If God Is For Us…
On Sunday, February 8, 2015, we pulled up to the YMCA to see firetrucks, black smoke, and a group of very tired looking firefighters and YMCA employees. Venture Church was about a year and a half old. We had built a great relationship with one of our city’s flagship community organizations, the YMCA, and were meeting in their gym every week. Since beginning as a house church, with 8-10 people in a living room in the “pre-launch” phase, we had seen average attendances topping 130 and had seen nearly 30 people baptized.
Like many church planters in that stage I was optimistic bordering on idealism, despite the fact that I simultaneously felt like I was in the biggest battle of my life. In that first year we had seen some crazy stuff; major drug addiction, one of our key volunteers being arrested for crimes against a minor, and a demonic encounter that would require a much longer article to tell about. Personally, I had been wrestling with anxiety attacks, depression, and the constant fear that everything was going to fall apart. It’s the 2-sided coin of church planting. The highs and the lows. But I found peace in, “If God is for us, who can stand against us?”
Since 5:00 am I’d been on the phone about the fire. So when our team pulled up at 7, we already knew that today was going to be a little different. We were supposed to kick off a new teaching series that morning. Suddenly all of that was obsolete. Instead we wondering about people’s safety. Praise God, the fire happened after hours. But what about the families who relied on the YMCA for after school care, and for the dozens of employees who would be out of work. And yes, what about us? Where is our church family going to meet on Sundays?
It was February. But by the grace of God, it was 55 degrees outside! So, we put word out that “Venture Church would be meeting at a local park at 10:00 am.” And over 100 of our people showed up!
My message was simple that morning. 3 points: We are the Church. The Devil is Real. But Jesus is Greater. Something broke inside me that day. The fears and anxieties gave way to faith and hope. The grand vision for “my church plant” was squashed and I actually started practicing what I had been preaching: We serve ONE king in ONE kingdom. Plus, someone brought donuts. It was a good morning after all. (Want to hear the sermon I gave that morning?)
But our story doesn’t end there. In fact, our troubles with venues had just begun. 2 more times we had to move venues on short notice. Next, after meeting at a local elementary school for 2.5 years, the school ended our lease with only 4 weeks heads up. Our next venue was only available for 7 weeks while we searched for something more “permanent.” Meanwhile, over 40 other venues in town ended up being unavailable, unaffordable, or uninterested. Finally at the end of the 7th week, we landed at an AMC movie theater. Just as we started feeling at home there, Hurricane Florence came uninvited on our 5th birthday weekend and wreaked havoc in our area. The AMC needed 2 weeks of maintenance after the storm but by now our people were like a nomadic tribe. Gathering at homes and neighborhoods to clean up after the storm. Incidentally, It led to us co-founding a non-profit for responding to natural disasters. When life hands you lemons…
We had been at the AMC for 1 year when I got a phone call. God had been at work in the background and The YMCA had been rebuilding, expanding to multiple branch locations and increasing their influence. And in January of 2019 they would be reopening the branch that had burned. The branch director called me to invited us to come back. She shared that she wanted to make our partnership more vibrant this time and work together to shine light in our community. She also invited me to serve on the advisory board and another one of our staff was invited to serve with another branch! We gladly agreed to it all and made the move. Our 5th venue change in 5 years.
Church planting can involve a lot of things: entrepreneurial leadership, organizational management, recruitment, fundraising, team-building, website and graphic design, marketing, delegation, visionary planning. And that list doesn’t even include the spiritual stuff!! Preaching, teaching, discipleship, prayer, and the rest. We have a responsibility to our families, our supporters, our congregations, and to God. And that pressure often puffs us up and makes us feel like the world is on our shoulders. It causes us lose sight of the truth that “God is in control and I am not Him.” None of this stuff stresses God out. The Church is His bride and His body and he’s going to take care of her like he always has. What he needs from us is faith and a willingness to follow where he is leading. He’s not impressed by our attendance numbers or our social media presence. What he’s looking for is our faithfulness and our reflection of his light into the world.
Venture Church turned 6 in September. We’re not a mega church, a huge church, or even a big church. But we’re a family focused on shining light. We seek to break down walls that have kept people away from church and God so that we can build bridges to Jesus. And since the fire a lot has happened because God hasn’t forgotten us. Two years ago, we ordained our first group of elders, we are financially self supported (most months!!), we founded a disaster relief organization that recently became independent of us and is helping to rebuild 20+ houses destroyed by Hurricane Florence, and we have had a front seat view of God’s power to restore broken people. We actively support church planting in our region. Children are learning about Jesus and families are being made stronger. It has been a rollercoaster but If God is for us, who can stand against us? My anxiety attacks have stopped and I never miss a chance to talk about how: we are the church, the devil is real, but Jesus is greater.
Chris Woolard our lead Pastor. He and his wife Lindsey, along with their 2 kids (Silas and Savannah), moved to Wilmington in 2012 to start Venture Church.
As the primary teacher at Venture church, one of his greatest gifts is the ability to present deep truth in completely relatable ways.
Chris loves spending time with his family. He loves the outdoors, playing guitar, NFL football (especially the Dallas Cowboys), working on cars, camping, and disc golf. He is also an avid reader of history, sci-fi, and fantasy.
He serves as an Assistant Scout Master of Boy Scout Troop 26 in Wilmington, a Pop-Warner youth football coach, on the Advisory Board for the Nir Family YMCA, The Executive Team and Board of Directors of the Carolina Christian Youth Conference, and the President of Disaster Assistance Relief Teams of Wilmington.
Both Chris and Lindsey grew up in Eastern NC. Chris spent 10 years working as a Youth Pastor in Norfolk, VA, and Greenville, NC before getting into new church work. Before moving to Wilmington in 2012 to start Venture completed a 1 year Church Planting\Residency at Kinetic Church (now OneLife Church) in Concord NC. He holds a BA in Bible and Theology from Mid-Atlantic Christian University in Elizabeth City NC and an MA in New Testament and Preaching from Johnson University in Knoxville TN.
He is passionate about empowering families, fighting injustice, and serving the broken with his time and talents. He is even more passionate helping people who are far from God connect with the God who loves them!