In 1996, Brent Storms was looking for a ministry while he attended Gordon-Conwell Seminary. At the same time, Bedford Christian Church was considering closing its doors. How did this student and this church find each other and create something new?
After watching the successful plant of Crossway Christian Church in Nashua, NH, the leaders at Bedford Christian realized their church was not evangelistically effective in its community. Their building, a huge house with a worship area added later, was tucked away on a historic street of other old houses. Although it was a spiritual “home” for members, only 30 or 40 people attended services each Sunday.
The church faced little financial pressure—just a small mortgage and maintenance costs—and could have lasted another 20 years doing what it had always done. But its members wanted to be part of something bigger than preserving the past and the status quo.
After the elders decided to close the church, sell the property, and use the resources to start a new church, they contacted Orchard Group for help. Paul Williams, then president of Orchard Group, suggested Brent Storms as an interim minister during the transition.
“My six-month interim time turned into a two-year ministry,” Storms says. “They eventually asked me to lead the closure of their current church and the re-launch of a new congregation.”
But Storms was not alone in providing leadership. Glen Barton, one of the founding members of the church and one of its first ministers, still worshiped at Bedford and served as an elder. He was also a key leader in the transition.
“We required a congregational vote to move forward with closing the church and changing the bylaws,” Storms says. “Glen stood up and said, ‘This is hard, but it’s the right thing to do.’ He loved this church and had poured his life into it. I have so much respect for his sacrificial leadership at a crucial time.”
The church sold its building to a Korean Presbyterian Church, gave away 20% of the proceeds to the missions they supported, and held a memorial service for Bedford Christian Church.
After this time of celebrating and honoring the past, a core group began dreaming about the future. They planned to start a new church eight miles from the previous location, in a densely-populated area with big opportunities. Over several months the team solidified its vision, hired a staff, found a meeting place, and began marketing the new congregation. Almost exactly one year after closing Bedford Christian, Harbor of Hope Christian Church was launched in Lowell, MA.
“We met in an old mill building,” Storms says. “It was one of the coolest church buildings I’ve ever seen, with exposed brick and ceiling beams.”
More than 200 people attended the first service and the new church quickly settled into an average attendance of 100. When Storms left (he now serves as president at Orchard Group) the church averaged 350 people each weekend.
Harbor of Hope has also helped to start other churches, including Discovery Christian Church in Pittsburgh and a Cambodian Christian church in Lowell.
“This isn’t a story of Orchard Group telling a church to make a change or of a church running out of money,” Storms says. “This is a church that saw an opportunity to do better and together decided to courageously make the leap.”