Phoenix church takes members to new heights
GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Five at a time, the members and friends of the two-year-old Church at Estrella boarded a SaberCat helicopter Jan. 19. In all, 105 people got a bird’s-eye view of the 20,000-acre Estrella Mountain Ranch planned community – and caught a glimpse of a bigger vision.
Started in 2004 with 1,500 homes, the community today has 6,000 homes and its first 22,000 residents, with plans to grow to 150,000 or more residents.
"Our big emphasis this year is helping people to go," lead pastor Charles Scheffe told Baptist Press. "We wanted to help our people see our community in a whole different way, so we took them 3,000 feet in the air to see it."
A big emphasis from the church's beginning has been its commitment to give 10 percent of undesignated giving to missions through the Cooperative Program, which is the way Southern Baptists work together in state conventions, across North America and throughout the world.
"The Cooperative Program is one of the distinctives of being Southern Baptist," Scheffe said. "No older than we are, or no bigger, with the Cooperative Program we have the ability to be engaged in a church planting group across the U.S., and we can make a big impact globally as well.
"We wouldn't exist without CP, SEND, and NAMB," the planter/pastor continued, referring to the SEND Network initiative of the North American Mission Board. The Church at Estrella is part of the 32-city SEND Network's Phoenix area and has received funding from Southern Baptist churches' Cooperative Program – CP – giving.
The January 19 second anniversary of the church plant took place on a bright and sunny "kind of day people move to Arizona for," the pastor said with a grin. A celebratory worship included the pastor's message – A 3-G church in a 5-G world – from Acts 2:42-47, leading people to be the church, which touched on the church's three "G" words: Gather, Grow and Go.
Then came the fun stuff: bounce houses, food truck, balloon artist, birthday cake big enough to feed all 150 attendees, and the helicopter ride enjoyed by people as young as 2 and a senior, 87, who had never ridden in an aircraft of any kind.
"It was an incredible day celebrating what God has and continues to do both in and through His church," Scheffe said. "I am humbled to serve such a great God who loves us.
"My favorite moment from the day was not the helicopter, although that was neat: to see a community in a whole new way," the pastor continued. "It was the first of three baptisms of the day, when a 7-year-old girl raised her arms in triumph – like winning a race or a sporting event – after being baptized. It gave us goosebumps across the room."
Scheffe expressed his appreciation for and gratitude to other Southern Baptist partners, including First Baptist Church of Edmond, Okla., and Southern Hills Baptist Church of Oklahoma City, as well as Capital Baptist Association in Oklahoma City. He also noted the five other pastors from Oklahoma who are planting churches in Metro Phoenix, helping to encourage each other.
"Arizona is a different culture," Scheffe said. "As more pastors come to this area we can help them transition culturally. We think about that with foreign missions but not U.S. missions. For example, everybody doesn't know that biblical stuff here. It even impacts your preaching and teaching.
"We are going through heroes of the faith in our Community Groups and we started with Abraham," the planter continued. "And with all seriousness a few people when asked what they knew about Abraham, said, 'Lincoln? He was an honest man.' I love that we are reaching people who have never heard!"
The Church at Estrella's second birthday "is huge," the pastor preached on Jan. 19. "It's a day to look back and see the work of God in so many places, to remember that it was not of our own hands, but His, and to thank Him for what He has done."
"This day also marks a transition for us as a church as we take this group of people God has brought together and lean towards autonomy of this body," Scheffe told Baptist Press. "This year – 2020 – we have a goal, a vision of being and becoming a church that is no longer [financially] supported, but can move toward supporting and planting other churches in the future. But one step at a time."
The steps taken to date by The Church at Estrella include its six (so far) small groups identifying a local "people group" to minister to. One group chose its neighborhood, and so far have arranged a Christmas party and a Super Bowl party. Another, the high school's freshman/sophomore soccer team, which involves providing meals on game days as well as attending games to show support.
The church as a whole ministers to the teachers and staff at its meeting place, Westar Elementary School, such as wheeling a hot chocolate and muffins mobile bar from classroom to classroom one cold December day, and washing teachers' vehicles to show their appreciation and support.
Church members helped clear debris last August after a destructive storm hit Phoenix, which led to interest in becoming trained in late February as an SBC Disaster Relief chain saw team. A team from the church plans to join with one of its Oklahoma partner churches in an international missions trip this summer.
"One of my major emphases is to be missional," Scheffe said. "We focus a lot on community engagement and involvement. We work diligently in investing in our community. Our plan is to build disciples and a church grows out of that."
And grown it has. Currently about 80 members of its 150 regular attenders are actively being discipled, both in formal community groups and informal sessions at local coffee shops.
"Our formula is that in new homes, with new people, they need a new church," Scheffe said. "When we surveyed our community, we learned some had moved here intentionally to get away from church culture, but we have found if you approach people with humility, not arrogance, you can have some incredible gospel conversations."
Written by Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.