The story I am writing about Elm City Church is much different than the story I thought I would be writing a year ago. The story (so far) of Elm City Church is actually the convergence of two stories. As Proverbs 16:9 says, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” As I look back at what has transpired over the past year or so I am blown away by God’s provision and the favor he has shown us.
In the fall of 2017, my wife Beth and I knew we were going to be church planting in Keene and that was about it. I wasn’t sure where we would meet, who would be on the team, or what shape it would take. We started with about ten people in a living room, praying and dreaming together while studying the book of Titus. Our mission was simple: “Practice the Way of Jesus Together.”
On a prayer walk through town I stumbled across a building I had never been in before called The Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship. It was only a block off of Main Street, was next to a parking garage, and had rooms that could be used for our Sunday gatherings. The Hannah Grimes Center turned out to be my Person of Peace. Not only did it provide great space at an affordable price in downtown Keene, I was also able to join their Incubator Program for entrepreneurs. Every month we would all get together and collaborate on what we were working on and every month we were also required to meet with a coach in order to go over our financials and progress on our annual goals.
While this was going on I was still working as the Youth Pastor at Grace Community Church in Spofford. The goal was to launch public services in the fall of 2018. During this pre-launch season I had been developing a friendship with another church planter in the area named Justin Barney. He was a native of New Hampshire, and had moved to Keene from Pennsylvania to plant a church in 2012. As our friendship grew we realized that not only were we trying to do the same thing, but we were also trying to do it in the same way.
In June of 2018, about three months before we were scheduled to start Sunday services, Justin approached me with the idea of joining our two churches. We spent time praying and thinking through this question, “Will we be able to accomplish more together than separate?” Neither of us had any desire to join up if 1+1=1.5, but if 1+1 could potentially equal 3 or 4 then we were all in.
After much prayer and wise council we felt like God was leading us to join up and become one church. Even though Praxis Church was a Vineyard Church, Justin and I were so closely aligned in both theology and practice that this didn’t seem like much of a barrier. Through this process we discovered that we had both been getting individual coaching from the same church planting coach, Bob Logan. After meeting with as many people as possible ahead of time, we then made the announcement that Praxis Church and Elm City Church would join forces for the sake of the Gospel in Keene.
The one new issue this partnership brought was neither of our current locations were going to be large enough for our combined group. The week after we announced that we were moving towards merging, we came across an unexpected facility opportunity. A dance studio, only two blocks from Main Street, was for sale. Without asking anyone for money, the entire downpayment was pledged in a week and the bank prequalified us for a loan. We closed on the building at the end of November and had our first service in our new space on February 3rd.
It has been amazing to see God at work in the hearts of people. People who have been disconnected to the church for years are starting to plug in. I had the privilege of baptizing someone who was in the incubator program with me. We have six Life Groups meeting weekly. Being able to work with Justin is allowing both of us to spend the majority of our time in our areas of strength. Almost none of this was even on the radar a year ago. But this has been God’s plan all along. Our prayer is that we remain faithful stewards to the generous resources that God has provides and be faithful witnesses to the truth of Jesus in Keene and the surrounding communities.
Elm City Church