Getting Heaven Into Des Moines
My parents and in-laws were all in town for the birth of our youngest (Wrigley) and staying at our home for the week, which at the time was in southern Indiana. Up to this point, my wife (Rachel) and I had been praying for roughly six months on one of the biggest decisions of our lives: Do we stay and continue to serve where we are in ministry, or do we uproot the lives we’ve built here to partner with Stadia to plant a church somewhere else? We hadn’t seemed to receive the clarity we had been praying for yet. It wasn’t until one of the afternoons back at our house where my father and I were sitting on the couch watching the Cubs game (they were probably losing, unfortunately) where clarity was revealed.
The setting wasn’t anything unusual, nor was I expecting anything significant to take place. It’s helpful to know that up to this point, we hadn’t told anything to anyone about the past six months we’d spent praying through this church planting decision, including my parents. For all they knew, we were going to be in our current ministry setting for a long time. It’s also important to know that my father and I were not in the middle of a conversation at this moment. Nevertheless, my dad looked up from his phone to ask me, “Hey Jared, have you ever thought about planting a church in Des Moines?” Completely caught off guard, I responded by asking him why he would even think to ask. His response was, “Well, I was just texting a friend who works for a church planting organization in Iowa (CEM) and the board has been praying for a church planter for the Des Moines area for over 2 years. Just thought I’d ask.”
There it was. It couldn’t have been clearer that God was leading us to plant a church in Des Moines, IA. After we unloaded all that had taken place for the past six months in our lives to both sets of our parents, all four of them offered multiple affirmations, and then we spent some time praying together through what God has done, is doing, and will continue to do.
Shortly after, I came across a study the Barna Group recently released called The Most Post-Christian Cities in America: 2019. As I skimmed the list, I was brokenhearted to find Des Moines at number 26, putting it higher on the list than several other cities including Chicago, Portland, L.A., Las Vegas, and more. The study went on to reveal a number of other distressful statistics: 48% of the population can identify as post-Christian; 77% haven’t read the Bible in the last week; 55% haven’t attended a church within the last six months; 37% haven’t prayed to God in the last seven days; 33% disagree that faith is important to life; and 49% have never made any kind of commitment to Jesus.
Nearly half of the population of the Des Moines metro are living life outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ. In other words, Des Moines, IA is in desperate need of more churches! Another reason I believe God has placed such a heavy burden on my heart for the Des Moines area is because it is a place I consider home. I was raised in a north suburb of the city in a Christian home by parents who love Jesus. My father has pastored a church body there for nearly 30 years. Through his example of faithful sacrificial leadership, I have seen and learned first-hand of the difficulties involved in ministering to this area. For me, planting a church in Des Moines has led me to empathize with Nehemiah’s story from the Old Testament like never before.
While Nehemiah served as a cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, he received news that the walls of Jerusalem were lying in desolation. This news left him with such grief that in the presence of the foreign king he said, “Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruin, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” (Neh. 2:3) To be clear, Des Moines isn’t lying in ruin. In fact, it has a uniquely wealthy metropolitan area with rather high median household incomes. In 2010, Forbes ranked the Des Moines metro area first on its list of “Best Places for Business and Careers” based on factors such as the cost of doing business, cost of living, educational attainment, and crime rate. The majority of people are not “down-and-out” nearly as much as they are “up-and-out”. “Up” in nearly every material way imaginable, but “out” in the only thing that truly matters: Jesus. They rely far more on their cash than their creator.
Knowing that the spiritual climate of Des Moines will not be changed with one church, God has cast before us a future picture of what central Iowa could look like someday by what we are calling the 2020 Vision, which is to see 20 churches planted in and around the Des Moines area and beyond in 20 years starting in 2020. When my wife and I stepped into God’s call to plant a church, we thought it was just that, to go and plant “a” church, which would have been challenging enough. However, it turns out God is actually calling us to plant churches. Although to some this would sound crazy, to others maybe even impossible, I believe, as someone once told me, that if your vision does not overwhelm or terrify you and you are confident that you will be able to accomplish it by your own skill, then your vision may not be a vision from the Lord.
Therefore, we stepped into this vision to plant 20 churches in 20 years a few months ago and have not looked back. God has time and time again continued to bless and provide all that we continue to ask for and even more. He has surrounded us with four families who are committed to uprooting their lives in southern Indiana to transplant to Des Moines to help be a part of bringing this vision to fruition. He has connected us with other area church plants and long-standing church bodies for support and partnership. And he has continued to set divine appointments for us with individuals who don’t know Jesus.
In the short time we’ve actually been able to be in the Des Moines area, we’ve met Danyielle, a 27-year old single woman who serves as a notary at a local bank who has only ever been to a church three times in her entire life and who has been thinking about getting involved in a church for no other reason than she’s just interested in volunteering in some way.
We’ve met Dawn, a woman in her mid-50’s who has struggled with addiction her whole life, was widowed when her husband lost his fight with cancer a few years back, and who can’t explain where she’s at in life with any other words than to say, “I’m searching for something.”
We’ve met Chari, a 23 year old African American female who has never stepped foot inside a church, has been an alcoholic since age 14, was sexually and emotionally abused by extended family, lost her father to drugs at an early age, and whose mother wanted nothing to do with her until she learned of the tax benefits she gets from claiming her as a dependent.
In other words, there are hundreds of thousands of people in and around the Des Moines area of all different ages, races, social statuses, and stages of life who don’t know Jesus! We know we are not the answer to the religious state of our city, nor are we the only ones uniquely called to church planting there. We know the Holy Spirit has been working in the hearts, minds, and neighborhoods of people in Des Moines long before He ever called us to it. However, in His grace and mercy He has invited us to join His mission of getting the people of Des Moines into heaven by getting heaven into the people of Des Moines.