Pastor Aaron Day has been asking that question in airports, coffee shops and grocery stores for years. And almost always, it turns out he did go to high school with that person. Aaron’s just like that — he loves people, he remembers people and folks are drawn to him.
In 1997, Aaron and his wife Cathy joined the launch team of Cascade Church in Monroe, Washington. He was the evangelistic spark plug, the one who would share Jesus with obnoxious telemarketers and lead people to Christ on airplanes. Cascade flourished while Aaron served as pastor of student ministry and outreach pastor.
After a decade in Monroe, the Days accepted the call to plant a daughter church of Cascade. Originally, they thought they would be heading farther in toward the Seattle metro area. It turned out God wanted them farther out toward the mountains.
The rural town of Sultan, Washington, became the focus of their prayer and energy. The Day family moved to Sultan in order to be present in the community in which they would be serving.
I didn’t know churches loved like this anymore. Most church people complain about the schools rather than help.
Context is everything. Sultan is a rural community in the Skykomish Valley of western Washington. It sits astride one of two major highways that cross the state east to west.
The town is small but vibrant, rural but connected to the city, sustainable but with a high per capita of homeless. In order to begin a church in Sultan, Aaron knew instinctively one of the primary outreach initiatives would have to be justice ministry.
Just before the church launched, a major flood hit the Skykomish Valley. Aaron and members of the core team jumped into action and helped sandbag businesses in the small downtown area.
Wading through filthy water while encouraging and praying for nervous shop owners sent a message. Quickly the team became known as advocates for the community and a positive addition to the town.
On September 9, 2007, Crosswater Church was born in Sultan. The church's purpose attracted attention: Love God. Love People. Serve Generously.
One of the first ministry initiatives Crosswater attempted was Servefest, a day of practical hands-on service to the community. Dozens of people fanned out across Sultan and painted benches, pulled weeds at parks and schools, washed off graffiti and gave food and water to those in need.
Again, the community noticed something was different about this church.
'We were very intentional about being a blessing'
Crosswater met for nine years at Sultan High School. That’s nine years of setup, teardown and transitory existence. Even then, the Days led their church to serve and be a blessing in the name of Jesus.
The local school district was initially wary of “another church” showing up in one of its schools and sharing its cafeteria and classrooms.
“We were very intentional about being a blessing to the custodial staff and teachers,” Aaron said.
For example, at every parent/teacher conference (twice per year), the church provided meals and snacks for teachers, since they are on-site for extended hours. One self-described agnostic teacher said, “I didn’t know churches loved like this anymore. Most church people complain about the schools rather than help.”
So many people in the Sultan area are hurting. The economy is depressed. Many have been hurt by a church or church people. Dozens are homeless. The school system is overwhelmed. The people from Crosswater step in and bring Jesus to life with their hands and feet, as well as with their words.
They coach and serve in the schools. (Aaron has coached football and baseball since moving to the community.) They offer showers, food and warm drinks to the homeless. They give out water bottles and event invitations at area festivals.
Church leaders often ask themselves if anyone in their community would notice or care if their church were to close its doors. Crosswater has become a church known around the community as a people who make a difference.
Sultan would do more than just notice if the church ceased to exist. It would grieve.
Pastor Day has been diligent in creating a culture of evangelism. It’s been slow but steady.
The church has averaged 20 baptisms each year for the past decade. At least five homeless individuals have gotten off the streets and into families. Many, many more have realized once again that they’re human and worthy of dignity and respect.
“We are relentlessly gospel-centric,” Aaron said. “Our goal is to be Good News to our city, not just talk about Good News.
"We’ve had to refocus on our vision several times in order to keep away from an inward focus. An outward focus doesn’t come naturally or easily. It's part of our discipleship to focus on Jesus and others to keep us on mission. It’s our leaders' responsibility to lead by example and not just good preaching.”
Crosswater, with the help of the Converge Cornerstone Fund, was able to purchase a building less than two years ago. It’s not new. In fact, the building is the oldest church in the area, a 120-year-old former United Methodist facility that was moved across town by a team of horses in the early 1900s. A permanent space for ministry has made a difference.
“It’s been like a replant to have our own space,” Aaron said. “We took the neighbors cookies when we moved in, and they were like, ‘Hey, you guys are real!’”
And they are. Crosswater is here for the long haul. The name itself is revealing. People have to literally cross a river to get to the city of Sultan. And how do you get across the water? A bridge.
“Jesus makes a way for us to have a bridge to the Father,” Aaron said. “We get to be a bridge to help people find Jesus. As the Apostle Paul wrote, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News!’ That’s what we’re doing here.”
Nate Hettinga, Lead pastor of Cascade Church
Nate Hettinga is lead pastor at Cascade Church in Monroe, Washington, and director of Converge Northwest church planting.