Portland Community Church is a new church, launched 9/11/2011 in the Southwest Portland area. The founding pastors are Ron Kincaid and Tom Houser, both formerly with Sunset Presbyterian Church, also in Southwest Portland.
I knew Ron as a colleague in ministry, when I served as pastor of Cooper Mountain Presbyterian Fellowship in Aloha (also PCUSA) – southwestern Portland. We occasionally met for prayer. My church was in the shadow of Sunset – we were only 7-8 miles away. Or you could say we basked in the sunshine of the megachurch, Sunset, as several of our members came to us from Sunset. Several leaders in my church benefited from a church growth conference held by Sunset. Sunset had a strong role in founding my church and another intentional church plant in Sherwood. After leaving Portland in 2004, I continued to enjoy Ron’s solid sermons through Sunset’s podcast. I’ve had a great deal of respect for Ron and nothing I’ve learned since then has changed that.
Ron led Sunset through a process of discernment and migration from the Presbyterian Church (USA) to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). Their growth had slowed in recent years and they were encumbered by debt from a newly constructed Sanctuary. I don’t think church-planting was part of their vision for the near future. Soon afterward their transition to the EPC, Ron was asked to resign as pastor. His last Sunday was Feb. 12, 2011. Now, a new church has emerged from the fallout. Sunset is undoubtedly struggling, but it is a strong church. They will make it through the transition.
While this method of church-planting is not a favorite of established churches and denominations, it is common and often effective. If you think about it, it’s fairly natural and efficient. From God’s point of view, it may not be unintentional at all.
Peter Wagner summarizes “Twelve Good Ways to Plant a Church” in chapter four of his book, Church Planting for a Greater Harvest. He starts with “hiving off,” in which members of a local congregation are challenged to form a nucleus and at a predetermined time, these people will move out under the leadership of a church planter and become the charter members of a new congregation…in the same general geographical area…” The Cove (Covenant Presbyterian Church, Santa Rosa) is an example of a church that hived off from First Presbyterian Church of Santa Rosa. He also talks about the methods of colonization and adoption. Then he approaches a fourth method, similar to “hiving off.”
Accidental parenthood. …of the three girls born to my wife, Doris, and me, only one was planned. But the upshot is that we love them all just the same.
So far the methods of church planting that I have described are all planned. But accidents do happen in churches as well, and sometimes the nucleus for a new church will break off from the parent church for reasons better described as carnal than as spiritual
…Sometimes over a theological shootout, personality conflict, leadership struggle, or disagreement on priorities, a congregation will split. One faction will pull out, start another congregation and both congregations will prosper more than the one former church did.
What can we say to this phenomenon? I’m sure that God does not approve of church splits or the causes of them…Nor would I want to go on record as advocating church splitting as a church planting methodology. It is much better to pray and plan and minister in harmony. Nevertheless, when the dust settles, I have to believe that God loves both of the resulting churches and accepts them as part of the bride of Christ. Just as God can be glorified through the healing of a man born blind, He can be glorified through the offspring of accidental church parenthood.
I would add that one of the benefits of this method is that it may be the only method that succeeds in a long-established church birthing a new church. Planned or not, congratulations to Sunset Presbyterian Church for their church-planting success.
It is safe to say that the “accidental parenthood” method is not the one most likely to garner denominational funding, especially when the participants of the daughter church are also leaving the denomination.