NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) – Neither Omot Aganya or Zach Martinez set out to be peace church planters. Yet, for Aganya in Kansas City, Missouri, and Martinez in Greeley, Colorado, that's exactly what they're doing.
"I backed into this whole thing accidentally," said Martinez. For him, the spark to plant a church in Greeley came from his position as pastor of Sojourn Mennonite Church in Fort Collins, Colorado, 20 miles away from Greeley. Sojourn met for services on the second and fourth Sunday of each month, and Martinez saw the opportunity to start a sibling church in Greeley that would meet on the first and third Sunday of each month, sharing the same name and pastoral staff. "I really wanted to invite Sojourn along…to eventually be one church in two cities," said Martinez.
Since 1997, Aganya and his wife, Hannah, have helped start churches in South Dakota and Minnesota, as well as in Ethiopia and Kenya. In 2016, Aganya, Hannah, and their children moved from Minnesota to Kansas City, Missouri, to help start Eden Life Church, a multiethnic congregation that features three services every Sunday. Each is conducted in a different language: Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, Anyuwaa, the language of the Anuak people of Ethiopia and South Sudan, and English. Each service reaches out to a different section of the community and allows them all to worship together in one place, Aganya said.
For both Aganya and Martinez, reaching out to young adults and families has proven to be an essential focus as well as a challenge for their newly planted churches. The Sojourn church in Greeley began with four or five young families. Over time, however, all the families left, leaving a smaller, core group of people.
"I'm a millennial," he said. "One of the characteristics of the millennial generation is to be a little flakey. It's who we are, especially around church."
Aganya had a similar experience during the first few months at Eden Life church, where initial attendance was strong, but soon decreased to a smaller core group. "People come and go, and the thing is, God is faithful," he said. "What does the Bible say, we live by faith, not by sight? It's true, but it's not easy." He explained that it's tempting for church planters to jump into a project and expect quick results, comparing themselves to other, more established ministries, only to become discouraged when the church doesn't grow as expected. The key, said Aganya, is "believing God will bring someone, and you start with that person, and then you get another one and another one, and then you grow."
While there are still many questions for Eden Life and Sojourn Mennonite Church, both Aganya and Martinez are excited about promoting peace in their communities. "We really try to advocate the third way of peacemaking in public life," said Martinez. "That's our vision for who we are and how we're seen in the community."