Daisy. Arezou. Taryn. Rosie.
Unfamiliar names to you, but to CenterSet Church in San Francisco, California, these names represent new brothers and sisters in Christ.
One is a former Muslim who was radically saved and immediately baptized. Another, a skeptic for years who was involved in Buddhism and New Age spirituality, can now be found taking down the idols in her home after coming to faith in Jesus. The third saw her parents deported when she was sixteen-years-old and faced the daunting challenge of raising her two siblings alone. The last is a Christian for 10 years who invited scores of people to church and finally came to realize her need to publicly proclaim faith in Jesus through baptism.
This is the story of mission.
Ali Roohi, the pastor of CenterSet Church says, “We love celebrating victory reports of life transformation through Christ.” This exuberant joy stems from his first-hand knowledge of the new life Jesus brings. Roohi, born in the San Francisco Bay Area to an Iranian immigrant family, was raised Muslim but lived a secular life devoid of God. After coming to faith in Jesus, Roohi, then an engineer in the Silicon Valley, was prompted by God to plant and pastor a new church in the area. CenterSet Church launched in 2017 in an exclusive shopping community called Santana Row with a mission to reach the highly intelligent and upwardly mobile yet stunningly irreligious people of the Valley.
This is the story of church planting.
There are other names, of course—the names of the men and women God used to shape our lives in innumerable ways. They’ve authored bestsellers, pastored influential churches, addressed thousands. God is using these names to write the missiological conversation for the church in our day. Household names, we might call them. Yet, behind the veneer of public acclaim, what’s important is the simple reality that each is a person saved by Jesus and used in his mission.
Names alone never tell the entire story, but they do provide a framework for understanding our steps forward in a world that feels so intimidating, so vast, so complex. These stories remind us of the mission of God—his eternal plan to save the world from the brokenness of sin. He is still at work to bring his kingdom of joy, peace, and beauty to a world darkened by heinous evil. God has always sought to redeem people—real people with names and stories.
This journey of redemption shows up throughout the stories in our Bibles. “And the Lord said to Abram…” (Gen 12:1). Abram, a lone man living in a distant country was called by God and given the glorious promise of a great nation that would follow—real men and women, boys and girls, who would experience the joy of knowing God.
The rest of the Bible recounts thousands of names, many that make even the best public speaker stammer at their complexity, yet each hard-to-pronounce name is another in a long-line of saved sinners. Some names we know—their stories are familiar and their fame great. Others are relative no-names, hidden deep in a seldom-read Old Testament narrative or at the tail-end of one of Paul’s letters. But these names matter to God. They are the people he saved.
Why does this matter for church planting? Because it’s easy in all our drive for systems and structures, clever mission statements, crisp logos, and all the other accoutrements of “church”—as we’ve defined it—to miss the most important thing: people. In fact, it’s easy for the entire church planting industry to surge forward at breakneck speed while leaving behind the singular mission God wants: saved sinners, transformed lives, redeemed communities.
At the end of the day, mission and church planting matter because people matter to God. Those changed lives bring him glory. And, because people matter to God, they must matter to his church. The souls in our communities must be more than promo pictures we flash email updates to financial supporters; their faces must be implanted deep in our hearts. They should propel our actions and activities. We should build community for them, share our lives with them, bear burdens alongside of them, make sacrifices for them, and watch God do what he longs to do—save them!
Matt Rogers is a pastor at The Church at Cherrydale in Greenville, South Carolina. He has a Ph.D. in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Southeastern and an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.