LeadingSmart

Practical Stuff for Church Leaders

The Birth of Granger

The year was 1986. Mark & Sheila Beeson had been serving churches in Indiana for 15 years, being moved from location to location at the pleasure of the leaders of the United Methodist Church. They would arrive at a church that was on life support and immediately begin talking about Jesus, infusing the people with vision and building a vibrant ministry. The church would grow like crazy, hundreds would give their lives to Christ and then three or four years later, they would be moved to another church in another town, far away. They would look over their shoulders and watch the denomination bring in another pastor who had wildly different beliefs and values; and many times they would sadly watch the church wither back to barely-alive status. This happened time and again, and it killed them.

Mark had grown up going to church every week but had a life-changing experience where he met Jesus while attending summer camp as a young teen. He saw the difference between being a life-long church member and making a decision to follow Jesus. He and Sheila both longed to serve in a place where they could see lasting impact. They wanted so deeply to build a church for people who were far from God. They wanted to build a team of leaders who had a passion to reach the community, not just host potlucks and offer bake sales. They just couldn’t figure out a way to do that by rotating in and out of existing churches every few years.

So Mark began to petition the United Methodist officials: “Let me start a new church.” He was told, “No Way!” more times than he could recount. So many reasons were given: “It isn’t the right time.” “New churches aren’t needed.” “You aren’t the right kind of leader to start a church.” But he kept asking.

One day he even went to the home of the District Superintendent in the middle of the night and put plastic forks all over the lawn, along with signs that said “Send Me!”, “I’m Your Man!”, and “Let Me Start a Church for You!”

It worked.

Whether it was because of his persuasive skills or because they just wanted him to go away and leave them alone—he was given permission to start a church.

But 1986 was not a good time to be starting a church in America. Mistrust of pastors and religious leaders was at an all-time high. Jimmy Swaggart, an international televangelist, had been caught with a prostitute (which he only admitted after the evidence was insurmountable). When it happened a second time, he said, “The Lord told me it’s none of your business.” Not a great way to build trust.

Around the same time, Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker were in the headlines every day for years as they came under fire for “financial irregularities.” This included embezzling more than $3 million, selling memberships for property that didn’t exist and paying off a church secretary who had accused Jim and another minister of rape. Jim eventually ended up in prison.

No, not a good time to be starting a church. Especially when you are 33 years old with big hair and plan to meet in a movie theater. In 1986, no one in our town had ever heard of church in a movie theater. That sounded too much like a Jim Bakker stunt. No, thank you.

But Mark and Sheila knew God wanted them to start a church, and that is exactly what they did. They had been told about a bedroom community in Indiana between the cities of Elkhart, South Bend and Mishawaka—two miles from the Michigan state line. The town was called Granger, which they would later find out wasn’t really a town. It was just a zip code, but 46530 was predicted to be one of the highest growth areas in the state in the coming years. That prediction seemed ridiculous when they visited for the first time. They drove around for a couple hours and found nothing but farmland. They went back home disappointed.

But they didn’t give up. They visited again and found some isolated subdivisions scattered between fields of corn and soybeans. As they drove around the winding streets through several neighborhoods, God broke their hearts for the people inside these brand new homes—people whom they had never met. Past all the manicured lawns and shiny cars and brick facades, they knew people were dealing with loneliness, divorce, addictions and spiritual brokenness. They began praying, asking God to build a church in Granger that would reach people who needed a Savior.

In July of 1986, Mark and Sheila Beeson moved with their three small children, ages two, four and five, to a city where they had never lived and had no friends. After six months of talking to everyone who would listen and hosting a Bible study in their home, they launched the first Sunday service on December 7, 1986. To their delight, more than 200 people attended that very first day, and Granger Community Church was born.

Excerpt from Vision: Lost and Found, available on Amazon.