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Growing new disciples
Texas church planter raising a hearty crop


2/1/2006

A JOYOUS SOUND
Members of the children's choir raise their voices for members of St. Philip's in Frisco, Texas.  
As America becomes increasingly more secularized and mainline denominations decline, something very different has been happening in Frisco, Texas. In February 2002, the Diocese of Dallas and Christ Church, Plano – a 1985 church plant -- commissioned the Rev. Clay Lein to launch St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. It took off like a rocket.

St. Philip’s grew from a mission station to a mission by October 2002 and became a parish in 2004. “We had actually reached parish status and size by 2003, but the diocese decided we should wait another year to take that step,” says Lein.

Today, with more than 700 members, St. Philip’s averages 400-plus in attendance each Sunday. The average age is 28, with 30 percent younger than 6. Having outgrown its temporary facilities at a local elementary school, the congregation is constructing its own buildings. In April, St. Philip’s will move into an 11,000-square-foot sanctuary that will accommodate 600, plus a 12,000-square-foot education building.

Rapid growth challenged St. Philip’s “to keep our whole community focused on the mission of Jesus Christ and to take the huge steps in faith that God has asked of us,” Lein says. But the main challenge “has been to figure out how to be the diocese’s seventh largest parish inside an elementary school.”

Before St. Philip’s began its 2005 capital campaign, it planted its own daughter church under the leadership of the Rev. Mike Michie, St. Philip’s first church-planting intern.. The new church, St. Andrew’s, McKinney, has grown from 20 to 100 members in 10 months, Lein says. “After we construct our building, our next step will not be phase two,” he notes. “It will be to plant another church — then maybe phase two.

“Our second intern, [the Rev.]Terry Reisner, will work with us for two years, and then he will plant a church north and west of us. When you’re planting churches, you need to be thinking about planting a church that will plant other churches, because it’s all about mission. Mission is what revitalizes old churches and begins new ones.”

St. Philip’s has targeted individuals for whom faith has been dormant — for whom faith in Jesus Christ has not been a relevant part of their lives, Lein says. Explaining why they come to St. Philip’s in large numbers, he says,  “I think it’s the Holy Spirit, first and foremost. I’ve had folks say, ‘It was just time, and I saw your sign and I came.’ It’s not something St. Philip’s is doing. This is a partnership. That’s probably the biggest part of it.”

“The other is relationships. Most of the time people come because somebody else has told them about us, or they watched friends make church and faith a part of their lives, and they’ve been wondering, ‘Can I come and check it out, too?’ So, we create opportunities for relationships to be built.”

The opportunities include participation in Apple Tree, which provides supplies for needy schoolchildren; Habitat for Humanity; a local Angel Tree; Frisco’s Food Pantry and Resale Store; and programs for senior living centers. Within the church, teams offer individual support for each member, particularly the sick, mothers- and fathers-to-be, and men and women’s ministries. As the membership numbers indicate, St. Philip’s focuses particularly on children from birth to college.

Don Strain has attended since the summer of 2002.  “I realized that I needed to have a relationship with Christ. I came because I was looking for the best thing for my children, but it wasn’t to bring them to church. The best thing for my children was for me to find God.”

“It was like God said, ‘You’re trying to do the right thing for your children, but it’s you through whom they see Christ.’ We have brought Christ into our home,” Strain says. “That is the impact St. Philip’s has had on my family and me, and it’s tremendous.”

The church offers members opportunities to minister themselves. In December, St. Philip’s members made two trips to Slidell, La., to help Hurricane Katrina victims. In 2006, volunteers will go to Belize, Peru and India. As Eric Gold, member since 2004, says, “It’s truly our being a church for the world.”