“Chaotic action is preferable to orderly inaction”—Will Rogers.

Church planting is chaotic in the best of times. Launching during a pandemic is taking it to another level. But when it comes to the Gospel, it is better to move ahead into the unknown than to sit and wait for certainty.

OKC, Thrive Community launches during pandemic - Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma

Thrive launch team members and planters pose for a group picture.

Oklahoma City, Thrive Community had its first public service on Sunday, Sept. 13, at an Oklahoma landmark, the Will Rogers Theatre. The building opened in 1946 as a single screen movie theatre. It is now an event center which has been home to several successful church launches. Perhaps one could say that the theatre never met a church plant that it didn’t like.

Why start another church in Oklahoma City, and why start one during the Coronavirus pandemic?

“The church life we had experienced did not go deep enough in living out the Gospel in the everyday, ordinary grind of life,” Founding Pastor Tyler Barnes said. “My wife and I began to be burdened about that.”

Barnes came out of a parachurch ministry that was community focused and relational focused. However, he was shocked by the lack of deep community in church and really missed it. For the last year and half, Tyler and his wife Chotsie have been working to build a church community that is relational and missional.

Thrive Community’s mission is to be a family of deep-rooted disciples who champion the forgotten and make Christ known. They do this in part by how they are structured. On the one side, Thrive has sought to remove the separation between sacred and secular. On the other, the church emphasizes that every life and everything in life is important.

Barnes explained it this way, “When you come to a church gathering or community group, and if you can be unguarded and authentic, you will meet the unguarded and authentic Jesus. When you come to a space and you feel safe—safe enough to be authentic—you then can actually encounter the authentic Jesus.”

Barnes believes that the Holy Spirit will work more effectively if people can come and let down their guard. They don’t need to keep up a façade that all is as it should be.

The primary way that Thrive holds this focus on relational life and mission is through missional communities. The missional community model is not a quick way to start, but it’s likely the best way to build a core team of leaders committed to the vision of a new church.

OKC, Thrive Community launches during pandemic - Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma 1

Thrive launch team members welcome guests to the new church gathering.

“I’m glad we started with missional communities,” Barnes said. “It has fed into so many things, like a strong core and launch team. We’ve seen lives transform through it.” In time, this process led to having a strong public launch during a pandemic.

For launch day, Barnes was not sure who would show up. He thought that prior to this, he might have 25 or more on his launch team with maybe 75 or more people at the first public service.

As it turned out, there were 45 people on his launch team with 95 percent of them having been involved in missional community. There was a total of 131 in attendance at the service with more than 900 views online.

Barnes said that they invested quite a lot into technology, perhaps even 60 percent of their budget. Having a quality online ministry is important, given the current circumstances. Eighty percent of those who attended the preview service had not been to church since the Coronavirus shutdown.

“Live stream and kids’ ministry are the two things today that a church must do to be successful,” Barnes said. At the close of the service, three people made professions of faith in Christ; seven wanted to join a missional community, and four volunteered to serve.

OKC, Thrive Community launches during pandemic - Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma 2

A mother escorts her two daughters to the Thrive Community’s inaugural public meeting.

When asked what is one piece of advice that he would give to a prospective church planter, Barnes reflected, “I did not realize how much church planting is a work of prayer. It has been the only thing that really works. The best way we have gotten people to community is to pray for them.”

Barnes was quick to add how important it is to not try to plant alone. The church would not have started if it were not for Yukon, Canadian Valley, Thrive’s sending church, and Claremore, First, along with support from Capital Association.

As part of the church planting strategy of multiplication, new church plant Enid, Open Door, which celebrated its second anniversary on the same day, is a partner church as well.  Woodward, Ascent, another plant that celebrated its one-year anniversary on the same day, is a supporting church.

For those interested in learning how to become a sending or partner church, or to be involved directly in church planting, contact Send Network Oklahoma at oklahomabaptists.org/send-network.