Church Planting in a Pandemic

The Coronavirus has flipped our world upside down, and yet, this is all we’ve known at Gospel Grace Church.  In March of 2019, my family and I moved from Northern California to Woodstock, Illinois, a rural suburb of Chicago, to lead a new church plant.  We had no way of knowing what was going to happen one year later.

A Change of Plans

In January of 2020, in coordination with a nearby sponsor church, we began planning how to begin holding our first Sunday services.  I remember hearing about a SARS-like virus in China but I honestly didn’t think much about it.  By the end of the month, we had a strategy in place that would begin with ‘preview services’ once a month and slowly increase in frequency until we were meeting weekly as a new and established church community in Woodstock.

Our first preview service was scheduled for March 29th, but even our best-laid plans were subject to change. The Coronavirus beat us to the punch and Illinois’ stay at home order was issued 8 days earlier.  Everything shut down.  Instead of sharing a weekly meal with our church family, we gathered virtually on Zoom, and instead of going door-to-door with outreach, we stayed home and prayed for our neighbors.

A Gospel For Every Circumstance

In times like this, when everything is flipped upside down, I am beyond grateful for the well-rounded theological education I received from Knox Seminary.  Knox combined the unique qualities of maintaining an explicit focus on the centrality of the gospel while still leading me to drink deeply from the wells of theology, church history, mission, discipleship, and more.  There was a pinpoint focus on the gospel communicated in and through so many different avenues. Little did I or my fellow seminarians know just how important it would be to cultivate the skill of gospel focus and gospel witness for times such as these.

In this season of Advent, a time for anticipation and reflection, the Coronavirus has led to a lot of reflection about faithfully following Jesus.  Many questions come to mind, such as: What is central to being a follower of Jesus?   What is optional?  What is required and what is not?

When all the structures of church life are stripped away and when the status quo is impossible, something beautiful can happen.  The cultural expressions of the gospel which have masqueraded as gospel suddenly fall away and we are now free to ask these questions anew.  As we shed the windbreakers of ‘we’ve always done it this way’ we can feel the gentle breeze of the Spirit upon our skin in new and beautiful ways.

In these moments a gospel-centered theological education is a priceless commodity.  Knox has facilitated the Spirit’s work of rooting the gospel deeply within me and helped equip me to ask these mission-critical questions with renewed gospel fidelity.

Nathan Praytor, MABTS (‘16)
Gospel Grace Church
Woodstock, IL

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