Finding meeting places for church plants is known to be a challenge, yet church planters are known to be creative. But what do you do when the school where you’re meeting in your first year plans to perform maintenance over the summer, making major areas of the school off limits? Do you stop having services? Do you find another place to meet? Where could 150 people meet for worship?
How about meeting in a tent? Tent meetings are not a new concept— the first tent meetings took place in July 1800 at Gasper River Church in southwestern Kentucky.* But would this old-fashioned method work in a contemporary culture, especially in a church plant?
Church planter Robert Hampshire and Village Church in Churchville, VA decided to give it a try. “We really didn’t have a plan B,” recalls Pastor Robert. “We began to pray and ask around.”
That’s when Pastor Robert connected with SBCV regional missionaries Don Cockes and Steve Bradshaw, who connected him to Pastor Zack Zbinden of Salem Baptist Church in Crozier, VA. Pastor Zack agreed to loan Village Church a tent for the summer. For 10 weeks, Village Church suspended its Sunday morning children’s ministries and met in a tent, where attendees brought their own camping chairs.
“The first half of the summer, [there was] a lot of excitement. The mornings were cool, and we even had a lot of extra visitors,” shares Pastor Robert. “Eventually, as the temperatures rose, we had to bring in big fans to get the air moving and, on some mornings, we had to push rain off of the tent.” The Lord provided the blessing of a summer with no major weather events, though. In addition, He drew people to Himself, and Pastor Robert was able to baptize three people in Jennings Branch, a well-known river behind the tent where many locals played as children.
Not only did meeting in a tent solve the space problem, it also saved the new church a considerable amount of money not having to pay rent to the school. But this concept was not without its trials. Pastor Robert recalls, “At around 11:30 AM every Sunday, the sun rose and the tent heated up. It got brighter, and it was time to wrap [things] up.”
Nevertheless, “It was a great experiment,” says Pastor Robert. “There was (in the beginning) more excitement and freshness and newness because of how it was laid out. The people felt closer. It worked out well, but everybody is glad to be back in the school.”
It’s encouraging to witness the ingenuity of church planters like Robert Hampshire who aren’t afraid to try new things or even old things in a new culture, and it’s a blessing to hear of SBC of Virginia churches connecting and networking to bring the Gospel to the lost.
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