Shortly after walking out of the Atlanta Transitional Center, a man who finished his prison sentence called Converge pastor Dennis Spears.
“Hey Pastor D, how you doing?” the man asked Spears, who started World Shakers Church. “I’m out. I made it out. I’m going to stay the course; I’m going to church.”
Spears didn’t recognize the phone number, but he knew the man. The pastor of a new Converge church said encouraging the man’s personal transformation was a huge reward.
Every worship service at the facility required toting in musical equipment, setting up for the service and then taking it all down again. However, God does something in the 75-minute worship services for the men serving prison time.
“We’re here to give, not to receive,” Spears said. “We’re anxious to get back out there and do that again.”
The phone call showed why the team from World Shakers who serve inmates with worship services and friendships must continue.
“His mind was renewed,” Spears added. “His mind was changed.”
Pastors’ struggles reveal World Shakers’ purpose
Spears and his wife of 21 years, Lakesha, co-pastor the church, which launched June 13.
Spears spent two years in a federal prison after a “stupid decision.” He was married and had one child when he went to prison. Incarceration stressed his marriage to the breaking point.
But God redeemed the prison time, transforming Spears like the man who called the pastor from Atlanta Transitional Center. Plus, Spears discovered a ministry focus that guides their church.
“Our ministry has always been strongly passionate about the cast-outs, the rejects, expressly those who’ve been incarcerated,” he said. “Our ministry is called to the people who feel like they can never be completed.”
That includes men, women, boys and girls who don’t have a father figure. Same for those who made a wrong decision once or have several kids and don’t have a husband.
“We want to make sure those people know there can be a success story coming,” he said. “That’s why our mission is to love, live and lead like Jesus so he can reach them through us.”
Spears loves when people come to worship, joking that the building will catch on fire because they are so far from God.
“We look for the ones that aren’t churchy,” he said. “When God takes their situation and turns it around, they’ll have that same type of commitment and devotion to him” that Spears developed.
“We’re the Bonnie and Clyde of the gospel”
Since the pandemic started, World Shakers has rented a public park pavilion for worship services. There’s plenty of parking, shelter and it’s easy to invite parkgoers into church life.
He and Lakesha want every believer to understand God has the same mission for all people. Every person who knows Christ as Lord is a partner with equal responsibility to go and make disciples who make disciples.
“We’re carrying out the work that was passed down from Jesus and the 12 [disciples],” he said. “That alone means you can be part of this movement.”
Before Dennis and Lakesha started the church, people told them how their character and faith changed families and workplaces. As they prayed about the church’s name, God said to Lakesha he would use them to shake the world up.
“We’re the Bonnie and Clyde of the gospel,” Dennis joked. “It’s just who we are. The Lord has showed us that when he calls us to a place, we go there with the expectation that the orientation of how things were will not be the same when he gets finished with us.”
World Shakers has an early commitment to youth
Darius Lewis, who serves on the youth leadership team, said World Shakers prioritizes openness to God and people. That’s critical because Gen Z youth need people they can go to with any questions.
“We’ve got to have an open-door policy for the people of the church, so they get trustworthy mentors who give biblical advice about things,” he said.
People responded to Lewis’ hard questions in his youth by saying, “That’s what the Bible said, and that’s it.” That won’t work for Gen Z, he said.
“They are a very intellectual group, and they’re not just going to do something because you said so or because the Bible says so,” he added.
“The cultures are starting to blend”
Lewis said people from World Shakers, a primarily Black church, often connect with another church that is mostly white. The two churches have gathered online to talk about differences and multicultural Christianity.
“The cultures are starting to blend,” he said. “We want to make sure that we’re being the body of Christ, which is all God’s people.”
Spears explained the value of being open to a multicultural congregation by pointing to Gwinnett County and Lawrenceville’s demographics. There are people from Haiti, the countries on the African content and people from India, he said.
Moreover, he said some people are NFL players living in the town 45 minutes northeast of Atlanta. Others have never moved out of the trailer park where they grew up.
“What are church clothes anyway?”
The day before the church’s first service, the team handed out 120 bag lunches at the park. When inviting people to the next day’s service, they welcomed people to show up for church just like they show up to the park.
“No church clothes needed,” Spears said they told people. “What are church clothes anyway?”
A major emphasis of Converge for the next several years is seeing churches open their front door. This means offering a culture and activities that make it as easy as possible for people who don’t follow Jesus to love him and join his community.
Spears is excited, saying things are the best they’ve ever been for serving the Lord. He planted another church before. Before that, he served 12 years as a volunteer, then a paid worship leader and finally, an assistant pastor in Wisconsin.
A missed flight offers the Spears a massive opportunity
A cousin from Wisconsin traveled to Atlanta but missed his flight out. Then, the cousin bumped into the Spears’ family around town. The cousin ended up staying with the Spears until he could make another flight.
That’s when the Spears learned their cousin was connected to Epikos Church, a Converge Great Lakes church in Wisconsin. The cousin invited them to the Unleash conference at a time when ministry had been draining. There, the Spears saw a vision of what ministry could look like.
“We saw a multicultural fellowship of people that didn’t ask me what denomination I was part of, who I know, where I came from,” he said. “We just worshiped together, prayed together, praised together. It just felt like kingdom, and that just really resonated.”
Next, Ernie Cabrera, then executive minister for Converge Southeast, reached out to the Spears and started coaching them. Cabrera has planted three churches and now serves as vice president of church partnerships for Converge MidAmerica.
The Spears then participated in Converge’s Church Planting Assessment Center. They were approved, so Converge began sharing resources and coaching them on how to start a church.
“Converge gives you the framework,” he said. “Converge did a great job of opening areas of my mind and giving me new and better ways of traveling down this road.”
Before Converge, Spears and his wife once faced an excruciating decision: Would they save their home or the church building? Now, Spears has wisdom for how the church can be a self-sustaining entity.
Starting the church at a park pavilion is way different than starting a church in a hotel ballroom or ministering at an existing church.
For starters, right around the worship service, people rode bikes, kids played in wagons and people exercised on a walking trail. Even so, these same people had a serendipitous moment to draw near to the Lord in worship.
The new church has invested in sound equipment for this very reason. Just like they did for the ministry they hope to restart at Atlanta Transitional Center. World Shakers believes God does something when people can join in worshiping him.
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.