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Culling Cranberry Community

Pennsylvania church planter fulfills need in small town.

Moving in February 2015 from 70-degree temperatures in sunny Florida to Butler County, Pennsylvania, where they were snowed in the day after they arrived didn’t overwhelm Joseph R. Gibson and his wife, Emily. They knew they were right where they needed to be.

With their first child on the way, the couple looked forward to being closer to relatives. They also felt called to plant a church somewhere in the area, so they prayed and began to explore options. Then they connected with PennDel Ministry Network presbyter Allan M. Thorpe.

Thorpe, who also serves as lead pastor at Albion Assembly of God, asked the Gibsons to consider Cranberry, a small town 90 miles north of Pittsburgh. Thorpe and several other ministers had consistently asked God to send an AG pastor there for a long time.

“Knowing that the soil was fertile from more than a decade of prayer made our decision so much easier,” says Gibson, 36.

Gibson served six years on active duty in the U. S. Air Force before moving to Florida to attend Southeastern University. While there, he began visiting The Way Community Church, where he met, and later married, Emily, 31. He became more involved in the church, and in 2012, he became associate pastor and later executive pastor.

After visiting Cranberry and meeting with Thorpe, the Gibsons in November 2015 moved to Seneca, Pennsylvania, with 7-month-old son, John Ryan.

“We didn’t know anyone and had no job, and oddly, that is one of the things that compelled me to make the leap,” says Gibson, who obtained his AG ministerial credentials in September 2015. “I knew 100% we would fail if God didn’t catch us, and I didn’t want it to work if it wasn’t His doing.”

Gibson found part-time work at Sears and later took a job at the post office. With the additional income provided by the section, the post office job helped the couple make ends meet and focus on the church.

During a sectional meeting Gibson attended in May 2016, Tom E. Rees, PennDel’s director of church planting and development, asked about the Gibsons’ welfare. Gibson told Rees that he and his wife started an in-home Bible study right after their move, hoping to grow the group into a solid launch team. But after five months, the group had only increased from four to five members. Their strategy of growing the perfect launch team didn’t mesh as they envisioned.

Rees, 60, told Gibson that rather than failing because of a lack of a strong launch team, far more prospective church planters fail because they don’t get off the ground; instead, they wait too long for a day when everything falls perfectly into place — which never happens. Rees suggested they pick a date and trust God to meet their needs.

The Gibsons decided to move forward. Their second son, Davey, would be born in July, so they set the launch date in October, providing adequate time to advertise the starting date.

They found space to rent for the church in a local shopping mall. As launch time approached, they publicized prolifically. They posted flyers, sent out thousands of postcards, and were featured in stories in the local newspaper and radio station. Cranberry Community Church opened in October 2016.

“I’ve learned that we should never let the odds of success determine whether we take a leap of faith,” says Gibson. “If God is calling us to leap, we can trust that He is going to catch us.”

By 2019, the church had outgrown the mall location, and leaders began to search for a new place. With Thorpe’s and the section’s help, Cranberry Community Church managed to purchase a building and begin renovations.

“We were simultaneously going into a large renovation project just as we were being shut down because of COVID,” says Gibson. “But the section helped us, and the church continued to give above and beyond during that season. Eight months and $60,000 later, we were ready to meet in our new building as soon as things opened again.”

Though he initially enjoyed the post office job, the schedule became increasingly difficult as Sunday deliveries were added to Gibson’s plate. Exhaustion took a toll on his health, his work with the church, and his family — which now included baby Hailey. In September 2021, nearly five years after the launch, Gibson left the post office and became full-time pastor of the church.

“The sacrifices that everyone in that church has been willing to make allowed this church to grow the way it has,” says Thorpe, 53. “He could have made it easier on himself, but he chose to work multiple jobs to support his family and not drain the church’s resources, and to free up finances so the church could buy a building.”

Guyla Armstrong

Following over 30 years in the events industry, Guyla Armstrong worked for Assemblies of God World Missions for a decade. As a freelance writer, she wrote for Pentecostal Evangel early in her career and has written dozens of articles for AG News. Guyla and her husband, Jon, attend Praise Assembly in Springfield, Missouri.