How did this all come about?
The elders at The River have had a vision for several years to start satellite campuses to expand our ministry to reach other five-mile radiuses. They haven’t moved ahead because most churches have about 800 people attending before they are in a position to launch one.
In 2013 Pastor Brad was introduced by someone at The River to Pastor Dan Dunlop who planted Fresh Winds while working a full-time job in the marketplace. Dan shared about the heart of this new church to reach the West Chester community. Dan told Brad about the addition of a Teaching Pastor, Paul Sartarelli, to their young church.
Brad was excited that there was an evangelical, contemporary church presence in West Chester. He told Dan about the elders’ heart to start satellite congregations one day. Brad said that hearing that West Chester was well covered by Fresh Winds, The River could consider other communities instead.
In the course of late 2013 and 2014 Brad and Paul Sartarelli became good friends. By the fall of 2014 Dan transitioned away from Fresh Winds due to his growing business, and Paul assumed the full pastoral role.
Because half of Paul’s salary is supported by individuals not at Fresh Winds, much like a missionary’s, and that support is running out in 2015, Paul and his elders began investigating what would become of their church should Paul leave. It was through Paul’s awareness of The River’s ministry and Pastor Brad’s leadership that the discussion began in early 2015 of Fresh Winds potentially merging with The River Church.
After initial weeks of becoming more familiar with each other’s ministries, the elders of both churches read a book on church mergers called Better Together. They then began more substantive conversations on what the merger would entail if it took place.
During that time, Pastor Paul was considering a move to a church in Mentor, Ohio. On May 24, 2015, Pastor Paul announced to the Fresh Winds congregation that he has accepted the offer to be the Senior Pastor of that church in Mentor.
As the elders from both churches have been praying and seeking God’s leading, we have been unified in our belief that God is moving us to take these steps toward a merger. We are humbly stepping into the process to see what the Lord will reveal.
Why doesn’t Fresh Winds simply close their doors and come up to Liberty Township?
This isn’t about providing a place for them to come to. The heart and vision of the people currently at Fresh Winds is to reach the people of West Chester for Christ. This coincides with a long-standing desire of our elders as well.
Starting a satellite congregation from scratch often requires an investment of almost $175,000 and a core group of 50-100 people leaving to establish the new work. Fresh Winds has already invested nearly that amount and has 60+ people committed to attend there.
The evangelistic opportunity in West Chester is only increasing. Within three miles of their location are three new apartment developments being constructed with over 1,000 units. As Jesus said, “the fields are white for harvest!”
Do other churches have satellite campuses?
Yes. Today there are over 8,000 churches that have other campuses. Most of these churches are not mega-churches (over 2,000 in attendance). In fact, the average church with satellite campuses has less than 1,000 in attendance and many are the size of The River.
How does this affect River Impact—our building expansion in Liberty Township?
Our initiative with River Impact continues. Many Sundays we are at 75% capacity in our services. Our five-mile radius has over 60,000 people who lack a church home and our community is rapidly growing! We want to provide more seating at optimal service times to reach our community for Jesus.
We are in the final stages of interviewing three design/build firms. It simply takes time to coordinate the schedules of the elders, building team, and the firms to do due diligence on behalf of the congregation.
Does Fresh Winds Church have any debt?
No. They are debt free. Currently they have $40,000 in cash and assets. Our Finance Team has been diligently evaluating the various scenarios and financial impact on our current ministry at The River to be sure we are prudent and wise as we consider this opportunity.
What happens to Fresh Winds if there is a merger?
Fresh Winds Ministries will dissolve as a 501(c)3 and all assets will be transferred to The River Church. They become an extension of The River Church and will be known as The River Church—West Chester.
What do we get out of it?
Certainly we are entrusted with the assets of the Fresh Winds congregation. We also welcome into our congregation a number of individuals who are mature followers of Jesus. Their leaders are people who have been Christians for decades, know the Bible well, and are willing to take the risk financially and relationally of starting a new work for Christ.
At the core, however, the question of “what do we get out of it?” is a transactional question. We believe that the better question to ask—and answer—is: What is gained for the kingdom of God in this merger?
Our calling as Christians is to live beyond ourselves. As Christ followers we are to be more about the kingdom and less about “what’s in it for me/us.” This is an opportunity for all of us to grow in spiritual maturity and kingdom thinking.
How will our Sunday Services change?
For the most part, everything will stay the same in Liberty Township. Our first service message will be simulcast live to the West Chester campus. Approximately once a month Pastor Brad will teach from West Chester and his message will be broadcasted to Liberty Township.
What about the West Chester experience—will it be like Liberty Township?
While every congregation has its own personality, the Sunday experience will be similar at both locations. They become part of The River Church in its mission and vision.
The music will be live at West Chester. In fact, they have several gifted musicians and vocalists. All ministries will be given oversight by The River Staff. While the message in West Chester will be simulcast, they will receive live teaching monthly. In addition, the staff from Liberty Township will rotate so that one of our staff members is present every Sunday.
What will it cost us?
We are still assessing the financial cost. Some of the things we will need to invest in will be a video camera and the technology for live streaming between sites. There will be signage and marketing to the community to purchase. We also need to construct a few non-loadbearing walls for children’s classrooms and furniture for those rooms.
There will be the slight adjustment to watching the message on the screen once a month. Thousands of churches have found that people quickly adjust and almost forget that the teacher isn’t even in the room!
We are going to ask the congregation if there might be four or five families with elementary age or younger children who would be willing to be pioneers to the West Chester campus. Currently there aren’t any children at Fresh Winds and visiting families say they would stay, but want other families to be there first.
The elders would increase our Director of Worship’s hours from 25 to 40 hours. (Our Director of Children’s Ministries was already in the budget to increase to full-time in July, so that won’t be an additional expense.)
How is the decision made?
While the elders believe that this is a kingdom opportunity being presented to The River, we believe the congregation’s understanding and support is vital. As such, there will be two Q & A sessions regarding the potential merger with Fresh Winds Church in West Chester. The first will be Sunday, June 28, at 3:30pm at The River with The River elders. The second will be Tuesday, July 15, at 7:00pm with elders from The River and Fresh Winds at the Fresh Winds building. The vote by members will be on Sunday, July 19, at 3:30pm. Everyone is welcome to attend.
In addition, the members of Fresh Winds Church will also be taking a vote regarding the merger. If the merger is approved, the launch of The River Church—West Chester would take place sometime in September.
If you have any further questions you can send them to elders@HitTheRiver.com