of situations,” Jim said. “We wanted to reach out to people who had broken life experiences and didn’t feel welcome in church. We said we would be a place where people who were broken and disenfranchised could come and receive and healing, forgiveness and new beginning.”
Eventually, the Wisconsin church bought a closed high school to use as a ministry center. The diverse environment of a school created ample opportunities for Sunday services plus new ministry ideas, such as changing oil or servicing brakes on vehicles owned by older adults.
From 2002 to 2018, God motivated the average-size church of disciples to create two churches. The second church started when the mother congregation had about 50 members. The third church launched when there were about 80 members.
“Church planting is about sending, not gathering,” he said. “The people next door are dying and going to hell. My passion is people becoming soul-winners. My passion is to equip people to be disciple-making disciples. I love to teach about how to share your faith convincingly with somebody else.”
Now, God is drawing people to join Aloha Christian Fellowship and help the church offer discipleship and needs-meeting ministries to the local community. Many of the island’s residents work long hours to afford the area’s high living expenses. Such a schedule generates challenges for a church pursuing the highly relational, slow-paced work of following Jesus.
But that didn’t stop Chris and Christina Takenami from getting more involved in God’s work. New churches are an open door for people to come to Christ. Plus, Converge is in the middle of encouraging all churches in the movement to open the front door, making God’s grace and truth more accessible.
New Converge church offers intimacy for believers
The Takenamis first met the Playters in 2019, and they joined the Playters and another family for a Bible study.
“It was such a divine appointment,” Christina said. “My husband’s in the chaplain candidate program right now. It’s amazing to see what [God] does in your life, the big and the small.”
Moreover, Aloha Christian Fellowship offers a deep sense of connection between church members, which the Takenamis appreciate.
“Intimacy is so hard to find,” she said. “For the longest time, Chris and I would go to church, zip in and zip out and not feel like we were a part of something. We went because we wanted to hear the word and we wanted to go to church. But we didn’t have any strong connection with the congregation.”
Now Chris is Aloha’s associate pastor, having been licensed and ordained by the church.
“He’s my ministry partner. That’s been fun to see,” Jim said. Chris preaches every other Sunday.
“That was such an encouragement to have another couple say, ‘We want to do this with you,’” Aileen said. “The way God brought us together, it was really cool. We praise God for them and the way he brought that together.”
Part of the Takenamis’ commitment to the church aligns with the needs-based ministries the Playters have a history of creating.
Offering more of a children’s ministry at Aloha is something Christina said she’d like to see for other families. Although their children are a little older now, she and Chris know dedicated worship activities for children bless families.
“That’s one thing I really pray for that we could do for families,” she said. “We could have a place for kids and a place for the parents to sit in God’s word.”
Another influence she asks the Lord to create is ministering to the homeless. Christina explained that the homeless can feel unseen, feeling like they don’t have a voice in a state mainly recognized for natural beauty and tourism.
“I would like to see us doing stuff to help the homeless people that need more help, a place to go and be fed and feel safe,” Christina said.
That’s right in line with Aileen’s passion, too. She works as a counselor to help people have robust mental and emotional health.
“I just love getting out and doing things to help people,” Aileen said. “One of my spiritual gifts is service and one of my primary love languages is acts of service. I find it really fulfilling to reach out and help people.”
Chris sees yet another new action of the church since the Playters arrived.
“With Jim and Aileen leading the church, the focus has been on discipleship and outreach to the community,” he said. “God has placed the Playter and Takenami families exactly where he wants them. We struggle at times, when things aren’t moving as fast as we want them to move but our patience and belief in him, in accomplishing things with this church, we believe will be greater than we could ever imagine.”
Volunteers say yes when God calls them
Moreover, the church has seen two other volunteers step up significantly. These young adults eagerly seek discipleship and offer their gifts to the church.
Aileen taught one young adult how to stream their services live on Facebook. Now that man has owned the opportunity to make sure Aloha services are live-streamed every week. The other young adult has been making Instagram videos about relationships with encouragement from pastors Jim and Chris.
“They have both begun to make themselves available for discipleship,” Jim said. “I’m trying to build these two young people to use their gifts, to use their creativity. I never say ‘no.’ My job is to resource you. What is it you need to accomplish what God is telling you to do?”
Currently, the church is meeting in a park to comply with Oahu’s COVID-19 guidance for churches, as well as work around the high cost of land. A church building in Oahu can cost more than $5 million. But that doesn’t discourage the Playters.
“I don’t want to stand before God someday and tell him I spent five million dollars of his money on a building that gets used four hours a week,” Jim said.
The church, which plans to officially launch May 22, has met in a community center and via Zoom, and now gathers in a park. The Playters see no reason why a church can’t bless people without a building.
“Even in Wisconsin, the worship service was never the centerpiece of our ministry,” Jim explained. “The needs-meeting ministry was the centerpiece of our ministry.”
He and Aileen have consciously chosen to form their church around the priorities and practices they see in Jesus’ ministry.
“Jesus was a needs-meeting ministry,” Jim said. “He healed, he fed, he encouraged, he rescued and then gave them the gospel. Most churches have a gathering mentality. But that wasn’t Jesus’ ministry. You have to have a change in the way you see the world.”
New paradigms for ancient grace
The Playters are navigating a cultural change in how they share the gospel. In Hawaii, many people are slow to trust outsiders. Moreover, their neighbors on Oahu interpret life through a different cultural lens.
So, the Playters are learning that this new church won’t serve people the same way their church plants have in the past.
Demographically, 54 percent of the people who live in Hawaii are of Asian lineage. Twenty-five percent of those Asian people are Japanese, the largest minority group in Hawaii. There are Chinese, Filipino, and Vietnamese people in the mix, too.
“It’s really cool to watch worship,” Aileen said. “You just have all these different cultures coming together to worship God.”
But sharing the gospel and achieving the soul-winning that Jim loves to do hasn’t developed the same as in Wisconsin or other continental American states.
Even so, Jayson Georges’ The 3D Gospel is helping the Playters adapt their ministry to Kapolei’s culture.
“To talk about guilt-innocence is a foreign language to them,” Jim explained. “I’m having to learn a whole different way to complement this culture.”
Aileen, who is Japanese-American, recognizes a way forward that contributes to the church’s philosophy and practice.
“You still want to speak truth, but you don’t want to do it in a way that’s going to shut the door,” she said.
A strong confidence fuels changing methods
So, Jim’s changing his way of preaching and evangelizing to help people understand the way God’s grace takes away their shame and restores their honor. That’s been a change from many of his gospel presentations where someone recognized their guilt before God.
They know all the personal growth and adjusted methods will be worth it to help more people know Jesus as the friend of sinners. They have big goals with confidence in God’s love and power.
“My vision was to start five churches in five years who will each start five churches in five years,” Jim explained. “In order to pull that off, I need people called to preach and teach and serve in the local church and be a part of this with us. If people are called to a real challenge, come to Hawaii. We’re in hand-to-hand combat with the devil. Pray that God would send his laborers into the harvest fields.”
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.