When a church plant particularizes, officially leaving behind its young, beginning stages and becoming a fully-functioning, self-sustaining church, we have a moment to pause and thank the Lord for everything He has done and will do through the church.
In the words of Ben Hooper, director of missional living, Restoration Southside’s particularization service was a very sweet time. “I liken it to an 18th birthday, becoming an adult. You’re on your own with all the responsibilities. Getting to that point takes a village, and the people in the pews [at the service] are the community who helped make it happen. Everyone’s in one room for one reason – because the Lord is building His church.”
Entering Chattanooga’s Southside
Ted Strawbridge contacted Jared Huffman early in the summer of 2018 with the idea of planting a church in Chattanooga’s southside district. Ted knew that Jared’s ministry and preaching style resonated with the younger generations (often called millennials and Gen Z), which is a large part of the demographic of Southside Chattanooga.
At the time, Jared worked at Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church alongside Ben Hooper. With five children at home (including 9-month-old twins), Jared initially was unsure about the change, but after prayer and consideration, he wanted to plant a church – and he wanted Ben to come with him.
They gathered the names of interested people, and on September 18, 2018, about 40 core members of Restoration met for the first time. In January, they officially moved from Lookout Mountain Pres to the Southside and launched publicly on Easter of 2019. Before the pandemic hit, the plant had already gained momentum, identified leaders, and were averaging 330 attendees on Sunday mornings. Though the church already had solid footing when entering COVID-19, reaching particularization was a difficult challenge.
A Place of Authenticity
Restoration Southside is made up of many transplants to Chattanooga – some have lived here for a while but hadn’t found a church, and some are brand new to the city and looking for community. Restoration throws its doors wide open for messy people. The church is clear that their congregation is not made up of perfect people, nor is the Church universal. They repeat, “It’s okay that you’re not okay. Come with what you have and who you are, and Jesus can do much with it.” This open invitation to honest community resonates with newcomers and longer term residents alike.
“What is most thrilling about our church is that unbelievers are inviting other unbelievers to come to church,” says Jared Huffman. “While they may not share our faith, they know they will be cared for and loved. God’s spirit is at work here, and we are all in awe.”
A Milestone Worth Celebrating
Restoration now has more than 200 people connected in small groups, and Sunday mornings average 400 worshippers. Having had leaders who stepped forward from day one, the church was ready to particularize.
“It felt natural to particularize because God gifted us with leaders who give and love and shepherd well,” says Hooper. “Earlier this year, we started training our care team, elders, and women leaders. This summer, with presbytery meetingsand elections, things got more official, and on August 8th, we finally celebrated our particularization.”
This joyful celebration was also a time to remember a friend: Ted Strawbridge passed away before he could witness the particularization of Restoration or many ofthe other churches he helped plant. Hooper says, “The hardest part and the best part was that this whole thing was Ted’s idea, and he wasn’t there to see this day happen. But it’s a beautiful thing that the Lord carried us through, and we can recognize and celebrate Ted’s vision and contribution to the church.”
So What’s Next?
Planning for not only this next year but also for many years of ministry, Restoration seeks to establish healthy rhythms and routines and see more leaders officially step into leadership roles. As they further establish their ministry practices, they set the trajectory for the long-term ministry and life of the church.