Awaken the Sleeping Giant
My name is Cody Walker and I serve as the Lead Pastor of Hope City Church in Joplin, Mo. After being in ministry for 15 years, my wife Rachael and I, and our three kids moved back to the Midwest five years ago to plant Hope City.
Our call to head back to the Midwest came on the heels of an F-5 tornado that leveled half of the city of Joplin. Our heart was to move back into an area that was changing drastically due to the community being devastated with one of the deadliest tornados in modern history.
The journey to planting was birthed out of our past experience in small, large, and very large church environments. We had been a part of some amazing ministries that not only helped prepare our hearts for planting but shaped the ministry we desired to see God build. In returning to the Midwest to plant a church, we not only were returning to an area that we grew up in but we were returning to an area where we were well aware of the challenges in planting a new church.
The Midwest has changed drastically over the last 25 years and like many other areas of the country, what was once considered a “given” is no longer true. The need for planting in the Midwest is at an all-time high. Where thriving churches once marked the Midwest street corners, they are now churches who have come to the end of their generational cycle. Communities have largely changed due to greater diversity through the Midwest and the increasing desire for families to move into more affordable parts of the country.
What we have seen at Hope City is a spiritual climate in the Midwest in which most folks are done just “playing church” and are ready to be a part of a life giving, spirit-filled, community of faith, where we are all in the same boat.
One of the greatest challenges of church planting in the Midwest is a reality of self-neglect. While the Midwest has been a launching pad in the past for mission work and sending folks into regions of the country and world with great need, it has been done largely without a strategy for planting churches in our own back yard.
To put it frankly, churches in the Midwest need to redefine what it looks like to see a movement of God through vibrant churches in an area of the country in which many churches have hung on too long to what was instead of what could be.
One characteristic we see of new people that walk through the doors at Hope City is that many of them have experienced church but never experienced Jesus. There is an element of church planting in the Midwest in which you have to be willing to redefine most folks view of church being something you attend versus something you are.
In addition to the Midwest dealing with generational overexposure to legalism, many existing churches don’t have a healthy view of planting. Church planting for many established churches in the Midwest is competitive in nature. Planting a church in an area of the country where many churches (church buildings at least) already exist feels competitive in nature. Often established churches see plants as infringing on their “market.” It means healthy and cooperative church planting is necessary to begin to reframe and reignite a movement of church plants in the Midwest.
After living on the coast and in larger cities and moving back to the Midwest, one of the most life-giving discoveries for me has been a commonality in the desire to see God transform communities. While the needs in many Midwest cities are different than those of coastal communities, the Kingdom is the same. So the hunger for Spirit-filled churches that are investing in their communities is greater than ever!
The Midwest is also full of open-handed people. People who truly see beyond themselves. Through the work of an amazing sending church we were able to build a launch team that was 200+ strong. The open handedness, generosity, and love of the church that planted us, placed us on a trajectory of health that gave us an incredible foundation to build off of. We became financially self-sustaining within the first four months of the plant. In just five years we have seen Hope City grow to reach 1300 people on the weekends with many more connected via community projects and ministries. All because we were sent out by a thriving church that had an open-handed Kingdom vision.
Midwest planters also know that churches that are trying to create the “best show,” are often the ones in which our folks become most skeptical. Unpolished and imperfect often connects well with folks who aren’t flashy. If you plant in the Midwest – forget flashy! For me – this is a huge relief. As a leader, it’s ok to be a broken healer. Most folks not only expect you to not to have it all together but tend to get suspicious when you act like you do!
Finally, one of the greatest blessings of planting in the Midwest is that there are still SO many people looking for hope in Jesus. Speaking to the brokenness of those we live next to is a message that is needed greatly. The relief that comes to a person who thought they had to have it all together only to realize that Jesus loves them in their brokenness is a blessing that never gets old.
The Mission of the Midwest
Our desire is to awaken the sleeping giant of the Midwest. To help revitalize churches who are dying due to generational change and to bring new life into communities that are changing rapidly.
Our mission in the Midwest is to take people who are doing life together and place them on mission in which they see the church as the best place for sinners to be. A place where “we are all in the same boat,” instead of those who have it together and those who don’t. A place where the church can have biblical conversations about things like divorce, addiction, homosexuality, mental health, racism, and even politics, while realizing that unity and compassion is what makes the church the greatest place to seek truth.
Cities in the Midwest are birthing creative districts, they are building outdoor rec areas, and they are seeing economic growth. Many families are moving to the Midwest to not only raise their kids but to embrace a financially affordable lifestyle. In doing so, we have a better opportunity than ever to introduce them to Savior who wants to show them their purpose in life.
By the way – the fishing and hunting also makes for great ministry material!