Cops, Billy Graham, and Multiplication
It was my senior year in high school, and I found myself in a place I had never been before. I was sitting in the back of a cop car with this police officer I had known since I was a child. He had worked at my uncle’s gas station for years and now was committed to protecting and serving the community. He was asking me questions that I honestly didn’t know the answers to. My life was spiraling out of control, and I honestly didn’t know what to do about it. He looked at me and asked, “Crockett, what are you doing in this neighborhood, why are people shooting at you, and how did your life get this way?”
I had been attending church for the last year, not because I loved Jesus, but because I had a youth minister who really loved me. He was not afraid of the darkness that lived inside of me; he was patient and kind and no matter what, he never gave up on me. The police officer attended the same church and was obviously surprised that I had been involved in a drive-by shooting. He looked at me and said the words no one wants to hear: “Crockett, you are a fake!”
There was no questioning what he said because he was absolutely right. I was doing things I was uncomfortable with, and now my life was unrecognizable, even to me. He challenged me to go home and pray, and that’s what I did. I remember I went home and got on my knees for the first time. I asked, “God, what do you want from me?” The answer was simple and clear. It would change my life forever.
His response was, “Follow me.”
From that point forward, I surrendered my life to Jesus and allowed Him to lead me wherever He wanted me to go. The first two places he led me are not surprising at all. He led me to:
- His bride (my home church)
- His Word
I fell in love with both.
Still, there was a tension I could not figure out as a new believer. When I would read His Word, I found these passionate followers of Jesus with love as their mission and a sense of urgency for their neighbors to find and follow Jesus. But when I looked at the church, something didn’t add up. Where was this sense of urgency that I read about in Scripture? Where were the passionate followers of Jesus who would lay down everything? In the book of Acts, the church had “the favor of all the people,” but in most cities and towns, the church is largely ignored. That was when I started to wonder what it would be like to start something new with no history, no bagged, and no agenda except the mission Jesus gave His disciples after His resurrection (Matthew 28:18-20).
Fast forward eight years. By then, God had called me into ministry and I was serving students. I was trying to help them find their identity in Christ so they could experience the overwhelming love of Christ long before I did in my own youth. I was serving in a fantastic church in Cummings, GA, and we had just gone through a very difficult season as a community of faith. We had been without a Senior Minister for almost a year, with myself and the associate minister subbing in on alternate Sundays. We had just hired our new minister, and wouldn’t you know it? He was a former church planter. A few weeks after he arrived, we looked at his calendar and he asked me to speak sooner than I’d expected him to. What happened on that Sunday would be what I called my Billy Graham moment.
I don’t remember what Scripture I preached from, nor do I remember the topic, but what I do remember is the energy I had while speaking. The Holy Spirit had invigorated me and given me a passion and love for God’s church like never before. Our church was excited to have a new leader, and I refreshed and renewed because I was once again able to pour my life back into student ministry. Although I don’t remember what was said, I do remember looking into the eyes of those in the church I loved so much and pleading for all of us to follow Jesus as the early church once did. The invitation song started to play, and I said, “If you have a decision to make, please come forward.” What happened next can only be accredited to God.
After the song played, the entire church came forward. I know it sounds weird, but yes, everyone walked forward that Sunday. Tears were streaming down my face and I probably looked panicked because I had no idea what to do next. I asked for those who wanted to be baptized to go to the right side of the room, for those who wanted to rededicate their lives to go to the center of the room, and for those who wanted prayer to go to the left side of the room. It was a moment that I will never forget and would later shape a conversation that would eventually help a once-dream become a reality.
The next morning, the newly hired minister walked into my office and we started talking about what God had done. We celebrated the Sunday, but he also made some statements asked me some questions that would shape me for years to come. Had I ever thought about planting a church? What did I believe God wanted to do next in my life and ministry? Where was I really challenged in ministry? It would take three years for me to be able to answer those questions, but that conversation was the water poured on the seeds planted in me when I first followed Jesus.
Years later I would have lunch with some friends of mine who planted a church in Atlanta. I just wanted to ask some questions about church planting and what that would look like. Little did I know they were inviting me to a Church Planting Assessment, encouraging me to go online and fill things out, and all I could do was make excuses. Wait, hold up a second and slow down: I am too young, I don’t know anything about church planting, I have never been a staff member at a mega church (I don’t know why I thought that was a pre-requisite) and if I am honest, you’re scaring the crap out of me right now. What I have come to see now is faith and fear are always connected, and so our lives should always have a sense of risk because of our faith. Anyway, these guys somehow talked me into signing up to go an Assessment, and before you know it my wife and I were in Chicago with many other couples looking at starting a new church.
Assessment was not only amazing, it’s exactly what Natalie and I needed! These people spoke the same “language” that we did, they loved their community and the bride of Christ just like us, and they wanted Christ’s bride to multiply – and we might be able to play a part in that. They talked about urgency and love, faith and living differently, making disciples who make disciples. I felt like I was with my people for the first time in a long time. After Assessment we were recommend for starting a new church and Stadia was going to help us. I had no idea there was an organization like Stadia who would help with coaching, bookkeeping, Project Management (virtual executive pastor), leadership development fro women (Bloom, which would support my wife in her ministry), and that they would help me be a part of a network that would support me in so many different ways.
After leaving assessment I could not stop thinking about North Carolina. What you might not know is I grew up in West Virginia, spent the summers at Claytor Lake in Virginia, went to seminary in Kentucky and now was a youth minister in Georgia. I love the Southeast! I have always loved the state of North Carolina. God in his infinite wisdom was convicting my heart early for the need of a new church in this great state. Three days later, a network from North Carolina called me and asked if I would be interested in planting there. God is awesome! The 18-year-old Crockett who wondered what it would be like to have a church with no history or baggage and have love and urgency as its mission was getting ready for the ride of his life.
Vintage City Church in Hickory, North Carolina would launch on March 18th, 2012. We would be a church for people who don’t like church. A church for the broken, the hurting, and for those who have a bad taste of church in their mouth. Our goal is to love recklessly, live differently and serve joyfully, and with the help of Jesus reach the city to become passionate followers of Jesus. Over the years we have seen so many come to follow Jesus. We have helped plant churches in Bolivia and across the United States. We have served the “least of these.” Planting Vintage City was the greatest experience. I met the most amazing people and had an extraordinary adventure with this church. Over the years I couldn’t help but wonder, “What would it be like to have 25 or 30 churches just like this across the Southeast?”
Here is the sad truth: only 7% of churches multiply (up from 4% just a few years ago, but still not nearly enough). The population of the US is increasing, and churches are closing at a rapid rate. Not only are more churches closing each year, but the engagement level of each generation is decreasing quickly. When you look at the spiritual landscape of your city, do you feel like we are winning or losing? This is what keeps me awake at night and bothers me every day. These stats have plagued my mind for over a year now and that is why, when Stadia asked me to join their team as the Southeast Regional Director, my family and I could not say no to this great opportunity. The thought of helping start more and better churches is something that has to be a priority for us all. Multiplication has to be at the heart of every follower and if most of us are honest with ourselves, it doesn’t crack the top 10.
When I look back at what God had done in my life, he has positioned me perfectly for what I am doing now. I love the bride of Christ, I believe wholeheartedly in church planting, and my hope and vision for new churches in the Southeast has never been stronger. I also believe that God has positioned you for Kingdom expansion and multiplication.
There is no greater time to start new churches, and I would love to help you take your next step in that process.
Let’s change the world together and get ready for an adventure that can only come from God.
Crockett and his wife Natalie have been in ministry over 18 years and they have been primarily focused in the Southeast region. While in college they served in churches in Virginia and Kentucky and after graduation they were full-time in Ohio and Atlanta. Crockett has always been burdened for churches to ” do whatever it takes” to introduce people to Jesus Christ. This led him and his family to move to Hickory, North Carolina and start Vintage City Church. Crockett has served on the boards of different church planting networks, coached multiple planters and is obsessed with helping the church live on mission. Crockett and Natalie have three amazing kids who are sold out to church planting. Crockett’s role at Stadia is to build relationships with churches and planters in the Southeast region and help Stadia plant more churches that intentionally care for children in the U.S and around the world.