If you knew Brad Brucker in the 1980s and early 1990s, you never would have guessed that he would one day devote his life to church planting.
Brucker came to Christ in 1986 at the age of 28 after being addicted to drugs and alcohol. After getting sober, he co-founded a material handling business in Seattle.
The business grew, and in 1994, he and his wife, Ann, moved to Chicago. Then he started having friction with his business partner over philosophical differences on how to run the company.
“After being in Chicago for four months, I went to go to work one day, got in my car, and I just wept,” Brucker said. “I got out of my car, went into my house, sat on the bed — my wife was still in bed — and I said, ‘Honey, I don't know how much longer I can do this.’ And I wept. I was just in pain, like, ‘This is not what God wants for us.’”
The Bruckers prayed that God would show them a sign on what to do. Within two weeks, Brad’s partner offered to buy him out, and Brucker accepted.
Over the next 4½ years, Brucker earned a bachelor’s degree in Communications and Bible from Trinity International University and a master’s in Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
Receiving the call to church planting
Before interning at Willow Creek Community Church, Brucker thought he would become a pastoral counselor. Then he took his first counseling class.
“With two weeks I felt, I can do some of this, but I can’t do this all day long. That’s not how God wired me,” he said. “Then I took a church planting course. The first week I came home and said to my wife, ‘We’re planting a church because this is right down my alley.’”
But where would they plant?
“I looked around and said, ‘OK, where are the most unchurched people in the United States?’ Because that’s where we want to go. We want to be light in darkness. And so I looked around, and behold, I grew up in Oregon, the Portland area, and that was, at the time, the top state in the country for nonchurch going people. So we came back out here, and we looked around, and we found this little town called Sherwood.”
In 1999, the Bruckers planted Woodhaven Community Church in an elementary school in Sherwood, which is about 15 miles southwest of Portland and has a population of about 20,000.
In 2005, Woodhaven bought land and built a building. Brucker thought, “OK, now we’re going to take off.” The church started with two services in the new building and grew to about 180 people.
Then Brucker’s brother died in August 2005. Brucker was working about 92 hours a week while also ministering to his family. He was running on fumes emotionally.
“I told the congregation, ‘I don't know what’s wrong with my heart, but something’s wrong. I have to figure it out.' So I went away to my favorite lake in the mountains in October right before the snow starts falling. I had my little boat and my Bible, and I just prayed and fasted and asked God to show me what to do.
“God took a wrecking ball to my heart. I realized I was trying to build my kingdom. I got to my knees and repented. ‘OK, now what? What do you want me to do?’ The only words I heard were ‘feed my lambs.’ Well, I could do that. I was trained to do that. What else? That’s all for now.”
Woodhaven grew to about 300 people, but “we still wanted more,” Brucker said.
Planting churches in Africa
In 2009, he took his first missions trip to Africa after initially not wanting to go. Within the first couple of days there, God took a wrecking ball to Brucker’s heart again.
On the trip, he shared the gospel with about 120 students and 60 accepted Jesus. At a shelter in a dilapidated area of Uganda, he shared his testimony of overcoming drug and alcohol addiction with men struggling with the same issues. All the men decided to put their faith in Jesus.
By the time Brucker returned home, God had put Africa in his heart. He returned the next year to sponsor a conference.
I’m convinced planting churches is the single greatest way to reach lost people and make disciples.
In 2012, he helped plant two churches in Africa, birthing the EPIC church planting movement. (EPIC=E: Evangelize nations, P: Plant churches, I: Inspire indigenous leaders; C: Create disciples)
Brucker has helped plant eight churches in Uganda and one in Burundi and has supported Vietnamese church planting for 17 years.
“I’m convinced planting churches is the single greatest way to reach lost people and make disciples,” he said.
In 2015, Brucker and Woodhaven decided to merge with Horizon Community Church and become Horizon’s Sherwood campus.
Time to make a bold move
In early 2020, Brucker decided it was time to make a bold Nehemiah-like move. He approached Horizon’s pastor about buying back the Sherwood campus building, which Woodhaven had sold to Horizon in 2015.
Horizon agreed to sell the building for $850,000, but where would Brucker get financing?
“We incorporated EPIC House in June 2020,” he said. “We don’t have any books yet, or anything like that to show a bank or lending institution. So this is the big miracle: Where are we going to get $850,000?”
After two lending companies turned him down, Brucker and EPIC House secured a loan to reacquire the building.
“I just felt the hand of God on my back,” he said. “That’s a miracle. We closed that deal in November 2020.”
On September 6, 2020, EPIC House held its inaugural service in the church parking lot with more than 160 people in attendance. They continued to meet in the parking lot until the rain got too heavy.
Now, they have three in-person services on Sunday mornings at about 25% capacity (50 people per service). The church also broadcasts its services online and has about 20 small groups.
Brucker, whose son, Willie, is a rapper, wants to start a hip-hop-style Saturday night experience for young people who would never come to a traditional church.
“Brad is a catalytic leader who never stops dreaming about what is over the horizon,” said Nate Hettinga, Converge Northwest executive minister. “I’m thrilled to be working together to see a church planting movement grow in one of America’s darkest cities.”
When asked about what drew him to join Converge, Brucker points to a meeting with Hettinga.
“He didn’t try to sell me on Converge,” Brucker said. “He just shared his heart for church planting. In that meeting, I knew: This is my tribe. I didn’t find my tribe; my tribe found me.”
Michael Smith serves as Converge’s content specialist. He has nearly two decades in the newspaper publishing industry. Michael worked as a copy editor and designer for the Tampa Tribune for more than a dozen years. He also was a member of the editorial staff of Florida Baptist Witness and other publications across the Southeast.