Growing God-Sized Dreams

JBU Alumni Are Planting Churches Across the United States

By Cherissa Roebuck
11/15/2021 6:00:00 PM

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Most Christians walking into churches around the world don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how those churches came to exist. 

But for JBU alumni who have dedicated their lives to launching, tending and growing communities of believers, church planting occupies their hearts and minds every single day. They are giving their lives to building the Church, sharing the Gospel, discipling believers and meeting the needs of their communities.

For Corbin Hobbs ’11, planting the Heights Church in Denver, Colorado, has been a “scary leap of faith.” After graduating from JBU with a degree in biblical and theological studies, Hobbs and his wife, Allie (Olinger) ’12, moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where Hobbs attended Southern Seminary. It was there that Hobbs met Aaron Harvie, a seminary professor who would become his mentor. Together, Hobbs and Harvie studied the Great Commission and then the “how-to” of the Great Commission described in the book of Acts. 

“I realized that the history of Christianity is really the history of people [following the Acts model] over and over,” Hobbs said. 

Corbin and Allie began to pray about planting a church. They learned that the first three steps to planting a church were to choose a place, gather people (build a team) and develop financial partners.

“I remember Allie and I would lay in bed and pray for those three things every night. And that’s exactly what God did,” Hobbs said.

The Hobbs family moved to Denver in 2015, where Corbin joined the staff of Summit Church and completed a residency in church planting through Summit Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. In August 2016, after a year on staff at Summit, Hobbs launched the Heights Church with about 20 people meeting in a coffee shop.

“Those early gatherings were really simple. I would teach the Bible, and then we would eat tacos together,” Hobbs said. “The story of those first six months is the story of Jesus building his Church on the Bible and tacos.”

Eventually, the Heights began meeting in a local elementary school and grew to about 175 people. In June 2019, God provided a permanent building for the church on the east side of downtown Denver.

“It’s a wild story of God’s grace,” said Hobbs. “But in every season, God has given us the grace and faith we needed, and then he sustained us. The Lord has been really kind to us. A big part of that has been the coaching we received about the financial realities of church planting and also having the team of people we did it with.”

That team included several other JBU alumni as well. Hobbs’ younger sister, Kearsten Hobbs ’15, moved to Denver to work on her master’s degree at Denver Seminary. She helped launch the Heights from the earliest days of the church and also started her own counseling practice that is based out of the church. JBU alumni Dan and Heather (Wadsworth) McCullough ’05 also attend the Heights and serve as community group leaders.

Hobbs said that his years at JBU played a significant role in preparing him for church planting, and that he especially appreciated the interdenominational, broadly evangelical experience at JBU.

“JBU gave me a foundation to understand both the Bible and culture better,” he said. “My education was really rigorous, and I’m thankful for it. JBU taught me how to really study the Bible and then bring it to bear in our culture.”

Today, the Heights is thriving and growing, and Corbin and Allie are raising their two daughters, Merit (4) and Tyler (2). Hobbs said a favorite memory in his church planting adventure was the day JBU President Chip Pollard showed up at the Heights.

“I got up to teach the Bible, looked out and saw Chip Pollard just sitting out there,” he said. “It was such a surprise, and after the service he was so encouraging to me.” 

Not every moment in church planting is filled with encouragement and success. When Brit Windel ’08 and his wife, Stacie, moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 2013 to plant DayBreak Church, the path was full of unexpected challenges and trials. 

“We can’t sugarcoat it,” Windel said. “It was hard from day one.” 

Even though Windel and his wife both have master’s degrees, they struggled to find jobs in Kenosha. Month after month they waited for the home they still owned in Colorado to sell. They were living on a mattress on the floor in Stacie’s sister’s home. The Friday before the church was supposed to launch, their car exploded. 

“In our training, church planting was made to sound sexy — ‘God’s going to be in it; He’s going to bless everything your hand touches’ — but everything was hard, and we questioned everything,” Windel said. “It was taxing: emotionally, physically and spiritually. But we realized that the suffering was helping us to minister to those God wanted us to reach. If everything had been sexy and easy and fun, we wouldn’t be reaching the people we are reaching.” 

About six years after planting DayBreak, the church was navigating the COVID-19 pandemic when tragedy struck Kenosha. People all over the world watched the aftermath of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha and the intense riots and protests that followed. DayBreak was in the middle of all of it. 

“Our building had damage from the riots; we were at the epicenter,” Windel said. “At DayBreak, we have a deep vision of Jeremiah 29:7: When your city thrives, you thrive. We took this as an opportunity to put that vision on display for our city. We are not a wealthy church, but we were able to be generous. Even in the midst of the crazy, we had insane favor for our church. Now Kenosha business owners who were not believers are here with us.” 

Although the struggles of the early days at DayBreak are still fresh in his memory, Windel is now celebrating what God has done in and through the church. DayBreak just celebrated its seventh anniversary and now has about 170 people who attend. Their vision continues: to love their city well and tell the story of Jesus to whoever will listen. 

For Greg McKinney ’14, church planting was not even on his radar when he was studying youth ministry at JBU. After he graduated and had been serving as the youth pastor at Community Christian Fellowship (CCF) in Siloam Springs for several years, he was given the opportunity to occasionally preach during the main service. That season sparked McKinney’s love for teaching, speaking and leading adult leaders. It was also the time that the idea of church planting started as a seed in the McKinney home.

At the time, McKinney and his wife, Kate, had four young children. As they were raising their family and serving at CCF, they began to dream and pray together about their vision for a multigenerational, multiethnic church. But they had one huge unanswered question: Where? 

McKinney said his JBU professor and mentor, Jason Lanker, helped him answer that question. 

“He said, ‘I think you’re making this way too complicated. Go home and talk with Kate. Decide on a place and go pray there.’ And that’s what we did. We drove to Kansas City,” McKinney said. 

A few months later, Greg and Kate McKinney were moving their family of six to a home a few blocks from Troost Avenue, a street charged with the energy of being a historical crossroads of Kansas City. Their goal was to start with loving their own neighbors, and they didn’t have to wait long to find the opportunity to do just that. 

“Shortly after we moved, there was a homicide next door, and I got to love on that neighbor,” McKinney said. “Our neighbors don’t step foot in churches, but they call me their pastor.” 

In October 2019, Glory Church had its first in-home, vision-casting meeting with about 24 people. By February 2020, Glory Church was ready to launch, and the launch team included a small army of Greg and Kate’s fellow JBU alumni: Jess Turner ’17, Brandon ’14 and Olivia (Rollene) Blackman ’15, Ben ’19 and Emma (Pitts) Smith ’19, Noah and Katie (Rowe) Brown ’19, Abby Acker ’19 and Caleb Gaikema ’19. This group of JBU alumni jumped in to serve Glory Church in a tour de force of leadership, including leading small groups, hospitality and greeting teams, playing in the worship band, taking photographs, leading the setup/teardown team, teaching kids and helping manage finances. 

Glory Church launched Feb. 9, 2020, with about 120 people in the room. When the McKinneys looked out over the church on launch day, they saw their vision and dream for Glory Church coming to fruition: a multigenerational, multiethnic, multisocioeconomic group gathered to worship together in Kansas City. In the first few weeks, they celebrated 13 salvations and six baptisms. 

Seven weeks later, the pandemic hit the United States and brought with it many challenges for the fledgling Glory Church. 

“We had to figure out how to maintain community when we didn’t even have a strong community built yet,” McKinney said. “We got really creative; some things worked, and some did not. We did fitness Zooms; we did a lot of service projects; we did a lot outside. We decided early on that we would keep our values at the forefront as we serve our city. We did worship nights outside in the park. Somehow, we were able to grow during that time.” 

Today, at just under two years old, Glory Church continues to make a mark on Kansas City as a growing group of believers committed to serving their city. They host a weekly food pantry that feeds about 250 people with nonperishable foods as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. They offer a clothing closet and serve free hot meals every Wednesday, cooked by church members. 

“We have some awesome women in our Black community, and they get loud,” McKinney said. “One calls herself Mama T; she always calls out: ‘COME AND GET MY FOOD!’ It’s amazing.” 

“My whole vision for Glory Church since day one has been a little bigger than even what it is right now,” McKinney said. “There are a lot of different ways that you can church plant, but I’m very entrepreneurial-minded. We are hoping to eventually end up in an urban building that can double as a community events space where we can partner with local nonprofits who need consistent building space. That vision is slowly coming to fruition.” 

From Glory Church in Kansas City, to DayBreak in Kenosha, to the Heights in Denver, to the many other churches planted by JBU alumni across the nation and world, they all have one thing in common: God-sized dreams. 

For Hobbs at the Heights Church in Denver, those dreams are expanding to include a vision for launching even more church planters. 

“I’ve discovered that what God calls you to, he will equip you for. The call to plant a church is over my ability level and skill level, but his grace has been sufficient for every moment,” Hobbs said. “Our hope is that the Heights becomes a church-planting hub. We hope that those interested in church planting will reach out to us — I’d love to help you do that.” 

From the days of Acts 2 to 2021, the history of Christianity marches on with every new church planted. And amidst the march, our JBU alumni are planting, watering and watching God bring the growth of his Kingdom on Earth. 

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