A Fabric of Unity
Stan Grant and Shawn Franco are reaping a harvest across Richmond, Virginia
What does multiplication cost? If it’s a matter of attending conferences, updating technology, hiring staff, or paying for advertising, it might be possible to assign a price tag.
But what if the investment were more than just financial? What if it meant giving up staff and even sending some of your own members to start a new church? What if you released resources so another pastor across town could start something new? Would it be worth it to multiply the influence of the gospel where you live?
For two pastors in greater Richmond, Virginia, the answer is yes. Through their sacrificial commitment to multiplication, Stan Grant and Shawn Franco have helped others launch into multiplying ministries of their own.
Grant has been lead pastor at Cloverhill Church (Assemblies of God) in Midlothian since 1997, when he oversaw its relaunch. Franco took over the lead position at Cornerstone Church (AG) in North Chesterfield during 2010, after serving several years on staff. Both have been answering the call to plant other churches through their influence and resources.
“Among the Assemblies of God in Richmond, there is a fabric of unity,” Franco says.
Intending to be Multipliers
A thriving community, Richmond is a field ripe for harvest. Over the last decade, it has grown at a rate roughly double that of the state of Virginia and the nation as a whole, according to census data. It is also a diverse city, racially, ethnically and economically.
Cloverhill Church has been strongly missions-minded from the beginning. After years of supporting missionaries around the world, the congregation sensed God leading them to consider the missions opportunities in their own city as well.
The church decided to make planting other churches a focus of prayer. Grant soon began talking with people who were ready to plant; they just needed the support and leadership of a sending church.
In 2011, Cloverhill planted its first new congregation, Destination Church (AG) in Hopewell, a suburb south of Richmond, with Bryan Briggs as pastor.
Then, in 2017, Cloverhill helped Adam and Leslie Martino launch United Church (AG) in Richmond.
Two years later, Cloverhill sent out Nate and Anna Clarke to plant Oasis Church (AG), which meets at a public high school just outside the city limits.
“I really wanted to multiply, not just add to the Kingdom,” Grant says. “And I knew I could do that best through investing in other people.”
Grant knew the intentional investment might mean his own church wouldn’t see numeric growth, but he was committed to expanding the reach of the gospel throughout Richmond.
Around the same time, Cornerstone Church was making its own effort. When Franco took over as lead pastor in 2010, he felt impressed to continue the missional legacy of those who came before him.
“This city planted us years ago, and we wanted to return the favor,” Franco says.
He laid out a vision of planting three churches in the span of 10 years. The first work was a sister church in Ethiopia.
In 2017, Cornerstone planted Motivation Church (AG) in Richmond. Travis Jones (formerly a staff pastor at Cornerstone) and his wife, Brittany, lead the young congregation.
This September, Cornerstone will help Brandon and Hannah Baldwin launch New Community Church (AG), also in Richmond.
Being intentional about multiplying means being willing to give, Franco says.
“We committed to send people and money,” Franco says of Motivation Church’s launch. “We sent about 50 or 60 people, more than a tenth of our total church body. We also raised money that we gave to that church plant. If you factor in the lost tithes from the members transferring, it was a pretty big price to pay.”
Yet God proved faithful. Within six months, Cornerstone’s attendance exceeded the pre-planting total, and the church had its strongest financial year ever.
Leveraging Organic Relationships
Relationships have been key to multiplication success throughout Richmond. Two years before Destination Church launched, Briggs sensed God speaking to him about church planting, but he wasn’t sure how to start. He had heard about Grant’s desire to plant churches, so he contacted him.
“I just wanted to sit down and ask him some questions,” Briggs says. “I had no idea about church planting, but I knew he did.”
That conversation led to an invitation to join the staff at Cloverhill and eventually launch his own church. Interestingly, Briggs’ father, Larry, had helped plant Cloverhill years earlier, when the elder Briggs was lead pastor of Colonial Heights Assembly of God near Richmond. Grant remembered fondly this act of generosity and wanted to return the favor.
That is just one of many ways AG pastors have leveraged organic relationships to multiply in the Richmond area. They have learned to look in their own backyards for opportunities. That sometimes means letting go of great staff people.
The Baldwins grew up in Cornerstone Church. After moving away to attend college and do missions work, they made their way back home in 2004, and Brandon Baldwin joined the staff. When the Baldwins launch New Community Church this fall, it will be the culmination of a long relationship between them and their sending church.
“I’ve honestly never done church without (Brandon Baldwin),” Franco says.
While Franco acknowledges it will be hard to see them go, he says letting go means extending the reach of the gospel. Each time the congregation sends a staff member on to another church or ministry, God fills in the gaps they leave behind, Franco says.
“Among the Assemblies of God in Richmond, there is a fabric of unity,” — Shawn Franco
“I’m committed to our staff,” Franco says. “I’ve told them that if any of them want to be a senior pastor somewhere else, we will help them. Their commitment is to serve us; our commitment is to grow them. And that means launching them when they’re ready.”
Another way these organic relationships happen is through God’s guidance. The Martinos grew up on Staten Island, New York. They happened to be passing through Richmond and staying with friends when they heard about Grant and his desire to plant churches. That’s when they began to sense God was giving them a vision for ministry in Richmond.
“I met Pastor Stan and gave him permission to speak into my life” Adam Martino says. “After a few conversations, we realized that planting was the best way for Leslie and me to fulfill what God had placed in our hearts for Richmond.”
These organic relationships were coming from all different directions, weaving in and out from church to church. But as Grant and Franco paid attention, they saw how it was a chance to multiply their impact.
Deciding to Be Different
This multiplication approach has been crucial to reaching the city’s diverse population. Grant and Franco believed opening campuses that replicated their own mission and methods wasn’t the best way to attract the city’s unreached demographics. Fresh ministries have their own drawing power.
When Jones was a staff member at Cornerstone Church, a midweek student service helped him catch the vision for starting a new work in the heart of the city.
“We would bus in kids from all over the Richmond area, especially from one specific neighborhood,” Jones says. “And I remember one student telling me he wished there was a church his mom could attend.”
Motivation Church has been the mother’s spiritual home for several years now. The students who previously rode a bus to the suburbs to attend services now have a church they can call their own, in their own neighborhood.
A diverse church in a diverse area, Motivation Church aims to unify an urban core that consists of blue-collar workers and upper-class professionals. Each week, business leaders worship alongside factory workers. That sense of coming together has been a welcome addition to the neighborhood.
The manifold expressions of church multiplication are evident across the city. Geographically, the congregations are located all over the map. They range in attendance from around 200 to well over 2,000. Together, they represent a weekly gathering of nearly 6,000. What one church could not accomplish alone has become a reality as all work together.
Their methods are quite different as well. Cornerstone does a lot of outreach in the public schools around it. The church ministers to four different generations and three cultures, in two languages: English and Spanish. It has strong ties to Chesterfield County and the greater Richmond area.
Cloverhill Church is committed to being a presence in the community, especially in the area of foster care. Last year alone, there were 13 adoptions within the congregation. There is also a strong missions focus.
Destination Church may be the most unique. The congregation began with 450 members and has grown steadily over the past nine years. Located in a movie theater, the church shows family-friendly movies throughout the week and uses the theater as a worship space on weekends. This marketplace ministry paradigm has proven successful. Destination Church now ministers to more than 2,300 people each week, most of them previously unchurched.
In deciding to be different, each church allows the mission field to determine the methods. They reflect their neighborhood demographics in almost every area. The leaders agree that multiplication of that magnitude could not happen in a cookie-cutter context.
Grant and Franco are passionate not only about multiplication, but about investing in the lives of other church leaders.
The Clarkes are examples of the power of spiritual mentoring. Nate Clarke grew up at Cloverhill Church. He then served as a campus pastor for Destination Church. When the Clarkes were preparing to launch Oasis Church, they turned to Grant for advice.
“When we first thought about planting, we approached Pastor Stan about it,” Nate Clarke says. “He told us that whatever that looked like, they wanted to be our sending church.”
Launched in September 2019, Oasis is not yet a year old but is already multiplying. Clarke says much of that is due to help from more seasoned ministers like Grant and Briggs, both of whom serve as overseers of Oasis.
Grant says he gains insight through mentoring relationships as well.
“When we get together, I think I learn more from them than they do from me,” Grant says.
Mentoring is essential to multiplication because it requires a level of selflessness that allows natural leaders to emerge. Fostering growth in individuals leads to Kingdom growth, according to Franco.
“The kingdom of God can only grow through leaders,” Franco says.
Franco sees investments in new leaders as investments in his own congregation.
“How else would I grow healthy leaders for my church if I didn’t encourage them to be great leaders on their own?” Franco asks.
Grant says multiplication is making a positive difference throughout Richmond.
“By being a resource to launch these churches, it’s not just a way to give young leaders opportunities, but also a way to give our community life-giving churches they need.”
The cost may seem great at times. When God asks a congregation to send their best staff people and members to start a church across town, it can be scary. But as Grant and Franco have discovered, the rewards can be tremendous. They set out intentionally to do just that.
Grant and Franco have leveraged God-given relationships and uniqueness to the benefit of the community. And they have kept giving through spiritual mentoring.
They are reaping a harvest — not just in their own churches but across Richmond.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 edition of Influence magazine.