By Fred Koenig
When Morning Star United Methodist Church in Dardenne Prairie (near O’Fallon) launched a new site last fall, the launch team was prepared like no other. First, they all committed to being a permanent part of the new site. They weren’t just there to get things going the first few Sundays.
Next, they committed to participating in the launch team academy, a learning session held after church on Sundays for a couple of hours for 12 weeks. It was made clear that everyone was expected to be at all the sessions.
After that was complete, they started their own service – under the same roof as Morning Star. They were in a separate room called The Venue, and they ran the service just as they would if they were in different location across town, with the sermon on video and their own live worship band. They did this for eight months.
Finally, the big day to launch the new campus had come. About three years of planning were coming to fruition. The perfect venue was found – a former credit union building in St. Charles in just the right high-traffic location. It even had its own billboard in its parking lot. The location and the big launch day was marketed heavily to the surrounding community. The worship space and classrooms were painted and ready to go. Everything was in place.
Everything except the occupancy permit.
Six days before launch, they were told they couldn’t do it there by the local fire inspector. So one of the most well-prepared new site launches in the history of the Missouri Conference found that you can never be too sure everything is taken care of.
Apparently the credit union building was good to go – as a credit union. But if you were going to put as many people inside the walls at once as Morning Star East was expecting, that bumped it up to the level of requiring an extensive fire-suppression system. Installing such a system in the building within a week was not feasible, logistically or financially.
Barred from their building, but with location promoted to the community, they did what they had to do: they put up a tent in the parking lot and had their launch service outside. Although planned as a video venue, there was no way to make the video bright enough outside, so Rev. Mike Schreiner, senior pastor at Morning Star, preached in person. They had 258 people in attendance. The weather was great, especially considering that was in October, and Morning Star East was off and running. For the first Sunday, at least.
Dustin Bryson is the campus development pastor working with new church plants at Morning Star and was hard at work on finding a new place. He checked back in with a place he was interested in initially – the community center wing of the new city hall in St. Peters.
Situations had changed since the initial visit, and the people currently in charge seemed much more receptive to having the church as a tenant. The wing has a 307-seat theater room, and conference rooms with walls that be pulled out to adjust the size and shape of the rooms. The room for children’s ministry will fit up to 80 children. For 16 weeks out of the year a theater group is set up in the theater, but the church can use the conference room on those Sundays for worship.
City Hall would work. But it meant that the new site, which was going to be a brick-and-mortar site, was now needing to be a mobile church, which would set up and tear down every Sunday. Fortunately, The Way in Wentzville (which had been started by Morning Star) started out as a mobile church at a school and still had a van, trailer and mobile church equipment to help them get going. On the Sunday after their launch in the tent they were at City Hall.
Morning Star East Campus Pastor Steven Mitchell found that becoming a mobile church on the fly made for a very long week.
“It was rough to have to become a mobile church in a week. We had to reenvision who we are as a mobile church,” Mitchell said.
Bryson agreed that being mobile is taxing.
“We get here early to set up,” Bryson said. “We start gathering here about 6:30 in the morning.”
If anyone can handle the bumps in road, it’s Morning Star. The church has other new church plants under its belt, and it was less than 20 years ago that Morning Star was a new church, planted by SunRise. Starting something new is still part of the church’s culture.
“Churches starting new campuses participate in a two-way blessing,” Schreiner said. “The planting church gets to bless a new, unreached area with a ministry that already has vitality in terms of people, processes and financial resources. Likewise, the energy from the new campus being on mission and reaching new people helps renew and revitalize the mission of the planting church. It’s a win-win!”
Mitchell started off with the Morning Start East plant in a more limited capacity, but his role was increased. Having just completed seminary, he started out assisting Bryson in a ¼ time position at Morning Star. When some staff positions shifted, Schreiner recognized that Bryson’s skills in communications and marketing were needed on staff, so Mitchell was increased to full-time campus pastor to provide Bryson with more time for those duties. Bryson is still focused on logistics for Morning Stars East Campus as well as other new starts.
“I hadn’t imagined myself as a church planter, but it seemed that God was really doing something with this ministry, and I was excited to be part of it,” Mitchell said. “We’ve had 18 folks who wanted to rededicate their lives to Jesus in the first couple of weeks.”
One person told Mitchell she had broken so many promises to Jesus she didn’t see how she could be forgiven. He talked her through a conversation about grace.
“New Christians are being made by the presence of the Holy Spirit in this new thing that we are doing here,”
The new church launched with two worship services. This wasn’t so much to do with space as it was to implement the worship one, serve one model in which launch team members would be helping at one service and worshipping at the others, similar to the Morning Star main campus.
A country club donated a coffee cart, so they have pour-over coffee and homemade cookies on Sunday morning. Worship is at 9 and 11 a.m. For the sermon, they show the video from the previous Saturday evening service at the Morning Star main campus.
Bryson met with pastors in St. Charles and was impressed with how welcoming they were.
“They are excited about us being here and view us not as a competitor but an ally in winning the community for the kingdom,” he said.
The new church has already partnered with the Oasis Food Bank and Blackhurst Elementary. Bryson sees himself as the producer for Sunday mornings.
“By taking care of technical problems and answering people’s questions, it frees Steven up to be the pastor.”
From that first Sunday at Morning Star East, the church has had people asking Jesus into their heart.
“The launch team has worked really hard, but when you get to see people meet Jesus, it’s all worth it,” Bryson said. “I can’t tell you how excited I am about some of the folks we already have coming.”
One of those new people is Katie Weinhold. Her brother-in-law to be is a seminarian at Asbury. Because he clicked “Like” on the Facebook post about Morning Star’s launch of a new campus, it showed up on her feed.
“I thought, ‘That’s the address of my credit union. How could they be starting a church there?’” she said. She didn’t realize that her credit union had relocated. She lived next door, so she thought she would check it out.
She didn’t know anyone there and arrived early. Soon she had met both Bryson and Mitchell as well as others who were part of the launch team. She filled out an attendance card and checked the box that indicated she was interested in serving. The next week she was volunteering in the coffee ministry.
Weinhold had grown up in church, but drifted away after college.
“I realized I needed to get back into church and find God again,” she said. “I get so much out of every minute I spend with Morning Star. It feels so good to be involved, I look forward to finding ways I can give back.”