John Rowell is from Northside Community Church of Atlanta, an Evangelical Free congregation of 450 members. Northside has planted three other churches, including one Farsi-speaking congregation of 70 former Muslims.
Rowell emphasized his ordinariness and that of his congregation, but insisted that small churches can become big players in meeting critical needs. In fact, Pastor Rowell has no seminary degree. (The denomination does not require a lay person to go to seminary in order to be ordained). He was very gifted, however and founded Northside church with a $5,000 per month budget and a commitment to spend $1,000 of it on missions. The church's mission commitment evolved from giving money to adopting national missionaries through Partners and Ambassadors for Christ. Then Keith Brown of OC Ministries challenged them to be come a sending church. They began to pray that God would raise someone from the congregation and soon their first missionary went to Wycliffe to work in administration. Rowell said, "It just never occurred to us to get involved directly, to visit, or be involved on the field."
That changed when Rowell got involved in Eastern Europe with refugees. Through the influence of ACMC, the church leadership became more proactive in spotting and training prospective missionaries in the congregation. They asked themselves, "What would a layman need to know to plant a church?" Then they designed appropriate training. They now have extensive training programs that fuel their mission enterprises, in the local area as well as overseas.
The congregation eventually formalized an adoption of the Muslims of Bosnia and began work there. In what must have been a surprising sermon, Rowell warned his people that someday their grandchildren would have Bosnian blood, that their daughters and sons would marry into the people group. This has already happened!
In 1992, there were no known believers among the Bosnians. When the 4-year seige of Sarejevo began, the church worried that the opportunity there would end. The pastor and a team took a journey during the war to see if there was still a role for them. They found a refugee center where people were hurting and available. They excitedly hurried home to prepare long and short term teams to help in the camp. Northside numbered only 250 members at this time and another more experienced agency said, "What makes you think that, as a small church, you can accomplish something that hasn't been accomplished in eight centuries?"
Northside didn't listen to the discouragement. They trained and sent three types of teams: prayer, short term and long term. A two-week on-site prayer team prepared the ground for the others. Over a period of seven months, the church and its daughter church sent in 70 people. More people came to the Lord than ever before in Bosnian history! A base team stayed on to help facilitate the short term teams. Now there are 5 American and 3 national church planters in Mostar. They have already planted four churches with six in the process of organizing. There are hundreds of new believers. During the course of the adoption, 60% of the church's teens and 40% of the church's adults have done a tour of service in Bosnia--over 200 people. Even though this continued during the war and workers were caught in the middle of a battle, not one person has been injured.
Because Northside was so small, the greatest need was financial. But, the Lord honored the church for its faith and commitment, supplying needs miraculously as they arose. First the airfare dropped to a few hundred dollars. When the leaders decided that an evacuation vehicle would be wise, a complete stranger who overheard a comment in the Frankfurt airport sent a check for $10,000. The Jesus film supplied a film and funding to buy equipment. The Gideons supplied Bibles. World Relief helped raise $45,000. In various ways, the Lord has supplied millions of dollars to fund the ministry.
The church itself gave generously out of their passion for the work, from $89,000 at the outset to $635,000 today. Rowell's parting words were, "NEVER underestimate the power of a small church."
Presented at the Mission America Joshua Project Consultation,
Colorado Springs, CO, May 1997.