Brownstown is located five miles west of Trenton, Mich. A large portion of its population is not connected to any churches. The town has a great potential for growth, with acres of land just beginning to see development. Even though there are LCMS churches in neighboring towns (Taylor, Flat Rock, Trenton), there wasn’t an LCMS presence in Brownstown—until recently.
St. Paul, Trenton had a vision for a satellite campus for some time. The church’s demographic was following the typical pattern of aging members, and they wanted to start something that could reach a younger demographic. Pastor Rick Blythe and the church leadership spent a couple of years laying the groundwork to get ready for a new ministry and working on a job description for the person who would spearhead the new effort.
In the spring of 2018, Candidate Andrew (Andy) Pronsati received his first call through the seminary as Associate Pastor at St. Paul, Trenton with the task of starting a satellite campus. As soon as he arrived in Trenton, Pastor Pronsati was encouraged to start the FiveTwo process, so he and a team participated in the FiveTwo 3Day event.
Pronsati shares, “We went out and discerned whether this was going to be the direction we’d go in, and FiveTwo really helped us in that long weekend to figure out the best way to do it. They gave us questions that we weren’t thinking of, which was really helpful. They gave us resources and forced us to answer tough questions.” Pronsati also appreciates FiveTwo’s once-a-month coaching they receive, saying it’s been “the best part of the process! The coach simply forces you to answer tough questions. They don’t give you solutions but they help you come up with your own; it’s an ongoing touchpoint as ministry adapts and grows and changes and questions come up that you weren’t thinking five months ago, and that’s been incredible. FiveTwo has really helped us work through problems and anticipate what might be coming down the road.”
One of the things Pastor Pronsati did when he arrived was reach out to church members who were disconnected, not having been to church in a while (a.k.a. delinquent members) and see if they would be interested in this new initiative. He says, “We got a handful of people in that way who were inspired by the idea; it invigorated them, and so they’re in. They’re helping make this satellite campus happen.”
Pastor Pronsati and the launch team from St. Paul opened Connection Church’s doors at the end of September, 2018. The launch team consists of a handful of families and individuals, including both lifelong and delinquent members of St. Paul. Attendees include a few people who have come through personal invitation, which, Pronsati explains, is exactly what they’re trying to do: “We want our primary growth to be through the relationships that our church members have with people in their networks.” But an old-school approach also worked: “We have some people from the Brownstown community that, through our flyer, our social media, and our signage, have started to come in and they’ve worshiped with us. We’ve had a handful of first-time visitors and guests who have come to us. These are the early days, but it’s good. God is doing His good work.”
Rev. Bill Woolsey of FiveTwo encouraged the satellite campus in a sermon he preached there in October 2018: “The church is everyday people like you and me, nothing fancy, and yet made fancy by Jesus because he has claimed us, he loves us, and then he sends us to family, friends, strangers, so they also know how loved they are, how clean they are, and how sent they are. Jesus said that he has come to seek and save the lost and that, as the Father sent him, so he sends us. So we’re the sent ones. When people boldly act on what Jesus is calling us to do, the Church grows.”
Connection Church is a mobile church. They gather on Sunday mornings at the Brownstown Community Center. The staff from the center sets up tables and chairs in advance, but everything else the mission church needs is brought in and set up (and later taken down) by teams of volunteers. Volunteers include: a driver for the equipment trailer; a setup team that assembles everything; musicians; soundboard and slides crew; and hospitality team. Hayley Hanson, Serve Coordinator for the church, explains how volunteers are trained: “David, our worship coordinator, takes the musicians and setup crew, showing which wires go where, etc. and I take all the other teams and run through exactly what a weekend will look like, prioritizing what we need to set up first; then we go over what the duties will look like for them every Sunday.”
Everything happens in one morning as far as the worship service is concerned. But the church also gathers during the week in Connection Groups (a.k.a. small groups), which focus on making time to share a meal or whatever makes sense for the group so they can connect with one another in life, sharing what’s going on. Then there’s some time for Scripture and praying for one another, but there is an emphasis that they as a group should also look for ways to serve the community. Pronsati says, ”We also encourage the groups to host parties so that people can invite friends to a specifically non-churchy, non-threatening situation, so it’s really focusing on building relationships. Focus on the relationships and then, out of that, look for the opportunities to share the Gospel in everyday life.”
The church also has Serve Sundays: a day when they hold a shortened worship service and then they are all sent out into the community for service projects. Two weeks into the new church, they held their first Serve Sunday, sending crews to Family of God, Detroit; Brownstown Middle School; and homes of Brownstown senior citizens who needed help with yard work. According to Pronsati, people had a great time serving. He added: “I know that the organizations were extremely grateful, extremely blessed by that. So that’s going to be an ongoing thing—maybe a couple times a year. We want serving to be a big emphasis for us; we want to be known for that and to have that reputation for serving the Brownstown community.”
Connection Church doesn’t have the ability to start big programs, but because they’re a satellite site of St. Paul, Trenton, they share programs such as youth group and caring ministry.
There are many advantages to being a satellite site, Pronsati explains: “Pastor Rick, myself, and our caring minister on staff (who is in the process of becoming a deacon), all take time for pastoral care, hospital visits, etc. And a number of our ministries are shared between the two [campuses]. There’s a lot of administrative stuff that I don’t have to worry about, and the support staff of St. Paul helps us get things ready for this by doing all the printing and all the social media. It gives us the ability to not worry so much about our overhead and focus primarily on building relationships, pouring into people, which is the fun part.”
Challenges and Support
When asked about challenges, Pronsati said, “I think a lot of churches across the board are struggling with the fact that people are busy; their schedules are really filling up, and so how do we start ministries, how do we minister to people, how do we get people engaged in that environment when so many things are vying for their attention?” He continues, “We’re starting out and looking to break into that and help people see that worship and your relationship with Jesus and your whole life is about serving Him, serving others; not necessarily radically changing your schedule but having that mindset. It’s tough to break into that, to help people create a new mindset.”
Another challenge is to preserve the volunteers from burnout, because it can get tiring setting up and tearing down every week. But, according to Pronsati, “People are inspired; they are invigorated and so we’re trying to not let burnout happen.”
The Michigan District, LCMS has come alongside the new satellite church with its StartNew process by providing accountability and startup resources. Of this support, Pronsati says: “It really helped us to not worry about resources and money to begin. District staff, Rev. Todd Jones, Rev. Rob Kasper—all of them are very supportive, very encouraging of us and the work that we’re doing. Really it’s what it’s all about: starting new things to reach new people. It’s been incredible to be part of the District that cares about that. Our hope (Rick and myself) is that specifically new churches get started here in Michigan. I hope we can help encourage other pastors and leaders to reach their communities to reach new people.”
To learn more about the StartNew process, click here.
Photos by Elisa Schulz/Michigan District, LCMS