Multiracial New York church plant aims to ‘redefine church,’ change city, through discipleship

January 8th, 2021 / By: Rob Collingsworth / comments

NEW YORK  When Cross Creek New York City launches this fall, it will be following a blueprint that has already proved successful for First Baptist Church Colleyville. After planting five churches in the last two years, missions pastor Chad Vandiver says he believes the Hamilton Heights plant can transform not only the city, but the world.

The church launch is designed to “transform the city and make people take notice. And in the Northeast U.S., you’re also redefining church for the people,” Vandiver said. “There are two kinds of churches in the Heights and Harlem and Manhattan. There’s a liturgical, academic church, and then there’s an attractional, surface church. There’s nothing in the middle. We want to redefine church by not only making disciples, but being contextualized for the city.”

According to Craig Etheredge, who has served as senior pastor at FBC Colleyville since 2007, the church spent much time praying through how to accomplish the goal of multiplication.

“About two years ago we were wrestling with questions like what do we do as a church? What does church growth look like for us?” Etheredge said. 

As the church prayed about their strategy, they considered multisite as an option but eventually concluded that they were being called to church planting. The Cross Creek Network was birthed from the vision to plant churches using discipleship as the primary model for multiplication, Vandiver said. 

“My experience really led me to see that the way lives are transformed is through church planting,” he added. “In dreaming about where we needed to plant churches we knew that we needed to create a church planting movement that was both national and international. Internationally, we’ve looked for cities where there’s the most lostness, where the gospel needs to go where it’s never gone before. And nationally, we did the same thing.”

According to Etheredge, Scripture ultimately guided their strategy.

“We decided to put our efforts in discipling leaders, then releasing them to do the same,” he added.
“We felt convicted that was the New Testament model Jesus had in mind. That pivoted our course away from multisite and toward church planting.” 

Etheredge said the church has “a disciple-making DNA where people invest in one another and replicate it,” and multisite didn’t seem like it went with that model.

“We prayed God would give us a big vision for planting churches both locally and around the world. The plan was to plant nine churches in five years and though that was pretty aggressive, over the course of the last two and a half years God has really blessed that,” he said.

When Vandiver came on staff at FBC Colleyville in 2018, he brought with him a wealth of knowledge and experience from over 15 years of working as an IMB missionary, an SBTC missions strategist, and both a Send City missionary and mobilization specialist with NAMB.

The strategy that the Cross Creek Network has employed in its first five church plants—one of which is already preparing to multiply—will benefit planting pastor Charles Wolford, III, who moved to New York in December 2020 with his wife.

A search for gospel-led racial reconciliation

Wolford’s connection to Etheredge and Vandiver came through his own pastor, Ronnie Goines, pastor of Koinonia Christian Church in Arlington. After the death of George Floyd earlier this year, Etheredge said he reached out to Goines to make a short video that would address race, the gospel and disciple-making.

“What I thought was going to be a 10-minute video turned into an hour and 20-minute uncut discussion,” Etheredge said. “Part of what came out of that discussion was an acknowledgment that yes, it’s good to make a statement about racial reconciliation or to advocate for that, but we need to do more. We need to do something that really provides an answer to the problem instead of just crying out against it,” he said.

“We felt like church planting together was something that we could do that would advance the kingdom and make a difference and really demonstrate what racial reconciliation looks like.”

Etheredge said his connection with Goines helps make this church plant unique, that “it was born out of two pastors who have a heart to demonstrate how the gospel breaks down racial walls and really demonstrate the gospel in a powerful way.”

When they began looking for a pastor to lead the plant, Goines suggested Wolford, who grew up as the son of a pastor in Wichita, Kansas. 

As Wolford told the TEXAN, it was only when he started attending Morehouse College in Atlanta that he realized he had never truly started following Jesus. When he was a sophomore he was introduced to the idea of discipleship, a concept that he says changed his life.

“It became evident that most of my life I’d adopted a routine of church rather than an authentic relationship with God,” he said. “At 18 years old I was discipled authentically for the first time and could finally understand and articulate what it meant to have a relationship with God. And from that moment on,
I just felt a call from God to engage my generation and to continue to reproduce that process with my peers.”

According to Wolford, he immediately began doing college ministry on campus, which in turn led to more opportunities, especially as he transferred to Dallas Baptist University and was able to serve alongside his father at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship.

It was there that Wolford began honing his teaching gift by serving in young adult ministry and met Goines, his eventual mentor. Wolford said he’s spent the last four years at Koinonia pouring himself into discipling different generations there.

“I’ve seen so much success, particularly with implementing a discipleship program for pre-conversion and early believers, pushing them into spiritual maturity through discipleship. That’s always been my passion,” he said.

When Goines first recommended Wolford to lead Cross Creek NYC, however, Wolford said he didn’t understand why.

“I was pretty comfortable in my role at Koinonia, and it kind of took me down a path of really seeking the Lord for a call to New York that I hadn’t quite assessed yet. And it wasn’t until I actually visited New York in the midst of this pandemic and was able to meet with planters and attend church [that I saw] there was a need,” he said, “and that God had uniquely prepared me for this time to be a part of meeting that need.”

Offering answers in ‘a time of great confusion and need’

One thing Wolford and Vandiver said they are looking forward to is the opportunity to multiply within the Hamilton Heights area and more broadly within New York City. Their initial plan is to find a theater to rent for Sunday services, but eventually they hope to purchase a church multiplication center which will function as not only office space, but also as a ground floor from which to expand into new churches.

“That’s the secret to success in this city,” Vandiver said.

And for Wolford, the timing of this church plant—in the middle of a pandemic that has disproportionately hit New York City—couldn’t be more appropriate.

“We’re going to an area in a time of great confusion and need and disparity, not only to provide the hope that only Jesus can provide, but to be sensitive to and intentional to meet the needs as we enter into that community. The heart of this church is to engage the community of New Yorkers right where they are, to meet their needs while also compelling them to live fruitful lives in Christ and reproduce the process of discipleship in other people,” Wolford said.

“I believe that the Lord is calling not only me, but all who share in the vision of planting movements of discipleship in areas that need the gospel, to New York so that we can be a part of the resurgence, the bounce back. New Yorkers are resilient, and it’s an area that attracts the brightest, most creative, most diverse communities in our nation,” Wolford said. “We need more churches that will authentically transform the lives of New Yorkers through the only way we know how biblically, which is the process of discipleship.”

Cross Creek NYC will be hosting a mission trip March 13-20 that is open to anyone who is interested in catching the vision for what the Lord will do, Vandiver said. For more information, visit
firstcolleyville.com/new-york-city.