Caleb York has been army crawling across stone for an hour. His Coleman lantern jerks and jolts. His feet, knees and elbows are pushing him forward in the underground darkness.
The lantern has even burned his skin a few times as he squeezes on, spelunking in a cave he and a brother found in the Arkansas hills.
He’s been here before, having discovered the cave accidentally. Living as a teen in Arkansas, there was a commercial cave near his home. So, he and his brothers knew there had to be more.
His first time at this cave, he stumbled upon it. He’d been walking through the hills and got lost. Then he saw water flowing out of an entryway, down the hill and into a pond.
He went in, and army crawled for an hour. Finally, he made it far enough to pass through the full, high entrance and into a tunnel formed by moving water. But he wasn’t prepared for more, so he turned back.
Another brother invited friends from college to visit the cave. This time, all the young men prepared. They crawled through the same tunnel for an hour and a half. Before them was a big, hollowed-out room with stalactites, stalagmites, a waterfall and a large pool.
“It was probably one of the coolest explorations I’ve ever done,” he said. “When you discover something, it gets your blood pumping.”
The spirit of Christopher Columbus still guides Ohio
York is pastoring a church near Columbus, Ohio, named for the 15th-century Spanish explorer. York, his wife, Amanda, and others gave a lot of thought and prayer to naming the Converge church in Canal-Winchester. What would inspire people with the value of Christ’s life today ― especially when the way ahead is unknown ― and resonate in a city identified by an explorer’s heritage?
For York, the answer was in his heritage as well. After all, finding the Arkansas cave as a teenager was a discovery. But then he explored the subterranean passages and discovered the noisy waterfall into the pool, accessible only by tight, rocky passages.
Likewise, Discovery City Church wants to help people explore the riches and joys of knowing Christ, who came from the Father full of grace and truth. Such knowledge will take more than one trip to church and requires a lifetime of change, risk and learning.
“There’s more to Jesus than what you know. People know what they think Jesus is all about, what God is all about,” York said. “But they need to discover the exciting things that God presents, and that a life through Jesus presents.”
York wasn’t even trying to be a church planter
York, 35, Amanda and their five children aren’t surprised he is in ministry. God called him while a teenager. Moreover, York’s dad is a pastor and traveling evangelist, and he has three brothers and a sister in ministry.
Ten years ago, Caleb and Amanda were on the core team of his brother Ben’s church plant, a Converge church on the west side of Columbus. Then, he and Amanda did years of youth ministry. All along, the path seemed clear.
“My game plan was to find a pastor who was ready to retire, become his associate, spend two or three years learning and him transition out,” he said. “God just kept slamming doors in my face because it was my plan. It wasn’t his plan.”
So, Caleb did what he has done many times. He went to his brother Ben to seek counsel. But he only got more and more frustrated when Ben wouldn’t say a word back to him.
Finally, his brother answered.
“Caleb, have you prayed about church planting?”
To which Caleb said, “No, I don’t have what it takes. I was with you for the first year (of starting Guide Church).”
However, over the next month, God impressed on York how many churches were closing, the souls who could be saved and the value of church planting.
Converge has a goal of planting 312 churches by 2026. The 10 districts of the movement committed to starting more churches because new churches are one of the best ways for people to find and follow Jesus.
“Every church really does have a lifespan, and they are not eternal,” York said. “We need new churches starting a new lifespan, especially with doors closing.”
Those perspectives and attitudes kept growing in the Yorks. A couple of months after Ben York’s question to Caleb, Caleb told his wife he couldn’t stop thinking about church planting.
“I can’t stop thinking about it either,” she said.
Together, they realized God was preparing their family and lining up the family for this big step ― and big opportunity.
How is Converge helping this church be different?
The gravity of planting a church in Canal-Winchester is clear to York. He said there had been four or five church plants come and go since they moved in 2018.
“They’re here for a short time, they make a big splash and then they’re gone,” he said.
That splash followed by a spiritual silence slowly created a spirit against new churches in the town of 8000.
“It felt like this stigma in this area where they wouldn’t give a new church a try,” he said. “Why do it if they’re just going to be gone in a year or two?”
He said many people in Canal-Winchester have a strike against established churches as well. But Canal-Winchester is a hub, York said, for all the communities southeast of Columbus.
“For us, our passion was Canal-Winchester. This is where God has placed on our heart to be located,” he said.
Canal-Winchester was the fastest-growing city in Ohio three years ago. York said the small town includes the last parcels of available land near Columbus. So, people who want to work in the city and live in a small town have surged into Canal-Winchester.
“I wanted to get us established, ready for this massive growth that’s going to be coming our way in the next few years,” York said. “We’ve got to go where the people are.”
There’s plenty of questions for Canal-Winchester, which has a changing identity. Years ago, the small town found ways to resist Columbus’ spread into the small town.
Now York said they’re embracing the newcomers. Farms have become subdivisions, and people moved in from other countries. Young families have moved next to older, lifelong residents. Muslims, Buddhists and Christians live in the town.
How can a church put down roots?
Until the end of 2019, Discovery City Church met in a school, a common option for new churches in the Columbus area. Then church leaders started praying about a location that would let the community know they were there to stay.
One day, York was driving to the church’s storage building situated among other warehouses. Every Sunday, unloading the trailer, he had seen a church worshiping in a warehouse. That’s unusual as zoning laws in Canal-Winchester often prevent church meetings in warehouses.
However, no one was coming in or out of the church on this one day while York unloaded equipment into the storage unit. So, he called the landlord and learned the church had closed.
York and the landlord quickly sensed an agreement could be reached for Discovery City. However, as details firmed up, the price was double what the church could afford. Then, the landlord and her accountant reconsidered and agreed to half the original rent.
Next, York used the Cornerstone grant from Converge to help renovate the space. The $5000 ― and the landlord’s openness to changes ― enabled a new children’s area, carpet and nursery space.
“What if we get a huge Easter Egg and blow it up?”
After COVID, a year-plus of online services and moving into a new building, the church needed to relaunch and reconnect with the community, York said.
So, with the rest of the grant, Discovery City also funded an incredible Easter event for the community. The team found an Easter egg that is seven feet tall and seven feet wide through a Pittsburgh church.
“You can fit three grown men inside this thing,” York said. The former spelunker didn’t say if he’s climbed inside the egg himself.
Instead, Discovery City Church put eggs with candy inside the colossal egg. Then, they covered a large field in Canal-Winchester with even more eggs. Finally, the Easter Explosion happened: air cannons inside the huge egg fire, scattering hundreds of small eggs all over the field.
“It’s like the Fourth of July at Easter,” York said. “The crowd, they just love it.”
Inside each egg is a ticket inviting one of the hundreds and hundreds of children and adults to worship on Easter. If the family brings the ticket back to worship, they might win high-end children’s toys like a Nintendo switch or hoverboard. This past Easter, 85 people came to worship after the Easter Explosion.
Within weeks of Easter, seven people accepted Christ, eight children were dedicated to the Lord and two people were baptized. Those two people wanted to learn more about raising their children to know and follow Christ.
Spiritual growth at Discovery City means more churches
That’s exactly the kind of spiritual maturity Discovery City strives to stimulate. The church has a growth guide and map for people to show them the path of becoming who Christ wants them to be.
The final step York envisions is people going to be part of a new church plant. An essential teaching around Discovery City is Christ’s people are contributors, not just consumers. How ironic the pastor who wanted to work at an established church now forms a young church to start other churches.
“There are some great churches in Columbus, but there’s not enough,” he said. “We needed to see new churches established and a new stance for Christ to be strong here. Our vision as a church is to be a church planting church plant.”
That’s because he sees what Canal-Winchester and Columbus will be like without the gospel.
“If we’re not careful, this could be a very dark city, a city where sin is rampant and technology is king,” he said.
In the darkness of an Arkansas cave, York learned the value of light and persistence to discover what could be experienced.
“We’ve got a job to do to share the gospel,” he said. “We can’t just do church like normal. There’s way more God has intended for us.”
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.