Church plants that plant

Church planters Christian Kohs and Phil Wiebe are launching new campuses as part of their church planting strategies

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Christian Kohs and Phil Wiebe are USMB church planters committed to planting more churches. Photo: CL

Pastors Christian Kohs and Phil Wiebe may be separated by 1,200 miles, but the two USMB church planters are united by a similar mission to launch new churches in Minnesota and Utah, respectively, within the year.

A new normal

Kohs is senior pastor at Redemption Church in Owatonna, Minnesota, where he intends to use a campus model to scatter small churches across southern Minnesota.

Kohs says his church planting strategy has shifted significantly since moving to Minnesota from a mega church in Seattle. His church plant, Redemption Church, joined the Central District Conference in November 2017.

“I can remember (saying) from the pulpit numerous times, ‘We will be the biggest church in Owatonna that does stuff,’” Kohs says. “Wow, has God changed my mind in two years.”

Christian Kohs teaches a Bible study for members of the Redemption Church congregation. Redemption began as a Bible study in Kohs home and plans to launch campuses in small cities in southern Minnesota, beginning with Wells, by Easter 2021. Photo: Christian Kohs

As Redemption plans to launch its first campus, Kohs is not looking to be the biggest church. The shift came during the coronavirus pandemic, he says, which brought new metrics for success beyond numbers or attendance.

For Kohs, success is measured in active engagement in discipleship and community—80 percent of people at Redemption read their Bibles daily—as well as a number of people attending church that don’t yet know Jesus.

“I think in the midst of COVID-19, God has shown me that the new normal might be small,” Kohs says. “And that small isn’t bad.”

Kohs using campus model

Attendance at Redemption numbers around 100 people, including online viewership. In addition to Sunday services, Redemption offers ministries for men, women and children and hosts a recovery group.

Redemption is seeking to launch 10 campuses in 10 years in small cities. Campuses, at least those in close proximity to Owatonna, will likely have similar names. Kohs would like to see Owatonna attendance at 150 people, with each campus around 100 people.

The campus model is more cost effective than starting a new church, Kohs says, referencing affordable rent and minimal startup costs.

“There’s so much opportunity if you keep the campuses smaller,” he says. “In southern Minnesota, there’re so many small towns where it’s so cheap to plant a new church.”

Redemption continues to make its way off subsidy, and as new campuses are launched, Kohs says the church may ask for money to cover equipment, instead of a monthly subsidy.

With each new campus, Kohs plans to recruit three or four families in a small group and a campus pastor to preach on Sunday. Kohs intends to theologically train and develop leaders during his own nine-month training program covering competence, character and calling. He has his first lead pastor resident in training. Between campuses, Kohs envisions using technology to split preaching duties with the campus pastor.

Success in church planting, says Christian Kohs, is measured in active engagement in discipleship and community and by the number of people attending that do not yet know Jesus. Photo: Christian Kohs

Planting in Wells and beyond

Redemption plans to launch its first campus in Wells, Minnesota—a city of 2,300 people about 50 miles southwest of Owatonna—by Easter 2021.

Current associate pastor Mike Petts will serve as campus pastor at Redemption-Wells. Petts and his wife, Diane, moved to Owatonna in September 2019, after serving 10 years as pastor at Salem MB Church in rural Bridgewater, South Dakota.

As a result of expensive housing in Owatonna and having heard that people were seeking a Bible-preaching church in Wells, the Petts found a house there, the very city for which Kohs had been praying for nine months.

The Petts moved to Wells in August, where they plan to offer a basement guest bedroom as a space for pastors or missionaries to relax and stay for a few days.

Families from Owatonna are participating in monthly prayer and vision nights in Wells, and the Petts plan to start a men’s Bible study that meets at a coffee shop.

“We’re actively seeking to get this thing going by next spring,” Kohs says.

Beyond Wells, Kohs is eyeing Medford, Minn., 8 miles north of Owatonna.

“It’s only a city of 1,500, but they have no churches in town,” he says.

Not every church Redemption launches or pastor trained may be tied to Redemption or Mennonite Brethren, Kohs says, as his primary focus is on planting gospel-centered, Jesus-loving churches.

“I’m kind of a kingdom guy,” he says.

As Kohs shifts his focus from large cities to smaller ones, campus location possibilities abound, including a city of 10,000 to the west and two cities of less than 2,000 people each to the south. Kohs’ desire is for people in each community to have a home church.

“Even if they’re all churches of 50, that’s still a win,” Kohs says. “I never thought God would make my vision smaller, but yet bigger, at the same time.”

“Hub” model in Utah

Phil Wiebe, lead pastor of Lakeview Church in Stansbury Park, Utah, is also developing a strategy to launch new campuses.

Volunteers prepare for a Lakeview Grantsville pilot service, the first campus to be planted by Lakeview Stansbury. New churches will be planted in Utah communities that are at least 50 percent LDS. Photo: Phil Wiebe

Lakeview’s “church hub model” resembles a wheel with spokes, with the main “hub” in the center—Lakeview Stansbury—supplying the administrative team and support for three campuses branching from the center.

The approach is similar to that of South Mountain Community Church, a USMB church with five campuses in Utah with whom Wiebe previously worked for 12 years. Wiebe met Lakeview discipleship pastor Jeff Hubrich and his wife, Heather, at SMCC. The Hubrichs will serve as pastoral couple of Lakeview’s newest campus in Grantsville, Utah.

Wiebe proposes a four-campus model, keeping Lakeview Stansbury between 400 and 500 people and each campus between 300 and 400 people for a total of 1,500 people.

“We’d rather be a sending and planting church than a grow-big-in-one-location church,” Wiebe says, mentioning substantial savings. “We can host 1,500 people at four churches for $8 million, versus a 1,500-seat church building that (is) well over $20 million.

“We’re trying to stay small so that there’s an intentional discipleship and training program for our people,” Wiebe says, adding that the hub model will provide one pastoral staff member for every 100 people.

All campuses will be within 25 minutes from Stanbsury Park to allow pastors with both organizational and campus responsibilities to travel easily between campuses.

As campuses grow, they can split off as new independent Mennonite Brethren churches to become the hub for more churches, allowing Lakeview Stansbury to start another campus.

“We’re always wanting to be a four-campus model with our hub,” Wiebe says.

Wiebe’s goal is to launch campuses in Grantsville to the west, Tooele to the south and Lake Point to the north by 2025.

Grantsville is first campus

With Lakeview Stansbury on track to outgrow its meeting space, Wiebe decided to launch the Grantsville campus instead of adding a third Sunday morning service.

Jeff Hubrich,will serve as campus pastor for Grantsville. The church held its pilot service at the first LDS Ward (now privately owned) of Tooele County. Photo: Phil Wiebe

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Lakeview Stansbury’s attendance numbered more than 200 people. Including online and in-person attendance, it has grown to 360 people. Lakeview Stansbury will send 50 to 75 people to Grantsville, a city approximately 10 miles southwest of Stansbury Park with a population of around 11,000 people, to help launch the campus.

The Hubrichs are assembling their team. A former Mormon, Jeff Hubrich left his career as a pilot to become a pastor.

“In our model, we bring on a campus pastor and he works at the hub for a season,” Wiebe says. “Then he builds a relationship with his team. And then when we’re ready to launch, that team goes out and starts the next campus.”

Lakeview Grantsville held its first pilot service in June and a second one in August before holding pre-launch services with the team on location.

The launch is slated for December 2020.

Leadership development

Part of Lakeview’s hub model includes intentional leadership development, beginning with hiring apprentices—students in high school or junior high—to work part-time in the church over the summer.

Wiebe is developing partnership relationships with other USMB churches that will offer ministry internships to college students. He would like to offer a residence program to college graduates and then a one-year trial run in church leadership before a leader moves into a permanent staffing position.

Long-term plan

Wiebe has formulated a 30-year plan, in which 15 churches come from Lakeview. In order for a location to be considered, a city must be at least 50 percent LDS and less than 10 percent evangelical.

“Our hub model only works if we’re reaching people,” Wiebe says. “If we’re just doing church and hoping people show up, it doesn’t work.

“If Jesus is coming back, I want to be on the battlefield,” Wiebe says. “And not just the battlefield, I actually want to be on the front line.”

Janae Rempel
Janae Rempel is the Christian Leader associate editor. She joined the CL staff in September 2017 with six years of experience as a professional journalist. Rempel is an award-winning journalist, having received three 2016 Kansas Press Association Awards of Excellence. Rempel graduated from Tabor College in 2010 with a bachelor of arts in Communications/Journalism and Biblical/Religious Studies. She attends Hillsboro MB Church.

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