Church Planter loves multi-housing ministry
SPRINGFIELD – Winston Barnett, who has faithfully ministered to residents of the Housing Authority of Springfield since 2001, clings to Luke 4:18 as the basis of his work as a multi-housing church planter/pastor.
“Jesus said, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor,’” Barnett said. “That word poor in the Greek means physically poor. It literally means beggar—economically poor. To me, that describes the inner-city environment.”
Barnett is very good at what he does, according to Vivian McCaughan, the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) specialist who is over multi-housing church planting. He has planted three churches with a total attendance of about 90, and a church in a fourth location, a corporately owned apartment complex, was started July 16. In 2004, Barnett was given the Multiplying Church Planter of the Year award by the MBC.
“He has a passion for seeing life change in the residents of multi-housing communities as they come to know Jesus Christ through long-term involvement with their lives and ministry in these different communities,” McCaughan said.
Multi-housing ministry in public housing complexes involves the utilization of existing buildings. As a result, the worship services are a cross between “house church” and “traditional church.” Barnett, who is the founder of Lifebuilders Ministries Inc., likes to conduct what he calls an opening assembly in the community room of the facilities. Bible studies for different age levels are then held in various settings, including apartments.
“It has the elements of church in that there’s worship, fellowship, evangelism and missions, and they take an offering, but it’s not in a typical, traditional building,” McCaughan said. “They use whatever rooms are available for them.”
Barnett begins with the stark realization that he is dealing with people who are weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd (Matt. 9:36).
“The great majority of them did not have a good, solid, nurturing family,” he said. “”Very few of them had both Mom and Dad in the home, and they’ve grown up without the biblical knowledge that they need. I just see them as lost.”
He then attempts to create Christian culture through compassionate contact. If that attempt is successful, he has earned the right to be heard, and the resident may then consider being a regular participant in worship.
“We hope to get down into their lives far enough that they will open up,” he said. “Once you gain their confidence, they’ll generally tell you what their greatest hurt is or what their greatest physical need might be.”
At that point Barnett will open up the Bible and ask the person if he or she has ever thought about applying the biblical solution to their problem. That, in turn, may lead to an opportunity for him to speak plainly about Jesus.
Ministry among low-income people is not for the faint of heart.
“In these areas, where there’s so much brokenness, poverty and neglect, you can have someone that grows in the Lord but you couldn’t really give them a position to serve on a regular basis because it just takes them several years to get to a place where the Lord is first in their life enough that they gain the strength, knowledge and maturity they need to actually take a position of leadership and sustain it,” Barnett said.
“You think the battle is won, but it’s not, so you just have to keep trying. But the good news is we have quite a number of indigenous people in the three areas over the last four years that have made enormous life change. It’s well worth it. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
For the new church that was launched in mid-July, Barnett is using the method of Neal Hughes, national missionary for the multi-housing church planting group with the North American Mission Board (NAMB). Hughes was the featured speaker at the first-ever Multi-Housing Church Planting Conference in Missouri April 1 at Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Springfield. He has put together an 18-month system of how to build an indigenous church in a multi-housing, or apartment, area.
“Here’s its strategy in a nutshell,” Barnett said. “Enter an area. Evangelize a community. Equip the people. Empower the leaders. Exit with joy, leaving behind an autonomous New Testament church with Spirit-filled leadership.”
Barnett throws himself into the front lines of this spiritual battle knowing that several churches are either financially supporting him or supporting him through volunteers. Those congregations are: Ridgecrest Baptist Church, Springfield; National Heights Baptist Church, Springfield; Glenstone Baptist Church, Springfield; Fender Chapel, Brighton; Golden Harvest Baptist Church, Springfield; Springhill Baptist Church, Springfield; New Works Fellowship, Rogersville; South Haven Baptist Church, Springfield; and First Baptist Church, Clever. Greene County Baptist Association and the MBC Church Planting Center have also been ongoing sponsors.
He also is grateful for the 34 volunteer staff with Lifebuilders.
His advice for young church planters who may be considering multi-housing ministry is to be prepared for the negative. Don’t start unless you intend to stay, he said. Most will appreciate what you are trying to do for them, but some will try to con you. Patience is an absolute must, he said.
“I would like to see churches become more proactive in obtaining the information and the models they need to do this kind of church planting,” he said.