Building a Better City, One Church at a Time

Starting any endeavor from the ground up isn’t easy.  It takes resilience, determination, and a great deal of faith.  Keith Case is a church planter who knows firsthand how difficult that can be and took the time to answer a few questions for One Christian Voice about his most recent church plant at Providencia Church in West Palm Beach.

What is your faith background? Do you have a background in church planting?

I was baptized as a child in a Mainline Protestant Church. I attended off an on as a child. At around age seven or eight, we attended a Baptist Church for a short time and then stopped going to church until I was thirteen. That was the year I was invited to a Christian Youth Camp and gave my life to Christ. In 1997, while in college I spent a month living in “Little Havana” in Miami, with a man named Bill Iverson. His father had started a few Presbyterian Churches in Miami. Bill was in his 70’s and we spent a month studying cities. Why they exist, how important they are, and what makes them flourish. It was during this time that God really gave me a heart for the city and a heart for Miami and South Florida. It was evident we needed more churches in our city centers, caring for and cultivating her people, neighborhoods, and industries.

Our hope is to build a better city. Our church exists for our city.

How do you go about starting a church in a community?

The first step for church planting is showing up and listening. It is easy to come into a city and start another church service. It is quite a different thing to come into a city to connect with the unchurched and those who have not heard the gospel. The latter is a much more long term and delicate process. I might add that one of the greatest strengths a church planter can have is a hosting church within five to ten miles of the new church plant. They can serve as huge support network for the planter and their family, as well as open doors that otherwise would never be open to a stranger in the city. This has been the case for us here with First Presbyterian Church North Palm Beach launching us.

Has anyone been particularly supportive or helpful during this process?

Again, Bill Iverson was the first man to really open my heart to God’s love for the cities and the needs at the city centers. My father-in-law, Jay Kyle, was the first one to ever tell me I should be a church planter. He works with Redeemer City-To-City in NYC along with Tim Keller. I was able to train with them for six weeks before we planted our first church in the financial district of Miami. My greatest take away from that time was again to listen to the nuances of my particular neighborhood and her industries. You have to do your homework. When we came North, I spent the first two years of my time reading books on West Palm and just asking questions. I am still asking questions and I am still learning. It is a constant process.

Rick Hunter, who runs Renew South Florida, has been an incredible source of encouragement as well. He has been able to gather over 60 church planters throughout South Florida. We gather to encourage and learn from one another. First Pres. North Palm Beach, along with the friends and families here locally in South Florida are irreplaceable. Without that source of community you will die as a church planter. It is lonely work and you really need friends who care more about how you are doing than how you are performing.

Lastly, Greg Smith and Roger Boiler, both lay leaders have given hours upon hours to see this church launched and to see a Gospel movement here in South Florida and really across our nation. They are model examples of what Church Planting is all about: The Empowerment Of Lay People For the Mission of God.

Have you determined where in West Palm Beach that Providencia Church is going to be permanently located?

We are still figuring this out. At the moment, Memorial Presbyterian Church is graciously allowing us to use space at their church. This was not only an incredible gesture by them to open their church to a new plant, but a huge for us to get our feet under us for the first year. Our setup is minimal, and it has kept us from burning out our volunteers, which is a danger in new church plants.

What is your goal for Providencia?

Our vision for Providencia is “So that all may flourish”. We are geographically focused on downtown. To see this vision come to life in the people, neighborhoods, and industries of downtown is, in my opinion, the greatest thing. We are a young church and to see the impact on industries and neighborhoods takes time, but we have already seen it in the lives of individuals. It is amazing to see people begin to believe their stories are worth being heard. They begin to listen to their own stories, as well as the story God has been writing since the beginning of time. When you combine the two, people begin living out of their calling instead of out of their wounds. They realize they don’t have to work so they can rest, but out of resting in the love of God, they can work. They don’t have to prove anything to the city, but instead can just love and care for it.

Is planting a church similar to starting starting a new business?

It is amazing to see people begin to believe their stories are worth being heard. They begin to listen to their own stories, as well as the story God has been writing since the beginning of time. When you combine the two, people begin living out of their calling instead of out of their wounds. They realize they don’t have to work so they can rest, but out of resting in the love of God, they can work.

Yes it is. To plant a church isn’t easy, so there are so many variables. Probably the greatest and most challenging variable is finding church planters. Our leadership in the majority of churches for many years has been much more corporate-oriented than start-up oriented.

As a church planter you have to identify the area where you will plant, spend an incredible amount of time listening, while at the same time gathering leadership and financial resources to launch and sustain yourself for the first three to four years. The first two years, a church planter will be working 80-90 hrs a week.

What is the hardest part about planting a church?

Every new city has it’s challenges. When we lived and planted in Miami, the majority of our friends and connections had a religious background as a child in their South American or European country, but this was not a part of their life now really. It was much easier to build community in this context because Miami is so transient and people are dying for connection. Here in West Palm Beach, although it is the most “never churched” city in the US, we have a Christian college downtown as well as many churches. So when you start a new church, instead of really reaching those outside the church, you end up having people visit that are church shopping. We are grateful for the people that visit and become a part of our community, but to really connect with our true target, it takes a lot of work and prayer.

Is Providencia tied to a particular denomination?

Yes, we are a church plant of First Presbyterian in North Palm Beach and are a part of ECO (The Evangelical Covenant Order).

Do you think that a church like Providencia is needed in West Palm Beach?

Yes. We say this every Sunday: Our hope at Providencia isn’t to be a better church than another church here in West Palm. There are incredible churches here already. Our hope is to build a better city. Our church exists for our city.

What unique things does Providencia offer to the community?

When I came to the city, someone told me on Clematis one day that there are some pastors here with kingly gifts (organizational) and others with prophet gifts (preaching), but their are few that are priestly (on the street with the people, listening). We hope to be a church that is with the people on the street.

One of the areas of emphasis for us is on the subject of “faith and work”. We seek to invest in our industries here in West Palm Beach. At the base level we want to increase the strength of the social fabric, but on a much larger scale we are asking the question how can the “financial industry” (for example) be strengthened in our city. I don’t know the answers to these questions, but we are gathering financial experts around this conversation as well as experts in other industries like the arts, medicine, legal, etc. Lastly, we are really excited about our new startup called “UniverCityWPB”. In short “UniverCityWPB” is a free university for our downtown community taught primary by our downtown community (we are bringing guests in for special occasions).

When and where do you meet now?

We meet on Sundays from 5:30-7:00 pm at 1300 South Olive, WPB 33401.

Do you have any activities going on during the week?

We have worship on Sunday nights, free Yoga classes and soccer games on Tuesday nights, men’s and women’s story groups on Thursday nights, and “UniverCity” classes throughout the week. This past week for “UniverCity” we had an artist and leading art critic from NYC who came down to lecture on abstract art, the interesting relationship or non-relationship between art and theology in America.  We also take people from West Palm Beach on tours through Art Miami. It is all free and an incredible learning experience.

How can people reach you if they want to get involved in this?

They can email us at info@provicenciawpb.org and check us out on the web: www.providenciawpb.org

What is your greatest need right now?

Our greatest need right now is to connect with people who want to join us in this mission of seeing our city flourish. Specifically we are looking for people over 50 that who would be interested in helping us love and care for others from their age group all the way up to the retiree community living in and around downtown. This is our greatest challenge and we would love to talk to you if you have a heart for this community as well.

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