For the VanDenTop and Van Otterloo families, checking mail has more meaning than before. It’s a reminder that you never know where God might call you to go.
Dawn VanDenTop had heard about The Wesleyan Church’s vision to multiply until there is a transforming presence in every ZIP code. The vision was powerful but didn’t have anything to do with her, or so she thought.
Dawn and her husband, Mike, live in Rock Rapids, a small Northwest Iowa town. For years, they’ve traveled over 45 minutes one way to worship and serve at The Ransom Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Both are integral members. Dawn serves as an elder and on the tech team. Mike ministers in guest services. They had long hoped someone would bring the gospel to Rock Rapids through a church similar to The Ransom, even praying for someone to plant there. They never imagined that their “someone” could be them — until their pastor started throwing around a now-familiar word: multiplication.
Dawn had for some time felt God prompting her to pray to “awaken the little church” but had no idea what it meant. Dawn prayed and shared the vision with others. As she eventually learned, there was already a little church that would soon be sitting vacant in Rock Rapids.
Today, the VanDenTops are preparing to bring a new congregation to Rock Rapids, planted as a campus for The Ransom Church. Dawn is seeking district ministry credentials and participating in Awaken, a year-long church planting residency recently started at The Ransom. She plans to remain working at her full-time job while preparing to plant. Awaken’s vision is to equip every kind of church planter leading to new ways of thinking about church. The future Rock Rapids church is viewed as both a campus and a church plant.
“I’m just excited to bring The Ransom to Rock Rapids,” said Dawn. “I’m praying that God’s plan is to start a revival in town, not just through The Ransom, but the surrounding churches. I heard once from a teenage girl that it’s sad that we have so many people who go to church, but not very many who look like Jesus. I’m eager to see if we can change that.”
The vision for Awaken began in 2017 when The Ransom’s Lead Pastor Phill Tague was haunted by two specific numbers: 32.5 and 58.2. The first number represented the percentage of Sioux Falls residents who were considered “unchurched” 10 years before when he planted The Ransom. The second number reflected the percentage of Sioux Falls residents who claimed no church affiliation in 2017. Even after a decade of ministry considered very successful by typical standards, there were significantly more people in Sioux Falls who didn’t know Jesus. Tague recognized that the traditional ministry approach wasn’t keeping up with city culture and knew a change was needed.
As details have come together for the Rock Rapids plant, the VanDenTops have been amazed at how well-equipped their small (and growing) community is for the task. “It’s crazy how the group has experience in most of the core service spots on Sunday. We have someone who works with kids’ ministry, a couple that works with guest services, a prayer team and one who helps with office tasks.”
One thing missing was a worship leader. Several conversations led to a husband and wife prayerfully filling that need.
The VanDenTops have marveled at the enthusiasm and willingness of people to bring this new church to life in their small community.
“We have had positive reactions from the town, church leaders and several business people,” said Dawn. “We have had several people who either don’t attend The Ransom or don’t attend a church at all tell us that as soon as we get things started, they want to be a part of it.”
The Northwest District (where The Ransom resides) and the Iowa/Minnesota District are enthusiastic about what is happening in Rock Rapids and are eager to partner together.
“We are really excited that The Ransom Church is reaching across district boundaries to launch a campus in Rock Rapids, Iowa,” said Tim Purcell, Iowa/Minnesota district superintendent. “We look forward to partnering with them in this kingdom endeavor any way we can. May this be the beginning of a new movement of God in Northwest Iowa and the first of many partnerships that cross district lines!”
All of this change doesn’t come without a cost, but the VanDenTops see God working through it all. “The feelings of inadequacy keep popping into my head,” said Dawn. “I have a hard time grasping God wanting me to lead this group and this church. I keep reading and listening to a podcast on Esther. It’s a constant reminder that God has a plan and purpose for each and every one of us. No matter who we are, where we came from or what we are currently doing. He wants to use us for his beautiful plan.”
The VanDenTops’ vision for multiplication has already spread. Darwin and Wanda Van Otterloo, sheep farmers in a town near Rock Rapids, had been sensing God pushing them out of their comfort zone. When they heard about the Rock Rapids plant, they not only joined, but wondered if God might be calling them to someday plant a church out of the new congregation. Darwin remembers waking one day after a season of discontent and frustration and sensing God telling him to go change lives. He finally surrendered to the Lord and is now preparing to plant a church through Awaken too.
God is moving. People who never imagined themselves planting a church are seeing God answer prayers. A simple, yet courageous, “yes” to God was the beginning.