WAXAHACHIE – “Beginning again” is a familiar theme for the congregation at Stonegate Church, as they transition from leasing to establishing a permanent location to call home. Since 2009, Stonegate Church has a rich heritage of “church planting” history, mentoring and influencing a culture for the cross.
“When I think about some of the things that define us as a church family, we really want to be all about Jesus. When I think of what we’re shooting for, what we want to be — that’s what we want to do, we want to be all about Jesus. We want to make disciples," Senior Pastor Rodney Hobbs said. "At the end of the day, that shouldn’t be unique to any given church, but it’s definitely at the heart of ours. We want to take the Great Commission and try to live that out on a personal level as we make disciples of Jesus. That’s the heart of what we’re trying to do here.”
Taking root in Midlothian, Hobbs seized an opportunity to cultivate a harvest within his own community.
“We had a group of about 20 of us. I was doing student ministry for about eight years and had the opportunity to plant out of a church called Walnut Ridge in Mansfield. We had a crew of about 20 people, started meeting in a living room that summer, and launched in August of 2009,” recalled Hobbs, currently celebrating their church’s 7th birthday.
Stonegate’s current status didn’t come without its struggles, even as it blossomed into a fruitful congregation of 900 members. Previously working as a student pastor at Walnut Ridge in 2002, “church planting” was a foreign concept to Hobbs. That is until Walnut Ridge hired its first “planting resident,” broadening Hobbs’ view to a pioneering perspective.
“That guy came in, preached several times that summer and then planted a church across town. We sent 70 to 80 people with him to plant a church in Mansfield. That was the first moment I realized ‘I guess all churches were planted at some point. I guess that’s how churches multiply.’ And that had never dawned on me. I was just not exposed to the idea of church planting — I didn’t even know that was a thing. That was my exposure and the moment where the wheels began to turn.”
According to acts29.com, Church planting is one of the best ways to increase the numbers of believers in a city, in order to renew the whole body of Christ. All the great evangelistic challenges of the New Testament are called to plant churches, not simply to share the faith. The "Great Commission" (Matt.28: 18-20) is not just a call to “make disciples” but to “baptize.” In Acts and elsewhere, it is clear that baptism means incorporation into a worshipping community with accountability and boundaries (Acts 2:41-47).
Moreover, so, Stonegate has adopted this directive into the church’s framework, mentoring disciples and branching out into unplanted locations just as their mother church had done before them.
“The church I was planted from is in the Mansfield area, and they are one-of-five, or six other churches planted from a church called Tate Springs in Arlington. Right now, in the Mansfield and Arlington area, there are probably 15,000 people worshiping in churches that were planted out of Tate Springs. So we’re kind of the third church, the third generation down and out from that,” added Hobbs.
PLANTING FOR THE HARVEST
A followed footprint of Tate Springs had been passed down to Walnut Ridge and now into Stonegate — with many others sharing the church-multiplication DNA. Since the beginning, Stonegate has successfully planted 17 new churches when it comes to “missional outputs.”
“We have fruit that we want to see. Church planting is a big thing to us, so we want to do a great job of planting churches over time. One operates as a church-planting residency, where we bring guys in, train them, and send them out. A deep investment in terms of time, energy, and effort — they’re going to be here with us for a while, and then we’re going to send them out,” Hobbs explained. “And the second are the other guys that are already developed. They're ready to plant, and we’re going to partner beside them financially, coaching, that sort of thing to help them get off the ground.”
With relatively new church plants opening, the corporate expression of "discipleship making" is reproducing quickly.
“We have a guy in Lawrence, Kansas, name KC Maddox, who’s planted Free City Church and has done great. They’re up to a couple hundred now and just doing so good. We have a church in Arlington, called Restore Church that has been internal to us. We just planted one in Cedar Hill this last year, called Omni Fellowship. Many of these churches are already on their church plants developing the next line of guys. When I look at something like this, it’s like, ‘man, that is multiplication.’ And that is totally what we’re after.”
He also explained that carrying a church plant is usually made of miracles, hard work, and people passionate about what they’re doing for it to work.
“It’s one of those things, if you’re going to survive as a church plant, you need the Lord to do a couple of hundred miracles for you. That’s what it takes,” laughed Hobbs, adding to the fact that building a church has it’s own set of obstacles to run through.
BUILDING WITHOUT DEBT
According to Hobbs, partnering and training future pastors for church ministry is only one side of this multidimensional church, as Stonegate is also investing into a facility of its own.
“We’ve been in a rented facility for seven and a half years,” Hobbs said. “We’ve known from day one that at some point, that’s not going to go on forever. We’ve got to have, at some point, our own home.”
And, for Hobbs and Stonegate, there is no better place than Midlothian, the "Cement and Steel Capital of Texas."
“Midlothian is an interesting city and, unlike Waxahachie, it’s not like there’s been industry there that is now moved on with excess building space around. It’s like no industry has been here in terms of strip malls and all that sort of thing, there’s not that kind of space in Midlothian, which is the most economical way to go about moving into a new facility. But those options just don’t exist. There’s like no 50,000-to-60,000-square-foot of space to move into. So we knew we were going to be in the long haul of things, finding land and figuring out how to move to that place. It’s such a daunting thing.”
With more than 7,480 residents, Midlothian is a quickly evolving city, opening its doors to Hobbs and the people of Stonegate by leasing a facility for weekly services.
“I just want to do anything I can to compliment the city. They have been great partners in that. When I think of our story — that is one of the miracles the Lord has done for us along the way. So I’m super appreciative of them being open to us,” Hobbs thanked.
As opportunity arose in the form of a few acres off of Walnut Grove and U.S. Highway 287, miracle after miracle began to pour in.
“We had a piece of property that became available on Walnut Grove off of 287, and we felt like the Lord was leading us to buy that one as well. So we were in a position to be able to buy both of those properties and pay cash for them," Hobbs explained. "Then, we just launched a capital campaign, a generosity initiative last February going into March. It was a two-year initiative to try and get us ready to build. Really, from day one, our prayer has been that we could do that in a low-debt or no-debt sort of way and knowing that’s going to be one of those things, the Lord is just going to have to come through and do some serious miracles."
Paying cash and not adding to a credit threat of debt enabled the generosity spirit to flow through Stonegate congregation as a six-million-dollar goal was made for construction to start.
“We did a set of sermons last February that led to a commitment Sunday in early March. Then we had a celebration Sunday, where we tallied everything,” he added explaining the 11.1 million dollar commitment Stonegate made in April of 2016.
The pastor noted that, with the church being a one-fund approach for the next two years, it has set a fast-paced course to get their building ready.
“When I think about a generosity initiative, it has never been about a number we have to raise. It’s always been about wanting to make disciples of Jesus, and we know a big part of that is how we deal with money and how our money deals with us. So we just had a crazy moment,” Hobbs said. “We’re in that place now of we’re almost to the finish line of the design piece of it. We’re almost there, probably 95 percent there. I’m looking forward to 2017, and we’ll finish the design stuff and probably break ground in June of this year, so it’s right around the corner.
“[...] Our contract expires with the conference center in September of 2018, so we’re looking at that like August 2018 as the move-in date. It’s right around the corner. We’re trying to create a place there that will be conducive for our community to enjoy. When we think about what sort of vibe and feel we think our building will have, we want it to be a space where out whole community can enjoy and use. We’re excited to see what that’s going to look like, from Mother’s Day out to people enjoying for weddings, venues and all those sorts of things. We’re excited to be able to serve our community in that way."
GERMINATING FUTURE GENERATIONS
In the meantime, Stonegate continues to serve the community of Midlothian through diversity and orphan care.
“I think one of the unique things that God has put on our heart is that we really do want a diverse church. When we look at Revelation 7, where the view of Heaven is a people composed of every nation, tongue and tribe, all worshipping Jesus — we would love to bring more of that heaven to the church now. Diversity is very important to us. Right now we reflect Midlothian. But Midlothian is still way dominant in the Caucasian category — I think it’s like 85 percent. We know diversity is going to be what Midlothian will become over time. We are laying the tracks in every way possible to be able to serve and reach a diverse community that we know is coming," Hobbs said, pairing another focal point of his church’s gaze — orphan care.
Stonegate has supported families who are interested and passionate about adopting and fostering children. In 2016 alone, Hobbs recalled six legal adoptions happening within the church, along with six families licensed as foster homes, and four families waiting for adoptive placements. In some shape or form, 75 families within the church body are moving toward orphan care.
“It’s really been fun to watch the Lord, just more and more, give His heart for the orphan to our church. We have a whole orphan care team," Hobbs said. "One of the holes that happen in a church, I think a lot of churches are now saying, ‘let’s take care of the orphan.’ But then they don’t have a good infrastructure to support people as they do it. We’re trying to work really hard to cast a vision for it and also provide support for families who are in it. So our orphan care team is built around supporting and helping our families that are in orphan care."
GROWING IN SEASONS
Improving families, embracing diversity, and supporting communities with new church plants, the future of Stonegate looks bright.
“We want to be a church that expresses we love Jesus, and we really love our city. And we want to see our city flourish, and we want to be apart as a church family, we want to be a part of helping our city,” said Hobbs, adding, “We want to be a church that serves our community. We’re not looking to take from our community; we’re looking to give to our community. We love our community.”
To contact Stonegate Church, visit www.stonegate.church or call (214) 673-5608
Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer