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Empire State Rebirth Merger

Energetic church planters breathe new life into struggling congregations.
Two months after Will and Crystal Hampton started Two Rivers Church in 2013, they studied The Circle Maker by Assemblies of God pastor Mark Batterson, and wrote some monumental prayer requests on a dry erase board. Those petitions included receiving gifts of buildings to the church, the ability to run a Royal Family Kids Camp, and opening local Hope Homes for foster kids and drug addicts.

In an answer to prayer, Hampton, lead pastor of Two Rivers Church, and the New York Ministry Network are teaming up to revitalize and launch several congregations.

“God has answered almost every one of those prayers,” says Hampton, 40.

The Hamptons have a passion for seeing healthy Pentecostal churches in the Northeastern U.S., especially upstate New York. Hampton believes in a concept he calls rebirth merger: church planters revitalizing struggling network-affiliated churches that have buildings and local roots.

“If there is a strong church that has a DNA that can be transferred, we will do a parent-affiliated revitalization or restart,” says New York Superintendent Duane P. Durst. “Rather than pastors building kingdoms to themselves, they are revitalizing churches as a missionary endeavor and bringing life to a setting where it has struggled.”

Hampton believes the partnership allows urban church planters to support suburban and rural churches through a multisite model by providing such resources as media, graphics, and marketing.

“We can take leaders that aren’t fully ready to go out on their own, and get them in leadership contexts where they can succeed without having to have 15 years of trial and error,” Hampton says. He believes in providing those communities with resources that he and other pastors have tested and know work.

Durst has assigned Hampton to work with churches in Cortland, Corning, and Canandaigua.

“I trust him, his vision, his judgment, his loyalty,” Durst says of Hampton. “It makes it easy to partner together. He has made himself accountable and transparent.”

Hampton moved forward, even before resources arrived.

“God told us to go to multisite, so we started a leadership development program,” Hampton says. “Then God gave us the facilities.”

Cortland and Corning will relaunch this fall with community pastors from Two Rivers Church: Chris and Kendra Hamby and Andrew and Mee Rosenbarker. Hampton, who is a CMN representative for the New York District, also has tasked Dave and Chelsea Leathers with remodeling the facility at Canandaigua in order to prepare for relaunch in the near future.

Previously, Hampton has begun other works out of Two Rivers, which is a Church Multiplication Network Matching Fund church. In 2016, John and Candice Snider launched Ignite Church with the support of Two Rivers. They have since passed leadership to Paul and Cristy Evans and returned to be community pastors at the Binghamton campus of Two Rivers.

After serving on staff for the early years of Two Rivers Church, Brenton and Lisa Johnson will launch VAST Church in Albany this fall. Jerad Stevens will pioneer an Ithaca campus of Two Rivers in January.

Durst is thrilled that Hampton is taking responsibility to bring in leaders and infuse those churches with the same vision, discipline, and focus that has allowed Two Rivers to flourish. Durst wants to see new life in communities where congregations have been close to closure. Anthony Pelella of Axis Church and Derrick West of Mercy Point Church also are church planters working in revitalization efforts.

“We may not have the resources, but we have the call,” Hampton says. “God tells us to do it, so we pray for what we don’t see.”

Rebecca Burtram

Rebecca Burtram is an Assemblies of God pastor in Charlottesville, Virginia, a pastor's wife, mother to three, and an English teacher. She is the author of Our Broken Hallelujahs, and she blogs at rebeccaburtram.com.