Diary of a church planter, 10 years later


   I moved to Loganville a little over 10 years ago.  I didn't know a soul.  Now I see people I know almost everywhere I go.  I moved here with little more than a vision for the future, financial support, hope, and trust that God had called.  It's been a wonderful 10 years.  I hope you will appreciate a small glimpse into the ten year journey known as The Orchard.
   The Orchard Church started with a dream.  It was a God-given dream to reach out to people who were not connected to God or a church home and help them enter into a growing relationship with Jesus. The dream started to become reality as God called The United Methodist Church to partner with me to start a new congregation in the Loganville area.
We didn’t want to start a church that would appeal to people who were already attending one of the great churches in the area. We wanted to start a church for people that were not attending any church or who had honest questions about God and religion. We wanted to be a church that met people where they were in life and helped them grow forward in faith. We wanted to take down the barriers of religion, clothing, music, and expectations. We wanted to connect with people we called unchurched, dechurched, and non-believing people. We knew we couldn’t do that without personal commitments to a God-given mission to Grow New and Stronger Followers of Jesus.
Starting in 2001, God began to form The Orchard when my family moved to Loganville, not knowing anyone except for the realtor who sold us our house. She was the first person in Loganville we invited to take part.  It was a crazy invitation that went something like this: 
   “God’s called me to start a new church. I don’t know the name yet, or where it’s going to be, or who will attend, or any of that, but I know it will be a church unlike almost any church in the area. Will you join us?”  
       A few weeks later she knocked on my door and decided to join us. In those early days I gave that invitation over and over again. A handful of people said, "Yes!"
      Over a period of nine months, God gathered a launch team of 17 people. We prayed, dreamed, and planned for God’s new church. On March 3, 2002, we launched weekly public worship for the very first time at Loganville Middle School. It wasn’t the best place to host worship, but it was the best place for us.  We made the middle school shine . . . arranging the cafeteria into an attractive worship area, creating a children’s space in the gym, turning a teacher’s lounge into a nursery, and making a generic public school hallway feel warm and friendly.  We reached out, we advertised, we bought a billboard. We hoped, dreamed, prayed, lost sleep, and hoped some more. Would anyone come? 
One hundred thirty-five people attended that first Sunday, and we were off and running. Over the first few months we rambled along with some ups and downs, mistakes and victories. We ended the year with an average worship attendance of 98 people. Among those 98 people, we found that a majority of the families did not come directly from involvement in another church.  We baptized adults, whole families, and helped people connect with God like they had never connected before.  We sought to provide an atmosphere of contagious, exciting, relevant worship coupled with healthy small group environments for adults and spiritually engaging environments for children and youth.  Early on, we invited children and youth to serve and be part of the church instead of just an extension of it.
As I look back over the last 10 years, I feel blessed to be the pastor of The Orchard Church.  We are not a perfect church, but we are a church on a mission for God. We have committed our lives to Growing New and Stronger Followers of Jesus. We have given our time, our money, our energy, our talents, our prayers, our hands, our feet, our voices, and our smiles to creating a contagious God-honoring place that really does lead people to Jesus.  Because the people at The Orchard have allowed God to use them, we have reached thousands of people with the love of Jesus.  Just last year we mobilized over 440 people to step off our campus at 1950 Highway 81 South and share an illustration of God’s love with over 12,000 people in the area. 
       We were host to thousands of children at The Orchard Egg Hunt. That effort took about 200 volunteers to host an expected crowd of 2500 or more people. It’s crazy to think that our first egg hunt happened with about 20 children and 300 eggs on the little lawn in front of Ingles on Highway 78.    
       Over the years, hundreds of people have joined as members, hundreds have been baptized, and hundreds have encountered God in new ways. We have grown to a robust group of more than 500 people who meet weekly for worship, small groups, youth ministry, children’s ministry, and outreach. 
      We stand looking back at what God has done, and we are thankful. But as we look back, we know that God is not finished with us yet. If our track record continues into the next 10 years, it is simply breathtaking to consider the people who will be connected to God, find a new relationship with Jesus, and begin sharing the light of Christ with others. 
      It’s breathtaking to think about the families that will be helped, marriages that will be healed, addictions that will be squashed, teens who will find a Godly purpose, children who will grow up with deeply rooted love for God, needy people who will be given sustenance, lonely people who will find a place to belong, and spiritually alive people who will find a place to live out a God-given dream for their lives.
     As I pause to think about where we go from here, I cannot wait to see what God will do. When we commit our lives to the mission of an alive, dynamic, and growing church, how will He change us, who will He reach, what kind of joy will He bring? I don’t know exactly, but I’m in!  I’m not perfect. Nobody at The Orchard is . . .  but we want to give our lives to following a perfect Savior.  It’s so exciting to think that a perfect Savior can use perfectly imperfect people to join a mission that will change individual lives and our community forever.
        The last 10 years have been amazing. I can’t wait to see what God will do in the next 10 years! Come on, God, we are ready. Let’s do it. I’m in! 
Ben Cathey is senior pastor of The Orchard Church, www.theorchardchurch.org. 770-554-3533.