Church plant reaches millennials at local cineplex

By Dave Arden

PHOENIX (BP) — A church plant that meets in one of the theaters in a cineplex may not be big news.

CityView Church’s volunteers gather for prayer at a Phoenix cineplex prior to their Sunday morning worship.

Except when a church plant impacts so many millennials that it never plans to leave.

Jeremiah Semmler and CityView Church in Phoenix have seen more than 350 people land in their theater seats and connect with the church family. Instead of watching a new release, many soon meet Jesus and become released to a new life in Christ.

“Every Sunday in the theater, more than likely there is somebody that does not know Jesus,” Semmler said. “We do not ever plan to leave the theater.”

Semmler is an Arizona native planting a church near the neighborhood where he grew up. He served for many years as a student pastor before becoming a church planter, launching CityView in September 2015.

Nsikan (pronounced n-say-ken) is one example of a millennial who has connected with Christ at CityView.

Nsikan came to the AMC movie complex to see a movie. One of CityView’s greeters went over to welcome him and his friend and invited them to church.

Semmler encouraged the two friends after worship, “If you like it here come back next week.”

In a Phoenix cineplex, Jeremiah Semmler is leading CityView Church to taking root, seeking to reach people who are “looking for a community home.”

Nsikan returned and first connected with CityView member Sandy and then Carol and Tim. Soon at a Panda Express, Carol shared the Gospel with Nsikan and he gladly received Christ.

“I would like to get baptized,” the new brother said.

Nsikan now is one of many who has made the move from being a sit-down acquaintance to a stand-up follower of Jesus.

Semmler understands millennials and knows how to speak their language, with 25-35-year-olds comprising the largest sector of the growing church.

“Our main focus is on people who are searching,” Semmler said. “We identify with people who are looking for a community home. One of the coolest things is to see someone on their way to the movies end up at church to give their life to Christ.”

The mission of CityView is to:

Belong in community.

Believe in Jesus.

Become what God has called you to be.

“We accept people before they have begun a faith journey,” Semmler said. “We are OK with moving slow.”

CityView makes an impact on its community in various ways. They do a “Black Friday Outreach” sharing gift bags with retail workers who have to work during the holidays. They provide support for Park Meadows Elementary School’s students and teachers, including helping paint and fix up the school. The church also serves in first responders care for the local police, supports foster care ministry and has a women’s ministry to local strippers.

Semmler has worked in overdrive to build the church plant’s ministry teams.

“We have removed the word ‘volunteer’ in our ministry,” he said. “Instead, we use the word ‘team member.’ Team members take ownership.”

CityView has established a culture of leadership development with a pathway for “team leaders” to become “area leaders” and eventually move into “director” responsibility, expanding their influence in each role, with more than half the church now involved in service.

CityView Church may decide to move to a different location in the next 10 or 15 years. Or this “Church at the Box Office” might stay. With big vision, they are aiming to venture anew into church planting in the next few years.

Stay tuned for the sequel.

Dave Arden is a freelance writer and church planting catalyst in Phoenix for the North American Mission Board.
MASHALLTOWN, Iowa (BP) — Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams have begun cleanup work in Marshalltown, Iowa, following a devastating tornado July 19.

A Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief team arrived Tuesday to set up incident command at Iglesia Karios in Marshalltown. Chainsaw teams from Iowa have dispersed throughout the city to clear debris. An SBDR feeding team has prepared meals for recovery workers in the area.

Additional SBDR volunteers from Kansas-Nebraska and Florida already are on the ground in Marshalltown. Carlson, co-director of Iowa Baptist Disaster Relief, expects volunteers from other nearby states to arrive later this week and early next week. Teams from other states interested in providing assistance should contact their state disaster relief director.

“It looks like a war zone to tell you the truth,” Carlson said. “When you go downtown, you’ll see a lot of glass and brick everywhere.

“On the east part of town, there are about 10 blocks that are very heavily hit. There’s really not many trees standing. A lot of those homes aren’t livable,” Carlson said.

The EF-3 tornado injured at least 235 people in the town of 27,000 located 50 miles northeast of Des Moines. Carlson estimates that at least 100 homes were destroyed. Many more homes will take substantial work before people can return to live in them. Carlson believes it will take months, if not years, for Marshalltown to rebuild.

Some of the worst damage in Marshalltown came to the town’s courthouse and the brick buildings in the town square. In recent years officials and property owners had slowly worked to revamp the buildings, many of which are now destroyed. Jenny Etter, executive director of the Marshalltown Central Business District, estimates that the city had spent $50 million in building renovations since 2002.

A dozen or more tornadoes hit central Iowa last Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. The two biggest tornadoes, both rated EF-3, hit Marshalltown and Pella, with peak winds of 144 mph.

SBDR chaplains are also in Marshalltown to provide support and counsel to residents impacted by the tornado. Sam Porter, the North American Mission Board’s executive director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, prays the SBDR response will provide volunteers opportunities to share the Gospel.

“[The] number one goal with disaster relief is to earn the right to share the Gospel,” Porter said. “We work with those impacted. We treat them with respect. We pray with them. When they ask the question, ‘What makes you do this for no charge?’ that’s when you’ve earned the right to share the Gospel.”

The Marshalltown tornado comes on the heels of the SBDR response to flooding in Des Moines, Iowa, where teams wrapped up work last week. Eight people came to faith last week during SBDR efforts in the capital city, Carlson said.

Porter and Carlson urge Southern Baptists to pray for Marshalltown and the rest of Central Iowa.

“Pray for all the people who live here,” Carlson said. “A lot of them lost their homes. They lost their cars. They lost their job. There is a lot of a need here.”

Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board.,

Published February 19, 2019