What is Acts 29?
Acts 29 is a diverse, global family of church planting churches. They have 800 churches in 52 countries comprising 31 different languages. They are reformed, complementarian, and mission minded. You can read more about their distinctives, goals, and staff here.
A vision casting video for 2019 can be seen here:
Acts 29 publishes very thorough annual reports. We encourage you to read their 2019 report.
You can read more about the Southeast US region of Acts 29 here.
What is the difference between a network and a denomination?
Acts 29 is a network and not a denomination. In short, a network is more like a family and a denomination is more like a hierarchy. Influence within the family is less formal and less driven by institutional structure. Churches in the Acts 29 Network remain autonomous to their own local leadership. The network would step in and have a conversation if a church broke from their doctrinal statement, but this is historically very rare.
Also, with a network, we have the freedom to join and to leave with less friction than what you’d usually experience in most denominations.
There is easy access to counsel and coaching. On more than one occasion this year we have had circumstances where we needed some counsel and a simple text message got us a same day phone call to process the circumstance.
What is the history of the Acts 29 Network?
The best summary of Acts 29’s history is this excellent writeup from Sarah Zylstra at The Gospel Coalition.
In short, Acts 29 (like OGC in many ways) had a rough start and problems that it needed to work out. There was an immaturity and bravado in its culture that was unhealthy and overshadowed the commitment to sound doctrine and missional innovation. This spirit was most evidently observed in Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Church in Seattle.
After the collapse of Mars Hill, Acts 29 took concrete steps to mature and refocus back on church planting, humility, the Gospel, and the nations.
What ties does OGC have to Acts 29 already?
Six OGC alumni now pastor and/or have planted a total of seven Acts 29 churches (Matt Jensen planted two):
- James Walden: 1996-1999 (Pastor and planter of Riverside Community Church in Columbia, SC)
- Justin Valiquette: 2004-2007 (Pastor and planter of Nuova Vita in Salerno, Italy)
- Matt Jensen: 2005-2007 (Pastor and planter of Mars Hill University District
- Greg Willson: 2006-2013 (Pastor and planter of Redeemer Church in Manchester, UK)
- Jason Berl: 2012-2014 (Pastor of Sojourn Church in Perry, GA)
- Matt Jensen: 2005-2007 (Pastor and planter of The Image Church [now The Ville Church] in Jacksonville, FL)
- Winston Miller: 2015-2017 (Pastor and Planter of Grace Life Church in Lauderhill, FL)
OGC also has alumni who work for Acts 29 – MJ Jackson: 2004-2008 works as the Logistics Manager for the Southeast Region of the Acts 29 network.
OGC has seen more of its alumni minister in the Acts 29 network than any other network, denomination, or missions agency.
What process and due diligence has OGC undertaken to bring us to where we are today?
Operation Nehemiah – 2003-2018
Operation Nehemiah was a 9-point plan to basically replant Orlando Grace Church in 2003. The plan involved things like establishing elders, deacons, and a peacemaking culture.
The only item that remains incomplete from that 9-point plan is affiliating with a network or denomination.
Over these past 15 years, OGC elders have vetted a variety of different networks and denominations. At various points due diligence was done and sometimes lengthy dialogues with various options took place. Providentially, none of these things were ever taken to completion.
Acts 29 Resurgence Conference - 2010
Back in 2010, a contingent of staff and elders attended the Acts 29 Resurgence hosted here in Orlando. Those that attended that felt that it was a pretty mixed bag and had a lot of the trappings of immaturity, bravado, and celebrity of the first chapter of Acts 29’s history. The positive elements were still there, but were ultimately overshadowed by the conclusion that it was not a good fit for us at the time.
Succession Planning – 2016-2018
The OGC elders worked tirelessly for almost two years to find Curt Heffelfinger’s successor. We spent a lot of time talking about affiliation during this time, especially since it was the only bullet point of Operation Nehemiah that was left incomplete.
The conclusion of those conversations was that, while Curt would love to be 9/9 on Operation Nehemiah, his successor ought to be able to have a say in that process. This made affiliation a priority soon after the succession process was complete.
SWOT Analysis - 2017
As a subset of succession planning, the OGC elders went through a rigorous SWOT analysis to thoroughly analyze our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats as a local church.
This helpful exercise showed us an overlapping set of weaknesses revolving around leadership development, discipleship, mission to the city, and church planting. Simply put, we had great strengths ministering “inwardly” to our people but we weren’t seeing the fruit of faithful “outward” ministry to the city.
We knew that without some sort of corrective action, this pattern wouldn’t change. We needed a ministry partner that would hold us accountable to and help us improve these areas.
Met with Brian Lowe – Southeast Regional Director for Acts 29 – Spring 2018
Brian Lowe, SE regional director of Acts 29, flew down to process us potentially joining the network. He was helpful and answered many of our lingering questions, giving church leadership even more clarity into the nuances of the network.
1/3/5 Year Strategic Plan – Late 2018 – Early 2019
One of our highest priorities as elders was to establish one-, three-, and five-year goals as well as tactical activities that will help accomplish these goals. Affiliation was an obvious goal due to the following factors:
- Desiring to finish the Nehemiah Plan well
- Desiring “accountability guardrails” to avoid divisions (such as the one in 2003)
- Desiring the camaraderie and fellowship of churches who will help us in areas of weakness
Furthermore, as we looked at a lot of the other goals, it was evident that affiliating would help us more effectively and efficiently accomplish these goals.
2019 Elder Retreat and Report on Affiliation Logical Possibilities – Early 2019
As part of our 2019 elder retreat, we spent a significant amount of time discussing what we desire out of affiliation and what we want to avoid in the affiliation process.
We came up with 16 things we desired and 6 things we would like to avoid – a total of 22 data points. Jim and Mike were tasked with writing up a thorough due diligence report on our best possible affiliation candidates using this rubric.
Affiliation Due Diligence Report – Spring 2019
With these categories in mind, Jim and Mike wrote up a lengthy report analyzing the two best affiliation candidates that we had: the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) and Acts 29.
It was clear Acts 29 had greater benefits and fewer liabilities than the SBC. We decided to pursue the Acts 29 network for a primary affiliation.
Our final step of due diligence was attending the biennial Acts 29 Global Gathering which conveniently took place right in our backyard.
Acts 29 Global Gathering – July 2019
All our elders, including Will Powell (still on sabbatical), attended the conference. There were five main sessions teaching through the book of 2 Timothy as well as ten short talks on a variety of topics.
We met with eight different people from three different countries and four different levels of leadership in Acts 29. This all took place over the course of six meetings (it was a busy few days!).
These meetings, in addition to the conference itself, offered us more than enough information to make a faithful, informed, careful decision about our next steps.
We met with the following people:
Ray Ortlund – Acts 29 Board Member, TGC Council Member, and Pastor of Immanuel Nashville in Nashville, TN
JD Gilmore – Head of Acts 29 Italy and Church Planter/Pastor in Palermo, Sicily
James Walden – Planter/Pastor of Riverside Community Church in Columbia, SC and leader in Acts 29 South Carolina (and OGC alum)
Greg Willson – Planter/Pastor of Redeemer Church in Manchester, England (and former pastor at OGC and alum)
Kevin Shoemaker - Planter/Pastor of Redeemer Church in Starkville, MS and head of Acts 29 in Mississippi
Winston Miller and Brenda-Lee Miller – Planter/Pastor of Grace Life Church in Lauderhill, FL (and former OGC church planting resident and alum)
John Hugh Tate – Pastor of Bellwether Church in Jackson, MS
We observed that the Acts 29 network had a strong global footprint; 52 countries are home to Acts 29 churches.
The global gathering had 45 of those 52 countries represented. The multi-cultural representation made for a richly diverse group of speakers, musicians, pastors, and worshippers. This recap video is a helpful high altitude summary:
We observed that the Acts 29 network had three strategic initiatives to push the Gospel deeper into the world, particularly in areas where local churches will never be financially self-sufficient:
Church in Hard Places – this is an initiative to plant churches in areas that are quite broken, downtrodden, impoverished and/or difficult to minister to.
Rural Collective – this is an initiative to plant churches in rural contexts around the globe and overcome the challenges that come with lower population and/or more difficult living conditions (tribes, difficult terrain, etc.)
Islam Collaborative – this is an initiative to plant churches in Muslim-majority contexts
We were impressed at the strong ethic of humility at the conference. At no point did we detect even a whiff of the “celebrity” culture that marked churches like Mars Hill.
Most of the on-stage speakers were just “ordinary pastors” faithfully proclaiming God’s counsel, and yet the quality of the preaching was some of the best we’d ever heard.
In conclusion, we left the conference with a profound confidence that affiliating with Acts 29 would greatly aid us in accomplishing our mission, vision, values, and strategic plan – and perhaps would even be a necessary step to those ends.
What other churches are in the Acts 29 Network in Orlando?
- Mosaic Church (Winter Garden)
- Mosaic Walt Disney World (Kissimmee)
- CrossPointe Winter Park
- CrossPointe Downtown
- CrossPointe Winter Garden
- CrossPointe Espanol (Orlando)
- CrossPointe Orlando
- Sent Church (Lake Mary)
- Reformed Christian Church of Orlando (Orlando)
Acts 29 also has a church search tool.
Where are churches being planted or added in the Southeast Region?
What ways can OGC be of service and help to the Acts 29 Network?
- We have gone through all the cycles of becoming a self-sustaining church.
- We own our facilities (only Mosaic owns their own building, all others are mobile).
- We have a strong commitment to doing church Biblically and orderly.
- We believe there are other established yet independent churches like our that could have a mutually beneficial relationship by affiliating with Acts 29 and we could help those churches process a potential affiliation.
- We have a strong global footprint and know how to send well.
- We have a culture of peacemaking that is worth sharing.
- We have a long history and a staff with deep roots in our city.
- There will be additional writing and speaking opportunities for staff.
- There are many resources, systems, processes, trellis’, and other things we have built out that other churches would benefit from.
Broadly speaking, there are many benefits to affiliating. Such as:
- Shared resources
- Trust friendships
- Strategic opportunities
- Access to the competencies and strengths of others
- Opportunities to share our competencies with others
Affiliation also helps others quickly identify certain priorities and values of a local church.
As stated above, we believe affiliation with Acts 29 will help us grow where we are weak, contribute where we are strong, eliminate inefficient habits, raise awareness of our church, and partner near and far to push the Gospel further into Orlando and the nations.
Why Acts 29?
Theological and Cultural Alignment
Acts 29 manages to hit the sweet spot of being theologically defined yet also culturally aware. That is to say, the network is not America-centric and is committed to understanding each context and preaching the gospel in a way that best suits the local (and global) culture.
This corrects the errors of a “one size fits all” ministry approach that inappropriately applies one style or practice of ministry to all contexts.
Addressing our Weaknesses
Our global ministry footprint has outpaced our local ministry footprint. We recognize this as a significant and urgent area of opportunity.
It should be a bit uncomfortable to all of us that over the past three years, we have only baptized one person. If we do not assess why, seek to learn, grow, and mature this unhealthy pattern is likely to repeat itself.
The Acts 29 network is especially strong in helping pastors and churches have better categories for understanding their own contexts and therefore increasing effectiveness in their ministry.
Furthermore, Acts 29 is probably the most effective church planting network in the world today. This is a growth area for us as well. We need help to be more involved in planting churches and/or potentially planting ourselves.
The network has a rigorous assessment process for potential church planters/pastors and excellent best practices for training and launching new plants.
Affiliating with Acts 29 should help resource our pastors who will help resource us as a church body better to be more fruitful in Orlando.
Here are some of the “nitty gritty” ways Acts 29 affiliation will help us accomplish our mission, vision, and values:
Blessing Our City: Pastoral staff will receive training from Orlando cohorts, global conferences, and have informal dialogue with other pastors that will help us be more effective in our city. For example, we want to better engage with surrounding neighborhoods and the many new apartment complexes in Maitland.
Also, there are at least three new Acts 29 churches being planted in the greater Orlando area within the next year. Affiliation gives us the ability to build bridges to those folks and potentially help them achieve their goals.
In the long term, Acts 29 would also be an invaluable resource should OGC ever decide to plant a church in the area (though no plans are set for this).
Equipping Our People: Some of our strategic goals include building better community groups, leadership development, and spiritual formation. These are particular strengths of the Acts 29 network. Affiliating will only give our staff better access to ideas and best practices to help us grow and improve in these areas.
Contextualizing Our Mission: Obviously, affiliation with Acts 29 would meet our goal of affiliation. It will also help us better understand our city as it presently exists and be better equipped to communicate the Gospel in ways that are faithful and comprehensible.
Stewarding Our Resources and Sending Our Best: Affiliating would give us more opportunities to give back. This could manifest itself in several different ways, such as:
- Expanding support for church planting locally
- Hosting events for fellow Acts 29 churches
- Teaching/speaking/writing opportunities (some of this has already occurred since seriously dialoging with Acts 29)
- Expanding our internship program and/or church planter residencies.
- Pushing deeper into global church planting and church planting movements.
Being an older and more established church in the network would also likely give us a unique voice in helping less established churches avoid ministry pitfalls.
What are some of the competencies and benefits of the Acts 29 Network?
Much has already been said above concerning competencies of discipleship, leadership development, spiritual formation, understanding your context, and focusing on the mission.
At its core, Acts 29 is a church planting network. This is probably its greatest competency. Every believer should long for the completion of the Great Commission, the return of Christ, and consummated kingdom of God. We get there by being faithful in our everyday rhythms of life and by loving, caring, and serving the people that God has sovereignly put in front of us.
As we are faithful, God produces fruit. The result is a lifelong journey of maturity disciple multiplication.
As multiplication takes shape, we steward our resources well by then planting churches. As we invest in churches planting churches, we begin to see local and global church planting movements. Given enough time those church planting movements take the Gospel across the globe broadly and deeply:
Every one of us plays a role in this process that God has given us. We don’t accomplish the Great Commission without church planting and we don’t plant churches unless every one of us is faithful and fruitful in their everyday rhythms of life.
Another benefit of affiliating with Acts 29 is access to resources. We will have access to an exclusive Instant Messaging platform. This will allow us to instantaneously communicate with other pastors around the globe to ask questions and share resources and ideas in real time.
Shared resources means less time reinventing the wheel, and the proliferation of best practices.
We would also have access to additional funds for church planting that we would not otherwise have. The network sets aside a large amount of resources for new church plants and these funds would be mission critical for us if/when we plant more churches.
Pastoral staff and wives get to attend a biennial retreat (opposite years from the global gathering – next one is in July of 2020) that is completely free (airfare would be the only expense). The purpose of this retreat is to make sure that the pastors and wives have a healthy place to be fed, breathe, rest, and connect.
In addition to the pastor and wives retreat and the global gathering, there are always regional and city-centric conferences. Some of these conferences are centered on church staff and some are geared towards people in the church. These are helpful for constantly growing and always seeking to improve.
What financial expense would there be to us affiliating?
Acts 29 asks for 2% of your general fund and here is where that money goes. Broadly speaking here is how the money is allocated:
1% to Acts 29 Catalyst Fund (Church in Hard Places/Rural Collective/Islam Collaborative... etc.)
1% to Acts 29 overhead (institutional/regional/conferences/assessments)
What would Acts 29 require of OGC before admitting us into the network?
We would go through a process that involves assessments of Jim (who has already been in the assessment process from his previous church), Jim and Angela, and our elders. Just like we are ensuring that we have alignment on our end, the network will want to the do the same with us. Given how well we all know one another, we don’t expect this process to be lengthy or difficult. This would entail a visit from the Southeast Region assessment team, during which these assessments would be handled.
What opportunities will members of OGC have to process affiliation?
In addition to previous articles and this FAQ page, we encourage you to connect with your elder and/or ask questions to Jim and Mike. We are all available and happy to process with you. We will also be devoting a large portion of our forthcoming Family Night Meeting on September 15th to sharing more and having open Q&A. We don’t want anyone who has questions to feel like they don’t have plenty of opportunity to process; we encourage your feedback.
What timeline can we expect this process to take?
We are slated to have our assessment from Acts 29 in mid-October. It is usual in assessments for the pastor or church planter to receive some feedback in the form of “conditions.” These could be things like, ‘we want you work on this area,’ ‘we want you to read this book,’ ‘we want you to connect with this coach,’ ‘we want you to explore this area of your life in counseling.’ There will likely be some lag time between that assessment, the giving of conditions, and being formally admitted. It is difficult to say precisely when we would be admitted but perhaps sometime in early 2020 give or take a few months.
Will Acts 29 change OGC?
This is a question that we have asked in just about every conversation we had both before and during the global gathering. The network is not a formal legislative body. We remain a church that is free to make its own decisions. The influence that Acts 29 has is informal and relational in nature. Their only aim is to make the churches in their network more effective at communicating the Gospel and planting more churches.
When we met with Ray Ortlund he told us, “Acts 29 isn’t here to change your church, 99% of the church will be exactly the same and 1% will be new… but you have to realize that for some people that 1% difference will feel to them like 99% and you just have to love and shepherd them in that.”
For both new and pre-existing churches that affiliated, the constant refrain was that Acts 29 just wants to help pastors and churches become the best version of themselves – not turn them into something else.
We can expect that part of the 1% that will change for us is that we will be challenged to grow and mature in our investment in our own city. From an institutional level, we will be encouraged to invest more in church planting locally. From an individual level, we can expect that to be challenged to grow in better understanding our city, its wants, its fears, its idols, and engaging more intentionally in our normal everyday rhythms and relationships. We will also have new people who will have found us through the Acts 29 church search engine.
Will OGC lose its identity?
Like the previous question, the answer should be no. Obviously, people will be aware that OGC is “in the Acts 29 Network” and we won’t hide that fact, but our identity is embedded in our mission, vision, and values as outlined in our strategic plan.
What if the future of Acts 29 and the vision of OGC drifts apart?
While we don’t see this happening…
…simply put, we can always unaffiliate.
What about Mark Driscoll?
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Mark Driscoll was the planter and pastor of a large church in Seattle called Mars Hill Church. The church grew very rapidly between 2000-2013 and planted many churches in Seattle. Both Jim and Mike had close friends who worked at various places within Mars Hill, including Matt Jensen who planted Mars Hill University District.
The story of Mars Hill could accurately be described as a tragedy. There were some amazing people there doing incredible work for the Gospel.
However, due to a fatal mixture of bad organizational structure and the increasingly inappropriate, immature, and brash behavior of Mark Driscoll, the whole ministry came crashing down in the Fall of 2014.
As previously referenced, the best summary of the history and chapters of Acts 29’s history is this excellent writeup from Sarah Zylstra at The Gospel Coalition.
What we have observed in the last few years of re-engaging with Acts 29 in the post-Mars Hill era is that the network is marked with a commitment to the Bible, The Great Commission, humility, the nations, and wants to avoid past mistakes and any hint of celebrity.
Is Acts 29 committed to reformed theology?
Their commitment to reformed theology is broad enough for Baptists, Presbyterians, and other types of reformed churches to coexist, partner, and collaborate. They strike a balance between being broad enough to include a significant amount of people and having theological standards that help us comfortably partner with fellow members.
What about churches that do things a bit differently than us?
There are all kinds of churches in the Acts 29 Network. Many of these churches are smaller and newer than ours. Some are still in the phase of becoming planted and others are fleshed out. On the flipside, there are churches like the Church of 11:22; the fastest growing church in North America. We would be the second largest Acts 29 church in the greater Orlando area behind Mosaic (several thousand people).
It’s safe to say those churches may feel different from ours on a Sunday morning.
We can appreciate that tension while holding fast to our common commitment to reformed theology, complementarianism, and the mission.
Just as we feel the freedom to express our unique mission, vision, values, and strategic plan, we respect their ability to do the same while we all operate out of the common commitments. We have no desire to police or nanny other churches in the network.
Will there be controversial things that happen in the network?
Yes, this is a certainty given enough time.
There will be pastors who disqualify themselves. There will be churches who implode, perhaps very publicly. There will be embarrassing things and/or things that we wouldn’t choose to do.
These things are not unique to the Acts 29 Network but are part and parcel to affiliating with anyone. Our sense is that these moments are hard and sad but ultimately outweighed by the benefits and the long arc of what we are all trying to accomplish.
In summation, Acts 29 helps OGC in the following ways:
- Execute our mission, vision, values, and strategic plan more effectively and timely
- Invests in our church leaders in ways that eventually benefit our whole church body
- Increases our connectedness and partnership in an increasingly complicated ministry context
- Increases the camaraderie, networking, accountability, and opportunities of our staff
- Provides additional visibility for good people to find our local church
- Access to counsel and coaching
- Bolsters and helps us grow in areas where we are weak
- Increases our opportunities to share our unique strengths and story with others
- Provides critical competencies to church planting
- Improves our ability to minister well globally and in our city
- Invests in the well-being of our pastoral staff and spouses
- Saves time for staff by not having to reinvent the wheel