“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28-19-20).
Matthew 28:19-20 makes clear God’s call to his followers: Go. Make disciples of all nations. Teach my commandments. Converge Church Planting Residencies seek to fulfill this call by equipping and multiplying the next generation of ministry leaders not only to start but strengthen churches worldwide.
But to truly fulfill the Great Commission in our lifetime, Converge recognized the need to move beyond traditional church planting methods. They needed a paradigm shift.
Reverse engineering the traditional approach to church planting
Historically, church planting has involved a “free agency” approach. In effect, church planting recruiters would seek out established youth pastors and other ministry leaders ― encouraging them to leave their congregations and join the effort to build a new church.
“The challenge with this approach is that the well dried up,” said Marlan Mincks, Converge Director of Church Planting Development. “Integral members of church bodies were leaving faster than churches could replace them.”
In addition, according to a study by Lifeway Research, 4,500 churches closed in 2019 in the U.S. alone. Just 3,000 new congregations began. This downward trajectory has advanced over the past 10 years and is estimated to as much as triple as a result of the pandemic.
Church planting has slowed for several reasons, but the opportunities to make an impact through starting churches remain vast. For Converge, reversing the trend demands foundational change.
“The free-agent approach is addition,” said Lee Stephenson, Converge vice president of Church Planting. “We need to focus on multiplication to truly take the church where this country and our world need it to go.”
Multiplication means training up the next generation of ministry leaders and empowering them to go and make more disciples, rather than recruiting from other congregations and leaving gaps.
In response, Converge developed its Church Planting Residencies in 2019 with multiplication and church planting in mind. The residency program is a formal, step-by-step pathway for those feel called to vocational ministry. Through it they clarify their call, engage in healthy leadership practices and receive the training necessary to be sent with humility and confidence.
“The idea was to reverse engineer how church planting historically has been done,” said Stephenson.
Converge Church Planting Residencies ― a brief glimpse
The Converge residency program is open to all who feel called to ministry ― whether a recent college graduate who desires to take the next step in their development or an individual completely outside ministry who feels called to church planting.
“Converge residencies are all about giving individuals the toolboxes they need,” said Mincks. “From educational to experiential, we seek to equip residents with all they need to grow and go.”
The program involves a 1-2 year commitment by a church and resident. It delivers on-site training, online vocational and theological education, mentorship and long-term partnership. Residents are embedded within a local church, partnered with a mentor and given experiences ranging from pastoral duties to youth ministry, financial education and planning, community outreach and beyond.
Residents have the opportunity to earn an Advanced Certificate of Church Leadership from Converge or even a Master’s Degree in Church Planting from Wheaton College.
From medical professional to ministry leader and church planter
Shawn Butler was born and raised on Chicago’s South Side. When he was 16, his family moved to Las Vegas. Today, Butler is married with three young children ― ages 8, 4 and 2. He and his wife are Registered Nurses with a passion for serving, helping and healing.
Butler lived in Las Vegas for 16 years with no intention of leaving. That is, until God called him and his family elsewhere.
“We were happily living and attending a church in Las Vegas when I began to sense a call to pastoral ministry,” said Butler. “We waited and prayed. Then I reached a point where I felt the need to take responsibility for the conviction I was feeling.”
At a pastoral and church planting conference hosted by Converge, Butler and his wife found the nudge. During the conference, they had a conversation with Stephenson ― who, in addition to his Converge church planting role, serves as lead/founding pastor of Harvest Community Church in Orlando, Florida.
Stephenson invited Butler to join him at Harvest as a Converge resident.
“We loved our community, our church and our kids’ school, so leaving was not the ideal next step,” said Butler. “After my wife and I prayed and fasted together, God drew us both to the conclusion it was time to go.”
Butler and his family took a leap of faith that included leaving jobs and Las Vegas for Orlando and saying goodbye to their familiar community and their family members.
The blessing of exposure stood out most to Butler throughout the hands-on residency ― exposure to experienced pastors, such as Stephenson, everyday church activities and decision-making discussions with leadership. In addition, he was able to rotate through various areas, wearing multiple hats and learning what it takes to plant, run and nurture a church.
“I was able to tailor my experience to my individual goals and growth needs,” said Butler.
His tenure as a Converge resident ended in summer 2021. But his partnership with Converge and Harvest Community Church didn’t end there.
“Harvest Community Church and Converge will be coming alongside my family and me as we seek to plant a church in Chicago,” said Butler.
He had long felt a calling to return to his hometown, to bring something life-changing back to where he spent much of his youth. At the time he left Chicago, he didn’t have a relationship with Jesus.
“I wanted nothing to do with God and lacked interest when it came to church,” said Butler. “So, it’s amazing that he brought me to ‘Sin City’ to dismantle and redeem my heart. For years I wondered how I could give back to the Chicagoland area. Then it dawned on me ― deposit the greatest treasure I’ve ever been given, the gospel, by planting a church.”
Butler concluded, “The residency program has further equipped me to carry out this mission.”
Given a chance to lead, college graduate goes from volunteer to youth director
Like Butler, Jake Brandwein is a Chicago native. He’s 26 years old and a 2018 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, where he graduated with a degree in youth ministry. Shortly after graduation, Brandwein moved to Orlando ― called by God away from family, friends and community to volunteer at a church led by his lifelong mentor.
But he was challenged by the lack of opportunities he found in Orlando and was planning to move back to the Midwest to explore additional avenues in ministry.
“I was looking for a path forward in youth ministry,” said Brandwein. “Then my mentor, next-gen pastor of the church where I volunteered, introduced me to a residency program at Harvest Community Church. When I learned what the program was, I leapt at the opportunity.
“The biggest thing was learning how Converge partners with you to help you find your next step after the residency program ends,” said Brandwein. “That was really comforting to me and something Converge has absolutely followed through on.”
With a focus on youth ministry, Brandwein partnered with Converge and Harvest Community Church, the same church led by Stephenson and where Butler fulfilled his residency.
In the residency program for two years, Brandwein completed his tenancy in July 2021. Around the same time, Harvest offered him the full-time youth director position.
The Converge residency program emphasizes church planting and equipping leaders to start new congregations. But the program focuses on young professionals in ministry hoping to take the next step in their development. It also helps those who feel called to vocational ministry but are unsure where to begin.
A church plant in its own right, Harvest Community Church had only been open for nine months when Brandwein began his residency. He found it invaluable to partner with a church that, like him, was still finding its way.
“I got to grow with the church and experience so much more than just youth ministry,” said Brandwein. “I helped out with youth, guest services, behind the scenes and in many other places. Then, two years after I arrived, they offered me the role of youth director, which was pretty special.”
Perhaps the most impactful piece of the residency program to Brandwein, beyond the educational tracks through Wheaton College and first-hand experience, was being partnered with a Converge residency “champion.” This mentor would walk side by side with him throughout the program.
“We met every week,” said Brandwein. “He would ask me, ‘I know your focus is youth ministry, but what other areas excite you?’ He encouraged me to explore all areas I wanted to experience and learn about. His mentorship not only sharpened me as a pastor but as a person.”
The authenticity of the residency program continues to resonate with Brandwein, as do the opportunities and experiences. He found the program at a time when his path forward was unclear.
“It’s just such a blessing to see the ways God puts the puzzle pieces of our lives together for his will,” said Brandwein. “The Converge residency program and Harvest Community Church were pieces I didn’t anticipate but am incredibly grateful for.”
Cultivate, sharpen, go and multiply
“Converge residencies represent an amazing opportunity for people who want to understand and experience every area of the church,” said Butler. “The program empowers you to cultivate your giftings and sharpen your weaknesses.”
The Converge residency program aims to spread the gospel and grow the church during a time of urgency and need. The organization, its partner churches and residents are working diligently to move the church from an addition mindset to one of multiplication.
In turn, God is using these efforts to raise up the next generation.
Whether in a big city at a multi-site church with a body of thousands or a rural church with fewer than 100 people, whether desiring to plant churches or grow in vocational ministry, Converge wants to partner with you. Cultivate your gifts. Sharpen your weaknesses. Go. Multiply.