Though Belton’s newest church launched with its first service on Easter Sunday, it is part of a larger vision several years in the making.
The creation of Renewal Church is the first step toward fulfilling a vision for First Baptist Church in Belton to become a congregation that actively seeks to establish new churches.
Renewal Church’s worship services are being conducted 10 a.m. every Sunday at North Belton Middle School, 7907 Prairie View Road in Temple.
The Rev. Andy Davis, senior pastor at First Baptist, said he began to sense nearly five years ago that God wanted them to be a planting church. First Baptist has provided support to other local churches, but Davis said they still supported the vision of starting a local church from scratch.
Davis said they began searching for someone who could serve as a missions minister and church planter, which led them to Matthew Levant, who had previously served as an intern at First Baptist while he was a student at University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.
“I had kept up with Matthew through the years and was very impressed with his communication, his preaching, and with his leadership skills,” Davis said.
Levant spent five years ministering in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
“I planted a church there,” he said. “That (church) grew, then that planted another church. So I had already been church planting while I was in the Middle East.”
Levant said he maintained a friendship with Davis over the years, and they would Skype regularly while he was overseas. During one call, Davis asked Levant if he would consider moving back to Belton to plant a church.
“I at first told him no,” Levant said. “But six months later, I just couldn’t shake that thought. And (Davis) just said we want for that to be a church-planting church, a multiplying church. God just changed my heart, and I just found myself desiring to leave the Middle East and move to Belton to lead First Baptist in being a church-planting church.”
Davis explained that First Baptist’s mission statement, “Knowing Jesus intimately, serving Jesus passionately, and sharing Jesus globally,” fed the desire to begin planting churches.
“So the ‘serving Jesus passionately’ focuses a lot on the community and the things we’re involved in,” he said. “So part of that motivated us, but the other part was ‘sharing Jesus globally.’”
He said sometimes people think sharing Jesus globally means on the other side of the world, but it also means the community they live in.
“So we felt as part of our mission statement that we needed to plant a church locally somewhere in Bell County,” Davis said. “When we brought Matthew over he prayed and searched and worked and actually was the one who picked the location with our support and encouragement. So it fits right in to our mission statement.”
Levant said he believes being missional means proclaiming the unchanging truth of the gospel in a particular cultural context. He said he spent some time getting to know Central Texas and what kind of churches it had and didn’t have. He said he realized there were a lot of traditional churches, but he felt God was calling him to plant something that would reach people who wouldn’t attend a traditional church.
“So it’s the same way; you move to a place, you get to know that particular culture, and then you plant a church that meets that need in that particular culture,” he said. “So being a student of culture in the UAE helped me to come be a student of the Central Texas culture.”
Levant said, for him, the process of planting Renewal church began about a year and a half ago when he began seeking God’s vision.
“I just felt God direct me to the church’s name, being ‘Renewal,’ so people can experience God’s renewal in their lives.”
Levant said the new church’s name and the plan for its inception was unveiled to the First Baptist congregation in May 2018. From that point, informational meetings were held so people could learn more, and the church members were called to commit to Renewal by praying, offering financial support or agreeing to join.
By the end of September 2018, a launch team of nearly 40 adults from First Baptist had been assembled. Levant said the team began preparing, praying, learning about the community, focusing on outreach and training, all to build up to the launch of the new church.
Davis said some incredible people were sent to launch Renewal Church.
“I’m really proud of them, because that’s a big step,” he said. “When you’re happy in your church and you’re serving, and then you get this challenge to leave it’s not an easy thing to do that… it takes a big step of faith. So I’m really proud of those who took that step.”
Renewal Church officially launched with its first worship service Sunday, April 21. Levant said it was amazing to see more than 170 people attend the contemporary-style worship service. For the sermon, he preached the resurrection account found in Luke 24.
“So the idea was that it’s time to plant this new church, because people in Bell County need God’s renewal that are far from him,” he said. “But also it’s time for people to individually experience God’s renewal in their own lives. So I just preached on the significance of the resurrection and how that specifically brings us renewal.”
Levant said most of the people he’s followed up with who attended the first service said they didn’t have a permanent church home.
“Coming back to God and coming to a non-traditional church in a non-traditional building has helped them to not be intimidated and actually walk in,” he said. “And so I’m very thankful for that.”
Though the church just launched, the future is already being considered. Levant said Belton Independent School District has agreed to let Renewal Church meet at the middle school for the next 18 months.
“We have two 24-foot trailers that we unload and then reload every single Sunday,” he said. “So we’re a mobile church – a church on wheels if you will. So everything is set up in that way, so we’ll continue to be mobile.”
Levant said the vision is for Renewal to be a multiplying church and plant more churches in the area.
“The goal is not to be a mega-church,” he said. “The goal is to be a healthy church that is a multiplying church.”
Davis said it’s going to be exciting to watch Renewal Church grow and multiply. He said First Baptist is already praying about the next church plant, and they are ready to see where God leads them.
Levant said the vision is to continue to spread God’s renewal to the rest of the country and across the world.
“I just want to see lives change,” he said. “I just want to see marriages healed and addictions broken and I want people to experience joy in Christ.”