Jodi Macfarlan is a writer and editor with Journey Group in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In 1988, Glen Schrieber and his wife, Karen, packed up their belongings and did what seemed crazy to others at the time: They moved to New Orleans to plant an Evangelical Free Church.
As the only EFCA presence in the surrounding area, they dug in and rooted their family in the soil of the Deep South. Fifteen years later, when the Southeast District asked Glen to become superintendent, he and his family left the area but passed on a thriving church and urban sports ministry1 in Central City, New Orleans (known as NOLA—short for New Orleans, La.).
Then came Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which rocked New Orleans and left indescribable heartbreak and devastation in its wake. Amazingly, the church the Schriebers had helped plant—Castle Rock Community Church—saw flooding rise up to its doorstep, but the building was left largely unscathed. The church became one of two EFCA outposts for relief2, and nearly 500 churches have since joined in the movement’s NOLA recovery efforts.
“Katrina allowed the Free Church to come into New Orleans in a powerful way, to be a major player beyond just hurricane recovery,” Glen says. “We’ve helped physically with a lot of rehab work, but now is the time to come back, launch churches and establish ourselves in the development phase. We want to see further restoration and, prayerfully, revival.”
So for the next three years, various EFCA ministries are partnering together to build on that foundation and establish an even more powerful presence in NOLA. The central aim of ReachNOLAnow, as this grand partnership is called, is to start 5-10 new church plants in the greater metro area by 2013.
Next summer, as a big kickoff for the initiative, ReachNOLAnow is welcoming an influx of workers into the city for Challenge 2012—the biennial EFCA student conference. It’s long been a trademark of every Challenge conference to join church planters in the host city, in order to leave an enduring gospel presence behind and teach students about living on-mission with God. At the 2012 conference, some 5,000 students will play a part in the NOLA region’s eventual transformation.
“We thought, how can we leverage what happened with Katrina and what’s going to happen with Challenge, and try to get churches from around the world to help rebuild and plant churches?” says Bruce Redmond, director of church planting in the Southeast District. “How can we reign in all of this activity for the gospel and God’s kingdom?”
It seems a crazy combination for the week: thousands of teens and their youth workers, plus a handful of established EFCA ministries and churches, plus a few couples dreaming of planting new churches in this devastated city. But for six days, they’ll join together for everything from prayer stations and intentional acts of kindness, to Katrina relief, sports ministry and street evangelism.
And other EFCA ministries will similarly follow in its wake. From sending missions teams to help with church planting, to simply hosting meetings and being present in the city, the Free Church hopes to transform the region with the love of Christ.
“We want to give street credibility and visibility to what these new churches are about—to help them establish themselves and also energize ministries already on the ground,” Glen adds.
Until now, the church he and Karen helped plant has been one of only two EFCA churches in the area, so this synergy of focus and effort is heartening for them. For what the city needs most, Glen says, is leadership—both generally and spiritually, but specifically to continue making disciples who are following Christ and leading their churches and communities.
“We had always hoped that New Orleans would be changed by the Free Church presence—that we’d make a dent there and be able to bring not only the gospel but also community development,” he says. “ReachNOLAnow is a huge step toward fulfilling the visions that first took us there. Now we get to stand aside and watch our dreams be fulfilled.”
Learn more about ReachNOLAnow.