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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Starting new, creating traditions

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[September 20, 2008]  You've been in church for years. Now you have the opportunity to start a new church, without traditions ... nothing ingrained ... no one to say, "We've always done it this way." What is your new church going to look like? What will be its personality? When people try to describe this church, what will they say?

InsuranceThese are the questions facing White Water Christian Church of Laramie, Wyo. Their doors have been open since Sept. 14. Of course, the doors aren't really theirs. The infant church began to meet last Sunday in rented rooms provided by Laramie's high school.

The minister, Chad Halbach, packed up his family in February and moved from Elkhart to Laramie in this long-anticipated venture. Chad had recently given up his part-time ministry position at Irish Grove Christian Church near Middletown. A few months earlier, he had left his job at Lincoln Christian College to devote more time to the work.

In 2006, with the vision and support of a nearby church in Cheyenne, Halbach became the lead team member for a nondenominational new church in Laramie. From that moment on, he has been working with family, friends and interested churches in the forming of a nucleus of people led by God with a vision for a church that didn't yet exist.

"We've been working so long on opening day," Halbach muses, "that we're just now having time to sit back and shift attention to how we will ‘do' church."

Opening day preparation began when the family of eight moved to Laramie in February. With six children attending everything from preschool to college, opportunities to meet the community opened immediately.

"We were all outside one day and a family from down the street walked by," Halbach said. "They found out we were here to start a church, and they were thrilled. They'd been looking for a church and just hadn't found the right fit."

The kids helped spread the message, too. Even the children got in on the advertising. When asked at school what brought them to Laramie, 6-year-old Rachel answered, "God did."

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As team members were slowly added, their circle of influence spread. Chad's wife, Marsha, took on the role of children's minister when that position remained unfilled. The team filled out with a college minister and creative arts minister. At least one non-staff family relocated to Laramie to be a part of the lay ministry.

By the beginning of August, all three primary staff members and their families were holding small group studies throughout the town. A month before opening day, the team began hosting Sunday morning worship for those already involved in the church. The number had grown from just the eight Halbachs to approximately 75 to 100 worshippers. No advertising was done for these prep Sundays. The target date remained what it had been for the last year: Sept. 14.

So, last weekend, 250 people gathered to celebrate the first official worship service. There were 35 children. "That was a good number, considering the demographics of the town," Marsha Halbach reports. A number of people expressed interest in membership and hearing more about baptism. "Our goal now for these people is trying to get them involved so they grow," she said.

The questions remain: What will this church be known for? How will it be described?

Chad Halbach has this to say about it: "We're trying to set the DNA of the church early on. We're not stuffy ... just very ‘real' with each other. We (the ministers) need wisdom to help people. We're working on reaching out to the churched people to get them involved as much as the unchurched people."


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