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Church on a Mission

Unexpected donations help turn struggling church plant around.

Church planting rarely implies a tranquil stroll in a lush spring meadow. Storms appear.

But Ryan and Leah Keller, lead pastors of Church on a Mission in Kenner, Louisiana, are rejoicing overcomers.

After graduating from high school in 2010, Ryan faced personal crises. Studying for a physical therapy career at Southeastern Louisiana University did not satisfy. Confused, Keller broke down crying to God when he says he heard a voice telling him to attend Bible college and plant a congregation in a large metropolitan area, specifically calling it Church on a Mission.

He hesitated sharing what happened with others for fear of their reactions. Still, his former pastor, Bud Plake of Freedom Church (now Celebration Church) in Livingston, Louisiana, and his parents both encouraged him to heed the Holy Spirit.

Switching vocations, Keller enrolled at Evangel University, the Assemblies of God school in Springfield, Missouri, and graduated in 2014 with a B.A. degree in Biblical Studies. He married Leah before she graduated from the Missouri College of Cosmetology. They moved back to Louisiana, where he served as an unpaid associate pastor at his former home church.

Keller completed the AG Church Multiplication Network church planter Launch training program a year later. Still struggling, he assembled a team and received $85,000 from the CMN AGTrust Matching Fund.

Hurdles surfaced finding the right rental facility. Nothing clicked until he drove through Kenner, a suburb 12 miles west of New Orleans. He noticed the imposing Pontchartrain Convention & Civic Center on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain, a highly desirable location.

While scoping the property, he met the general manager, who told him Sunday rental space would cost him a jaw-dropping $4,000 per week. Ready to exit gracefully, Keller’s painful expression changed to a smile when the manager reduced the weekly fee to $760, remarking, “I love Jesus and I love churches.”

Keller and his team officially launched Church on a Mission at the Pontchartrain Center in August 2016 with 55 people. But Sunday attendance dwindled, until settling into two dozen core congregants.

Offerings did not cover expenses, even though the church tithed faithfully to missions. Weekly deficits eroded the church savings account.

“We kept praying, yet I was freaking out,” admits Keller, 29. “But our bookkeeper reminded me, God will come through.”

Then out of nowhere, a businessman-friend, Jeff Tamborrino, from Keller’s home church phoned asking, “How are your finances doing?” Embarrassed and fighting back tears, Keller confessed the dire crisis.

Tamborrino, general manager of two luxury auto dealerships, responded by immediately sending $1,000, promising to tithe to the church for one year, and offering more funds when needed.

“I learned that being saved by Christ is worth so much more than money and success,” Tamborrino says. “And life is better when you help others.”

Church on a Mission and the Kellers have overcome many storms leading to today’s 160 core congregants. Since 2017, 150 people have claimed Christ as Savior and 50 have been baptized at the church.

“Looking back, God had big plans when He made the revelation to me at 19,” Keller says. “All He wanted me to do was to be faithful and obedient.”

Peter K. Johnson

Peter K. Johnson is a freelance writer living in Saranac Lake, New York. More than 500 of his articles and short stories have appeared in Christian and mainstream magazines and newspapers, including the Pentecostal Evangel,Charisma, the Saturday Evening Post, Guideposts, and Decision. He also serves as a consultant and contributing editor to a scientific journal.