A Church Plant Goes Home
By day, Eric Naskrent has to maintain deep concentration and a steady hand. He’s a ceramic tile setter, working on commercial projects in and around Chicago, and the work is painstaking.
But on Monday evenings, Naskrent has a different kind of focus. He leads a home congregation for Ethos Church, an Assemblies of God plant where 10 to 20 people, mostly young adults, gather in his home for worship, prayer, and a message.
“They feel they could ask us for anything,” Naskrent said of the millennials who make up the bulk of Ethos attendees. “Everyone who walks through the door just feels at home. We make them as comfortable as they can, while hearing the Word of God.”
A megachurch Ethos is not.
Ethos is growing, however, according to Lead Pastor Jeff Sandstrom, who started Ethos with his wife, Ericka, as AG U.S. Missions Church Planters and Developers missionary associates in March 2014. There are seven Ethos house churches now, with up to 90 people attending services weekly. The house church congregations come together quarterly for a celebration service, Sandstrom says, but otherwise five pastors serve seven groups, each of which branches off when membership surpasses 21 people.
The service is highly informal; Naskrent notes that just about everyone who comes to his house church sits on a sofa or living room chair. A brief positive testimony period about the previous week is followed by worship singing, with songs projected via an Apple TV setup. A sermon is followed by a discussion, during which questions are encouraged. Prayer wraps up the service, though many will linger for fellowship.
“We’re reaching a vast number of millennials,” Sandstrom says. “Most of the church is between 18-35, an age group that’s falling through the cracks. We’ve just kind of figured out we don’t have to drag people to church.”
Sandstrom says he loves the fact that they get to work with people who don’t know ‘Christianese,’ such as a young woman who broke down after making a salvation decision for Christ, realizing she never would be alone again.
Running a house church-planting operation wasn’t what they planned.
After being involved in a church plant of AG Pastor Earl Creps in Berkeley, California, the Sandstroms figured they would be part of a more traditional congregation in Chicago. But the Lord had different plans.
Some of those plans involved Eric Naskrent, whom Sandstrom knew back in high school in Plainfield, about an hour southwest of Chicago. Naskrent wasn’t a Christian during his teen years, but came to faith and reconnected, via Facebook, with Sandstrom.
The tile setter had only been a Christ follower for around four years, he recalled, but was willing to consider the option of a home church. At first, his participation was limited to playing guitar for worship, and that only after being asked.
“I’m not the kind to be in front of people,” Naskrent says.
After about a year of Naskrent leading worship, Sandstrom had to be gone from the city and asked him if he would fill in by giving the message. He hesitated, but agreed, provided Sandstrom would provide some coaching in preparing the talk.
That led to repeated opportunities for Naskrent to develop his skills, and ultimately to Sandstrom handing over leadership of a house church to the trainee.
Sandstrom charged Naskrent to do with the house church what he believed God calling him to do. Sandstrom’s goal is planting new healthy house churches. From there, leaders are either grown within the house church or hired from outside. Sandstrom says his job is “pastoring the pastors.”
Ethos is one of many Assemblies of God congregations meeting in nontraditional spaces, including warehouses, schools, movie theaters, coffeehouses, and fitness centers.