the shape of leadership

A Church for Those With No Church Experience

A conversation with Doug and Crystal Heisel

Chris Colvin on September 11, 2019

Church planting as a married couple takes a commitment from both individuals. But sometimes that commitment is truly a shared calling to lead.

“As a couple, I knew we were wired for church planting,” Crystal Heisel says.

She and her husband, Doug, planted New Life Church (Assemblies of God) in the Bay Area of San Francisco two decades ago and now serve as co-pastors.

“We have a motto we’ve used for 20 years now: ‘No church experience required,’” Doug Heisel says. “And that motto really helped us attract the unchurched crowd.”

The Heisels planted New Life in the San Ramon Valley, just east of San Francisco and Oakland, California. Some 50 percent of the people who live in this region have no church background — often going back three generations.

Nevertheless, 168 people showed up when the church opened in January 1999.

“Out of everyone I greeted that morning, only one of them I knew for sure was a Christian,” Doug says.

From the beginning, the Heisels decided to let the mission field determine the ministry method. Over the years, that philosophy has fueled multisite ventures, and even two campuses in Mexico.

Wherever they go, the Heisels look for God to show up.

Each of the campuses has a unique flavor that helps it meet the needs of the surrounding community. Yet the vision is the same: raising up Kingdom-minded individuals who want to see God do something amazing.

For instance, New Life recently helped Tyler and Nicole Hagan launch Anthem Church in Oakland. It was the first new Assemblies of God church in the city in more than 40 years.

“A lot of what New Life is doing falls under the category of providential,” Doug says. “If our eyes are open, God is already doing the work, and we just have to find it.”

That providence was evident at a Northern California/Nevada District Council in 2012, when Doug shared the stage with Travis Clark, a potential church planter from Arizona. Following that brief meeting, the Heisels felt something stirring in their hearts. After talking with Clark, they all realized God wanted to do something special.

It led to a partnership that allowed Clark to launch Canvas Church (AG) in the Marina District of San Francisco, with the help and backing of New Life. Today, Canvas SF runs 350 to 400 each week in one of the hardest-to-reach areas of the country.

Wherever they go, the Heisels look for God to show up. And when He does, they are faithful to follow His lead and do His work — regardless of the ministry method.

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 edition of Influence magazine.

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