We have updated our Privacy Policy to provide you a better online experience.

Planting a Turnaround

Effort to launch churches in Ohio coincides with community transformation.
Now in his mid-30s with a wife and two children, Andrew W. Pitts enjoys being back in his hometown of Warren, Ohio. But the Global University graduate is even more pleased he could start a congregation in January as part of an existing Assemblies of God church.

Signing on with Rock of Grace proved to be easier than trying to launch a church by himself, according to Pitts, pastor of the Rock of Grace campus in Warren.

Pitts, who began his ministry career in Frankfort, Kentucky, in 2010 and later pastored in Indianapolis, says his new role is a natural fit because of the vision of lead pastor Jordan M. Biel, 39. The main Rock of Grace campus is located 24 miles northeast in Kinsman, a rural area about an hour east of Cleveland. In the past two years, the church also launched a campus in Cortland which, like Warren, is part of Trumbull County.

Once a thriving manufacturing hub, in recent years the area has fallen on hard times. The situation led to the creation of Transform Trumbull County, a Christian-led initiative to promote foster care and reverse overdose deaths and crime.

One contribution of Rock of Grace to the effort is starting 10 congregations in a decade. To further that goal, Biel is inaugurating an online training seminar for autonomous church planters that starts Oct. 3.

While initially sessions will be conducted via Zoom, near the end of the six-month process students will be invited to come to Kinsman. Material will be based on Biel’s forthcoming book, Leverage Leadership. The pastor also plans to utilize resources available through the AG’s Church Multiplication Network. At the end of four phases of the book, planters will have a retreat with Biel and the senior leadership team.

Once they go out, these planters won’t be left on their own. Biel plans a monthly mentoring breakfast and one-on-one discussions with each planter.

“A lot of new planters and pastors have ministry programs and plans to follow but they don’t have a spiritual dad,” says Biel, who succeeded his retiring father, Mark L. Biel, as pastor in 2018. Biel wants to stay in relationship with the nascent church planters so they can have a safe place to confide and seek advice.

The pastor’s plans for starting new churches encourages Pitts, who one day envisions being able to replicate the pattern in Warren.

“It’s an extremely ambitious plan,” Pitts says. “I’m eager to play a role in any area of church planting initiatives.”

Biel says starting new churches gives room for leaders to step into their calling, provides an environment where disciplers can use their spiritual gifts, and establishes hope in a community that needs it.

In addition, the pastor says talented people who have been sitting in a pew will see that they are needed and get involved. Rock of Grace sent teams of 20 adherents each to Cortland and Warren, and many remain at those campuses.

“If a church just builds a bigger building, the same worship team goes up and plays in front of a bigger group of people,” Biel says. “We have people who have gone to our new campuses and become great singers. It’s the same thing with our kids department.” He cites Ephesians 4 as a model for equipping congregants for ministry.

Rock of Grace hosts regular opportunities for people at all three campuses to gather, including spring and fall conferences, plus quarterly worship and praise nights.

When he’s not pastoring or fathering four daughters (ages 6 to 13) and a 2-year-old son he and his wife, Danielle, adopted in June, Biel spends Fridays at Innovate Records, the music label he founded in 2008. He believes music can reach some people in a way sermons don’t.

“Three minutes of a powerful song can communicate the gospel or the power of the Spirit over and over for years to come,” Biel says.

Kenneth C. Walker

Kenneth C. Walker is a freelance writer, co-author, and book editor from Huntington, West Virginia. He has more than 4,500 article bylines and has written, edited, or contributed to more than 90 books.