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Serving New Communities

Life360 establishes a presence in rural spots through food distribution.
Five small southwest Missouri communities recently have become part of the Life360 Springfield family of churches, thanks to Church Multiplication Network funding.

For Life360, though, it isn’t about entering a community just to expand its number of campuses. In fact, pastor Ted L. Cederblom doesn’t even use the term “campus” to describe the network of congregations, preferring instead to encourage pastors to get involved in district and sectional activities, meet in teams with other pastors to support each other, and find the best ways to serve their individual communities.

Cederblom, 55, was raised as a missionary kid, observing church planting firsthand. Feeling lonely and isolated during his first pastorate, in the Los Angeles area, he learned the value of prayer and emotional support, district involvement, and teamwork. During that time, Cederblom says the Lord began speaking to him about the importance of empowering rural churches to serve their communities.

“Rural areas are Satan’s trophy case,” says Cederblom, referring to problems such as poverty, drug abuse, and broken families. Those issues worsen as young people flee small towns for city jobs, leaving the elderly or people with few resources to carry on as best they can. Many who don’t move away are trapped in generational poverty.

The $30,000 grants for each location in Spokane, Fordland, Monett, Dexter, and Plato will go a long way toward empowering those churches to address the problems. The up-front capital allows Life360 to hire a lead pastor and associate, enter the communities, and begin food distribution programs, one of the biggest needs.

According to Jeremy S. Hahn, 40, executive vice president of Life360 Community Services, the pastor becomes “co-vocational,” doing the actual legwork of food distribution or other service programs as an employee of the nonprofit, while simultaneously building opportunities for ministry.

“The goals of Life360 Community Services are to feed, house, educate, and empower,” says Hahn, a U.S. Missions church planting missionary through Mission America Placement Service. Using a rented facility, preferably near the school or other key community entity, pastors build relationships with leaders, including school administrators, the same approach recommended by Convoy of Hope’s Rural Compassion, a frequent partner in resourcing Life360 outreach events.

“We are looking to be community transformation centers, meeting physical, mental, and spiritual needs,” Cederblom says. After-school and food programs are high on the list, but housing also is needed, as well as community health centers providing basic health services often sadly lacking in rural areas. Life360 is developing YGardens, a transitional housing facility in Springfield. The church hopes to replicate that project in rural areas, to serve persons in substance abuse recovery, aging-out foster youth, and others needing help with basic life skills.

Although the eventual goals for each community include a healthy church helping to financially support its own outreach, the pastoral team may spend several months building relationships before actually starting to hold services. Food and housing projects eventually become self-sustaining through careful leveraging of funding sources such as U.S. Department of Agriculture food reimbursements. However, Hahn says the CMN funds are key to getting started, allowing the pastor to focus on ministry without financial worries.

Monica Montalvo, 42, serves as lead pastor for Life360 Spokane. Living nearby, with her own children in the school system, she knew the needs. While working full-time at the Assemblies of God national office and studying for ministerial credentials through Global University, she served another area church as volunteer youth pastor, but she and her husband, Eric, sensed the Lord preparing them for a next step in ministry. After prayer and conversation with Cederblom and the Life360 team, they secured a location near the school and began a food distribution program.

Kevin L. Larsen, another former national office employee, has moved to Plato to serve as lead pastor after being on staff with another area rural church. He is in the relationship process, partnering with Rural Compassion to provide shoes and hygiene items to school children and implementing a program to provide a daily snack pack to each student.

Life360's nonprofit is careful to manage funds from donors and government agencies for their intended designated purposes. And while Church Multiplication Network allows spending flexibility for church planters, accountability is required.

“Life360 handling the funding details is so very helpful,” Montalvo says. “It frees me up to focus on actually doing the work, and the food distribution is already giving us a reputation in town for caring.”

Cederblom teaches each new pastoral team to become involved in district networking, support their sectional presbyters, and encourage other pastors.

“We don’t plan on growing by people transferring,” he says. “We want to serve and empower existing churches, while reaching out to people who aren’t yet being reached.”

Cynthia J Thomas

Cynthia J. Thomas worked for Assemblies of God U.S. Missions for six years before becoming primary caregiver for her father, a World War II veteran. She has served as a counselor for victims of domestic violence and women facing crisis pregnancies. Cindy and her husband, Phil, a schoolteacher, volunteer in youth outreach and have three adult children and one granddaughter.