Week of Prayer: First year church plant gives back

After more than 30 years in ministry, Pastor Garth Leno stepped down from his role at his church of 10 years, not knowing what his next steps would be. A few months later, he and his wife opened their home for a Bible study, which soon became known as The Gathering.

Four months after their first meeting, Garth announced to the group that they would be taking the next steps toward becoming a church.

As he worked through the logistics of starting a church, Garth began outlining who they would be as a church and which network or denomination they would affiliate with. He was clear they didn’t want to just conform to a network or denomination, but join one that already aligned with who they were.

“I started looking at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) because of guys like David Platt and Al Mohler,” explains Garth. “I do not come from an SBC background, and neither does anyone in my congregation, so we had no idea that there was a Canadian affiliate. We searched out a number of other groups, but the SBC was most aligned with our values.”

The Gathering continued to grow, and establish their vision as a church.

“Our time together is very simple,” says Garth. “We made three taglines to be a descriptor of our weekly gathering: simple worship, passionate prayer and strong teaching. That is what we are known for.”

Through the process of joining the SBC, Garth was introduced to Wayne Parker, pastor of Merriman Baptist Church, and a Send City Missionary in Detroit. The two soon became close friends and Wayne assisted Garth as he worked toward becoming a NAMB church planter.

Parker also worked with Garth to pray through and discover a location that would fit The Gathering’s growing church family.

“After looking at over 60 different options, we found an empty warehouse,” says Garth.

After speaking with the owner and almost walking away due to cost, the owner had a change of heart and asked them how much they could afford. When they told him, he cut the asking amount in half to meet their price point.

“We continue to see the hand of God every time we turn around,” says Garth. “We had received a generous grant from NAMB, which was very helpful. We didn’t know it at the time, but it came from the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® (AAEO). We really didn’t know what this was or who Annie Armstrong was either, but were thankful because, through it, the gospel is being better spread throughout our city.”

Within less than a year of meeting on Sundays, The Gathering was now able to afford a new location that fit them perfectly. With the grant from NAMB, generous donations from partnering SBC churches and their weekly offerings, they were able to secure the space and remain debt free.

The congregation met for their first Sunday in their newly renovated warehouse on January 11, 2015.

“There were grateful tears at church that first Sunday,” says Garth. “When I told our congregation that we now had a chance to give back to the organization that helped get us started, they were excited to get behind it.”

The Gathering was able to raise over $9,300 in their first year as a church, for their first ever AAEO contribution.

The Gathering is the first church in over five years to be planted in Windsor, a mirror city to Detroit, Michigan, and is in a community where statistics show only 7 percent of are evangelical Christians.

“We are Motor City Canada,” says Garth on the context of Windsor. “The city is largely blue collar and proud of it. People migrated here in the 50s and 60s to work in the factories, so it is tremendously ethnically diverse. Our congregation is filled with South Asians, Chinese, Filipinos, Romanians, Caucasians, Eastern Europeans and people from the Caribbean. We are a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural church family.”

“We are just experiencing the radical grace of God,” says Garth. “We couldn’t be happier than to be right in the center of God’s will.

Southern Baptists gave more than $58 million to the AAEO in 2016. Everything given to this offering goes straight to the mission field in North America and helps start and support church plants like The Gathering in Ontario.

You can give to AAEO any time at AnnieArmstrong.com.

Published March 6, 2017