By Carl Stagner
Two thousand five hundred people move to the greater Houston area each week. Efrain Cirilo, pastor-turned-church-planter now living in the metro area with seven million neighbors, says you could plant a megachurch every week and not keep up with the growth. Broad and diverse, such an influx represents the widest variety of stories—Where did they come from? What brought them here? What has their experience been with church? With God? Stories of those far from God tug especially on the heart of Efrain Cirilo. Such stories are but a part of the reason Pastor Efrain and his wife Megan were willing to leave their thriving congregation—and their comfort zones—behind in Kilgore, Texas. With the official launch of Merge Church only a couple months away, they’re rejoicing as stories, disconnected from Christ, begin to intersect with his.
Efrain’s Christ-centered leadership at Crosspointe certainly had an effect on the health and growth the Kilgore congregation enjoys today. But those far from God—atheists, agnostics, persons hurt by the church, and persons disillusioned by cultural Christianity, for example—don’t always walk into an established church. Efrain says the research supports the claim that church planting is the most effective means to reach those far from God. Since everybody has a story, Efrain is determined to merge as many as possible with the gospel, also known as the greatest story ever told.
“We started meeting in homes this fall,” Efrain explains. “Since our mission is to make disciples, we wanted to develop a disciple-making culture before we launch our first Sunday service. We are seeing people with no church or religious background whatsoever attend these groups, and it has been amazing to see how God has been touching lives.”
As exciting as the road has been for Efrain and Megan, it’s not been a walk in the park. This is, after all, their first church planting experience. And, a successful pastorate does not automatically translate into a successful church plant. It takes hard work, dedication, and the right people for the job.
“As a church planter,” Efrain explains, “you do not have the same resources that an established church has, such as office space, staffing, or as many people to help evangelize. Being a church planter requires a very entrepreneurial skill set. You have to be able to make something happen out of nothing. In church planting, you are laying the foundation for the church to stand on. You are building teams, creating a culture, training volunteers, and developing leaders, all the while making disciples. A church planter also has to be able to handle multiple tasks and accomplish them within a very short span of time. As a church planter, there is greater urgency to be in the community, build relationships, and develop a launch team in order to reach people who are far from God.”
Thankfully, partners have come alongside Efrain and Megan to help them succeed. Efrain says these partnerships, such as theirs with Stadia and the Houston Church Planting Network, have helped prepare them for the challenges of church planting. Stadia, for example, even provides administrative assistance for finances, fundraising training, and project management. “Their belief,” Efrain explains, “is that healthy churches are planted by healthy church planters, leaders, and teams. They are committed, therefore, to strengthening church planters through resources, coaching, and connecting planters to one another.” Indeed, kingdom partnerships are essential for church multiplication.
Even with all the help available, though, the leadership responsibility still falls on the shoulders of the church planters. The good news for Efrain and Megan is that the outcomes are out of their hands. As 1 Corinthians 3:5–7 teaches, God gives the growth. “In church planting,” Efrain acknowledges, “there is a beautiful dependency on the Holy Spirit. The tasks can seem overwhelming at times, but we have to understand that this is Jesus’ church. There are times of encouragement, surprises, mountaintops and valleys, but overall it’s an amazing journey of fully depending on him.”
As church planters, Efrain and Megan Cirilo have planted themselves in the heart of their community. They’ve observed that God divinely orchestrated their new address, for it is situated directly across from the neighborhood mailboxes. So, not only does the family live on the busiest street in the neighborhood, but everybody also stops to get their mail close enough for the Cirilos to get to know them. Additionally, they’re involved in coaching flag football, basketball, and soccer. Megan works for the local elementary school, and they’re both active in the school district. Through these involvements and others, invitations come naturally—never forced. Efrain and Megan practice intentional hospitality, hosting people regularly, and ultimately someone asks the question, “By the way, what do you do for a living?” In consideration of the role hospitality plays in their church planting strategy, they recommend a book that contributed greatly to their practice: The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door by Jay Pathack and Dave Runyon.
In awe, Efrain and Megan have watched God move as their little group meeting in their living room last January has required more and more space. Merge Church will launch officially at the local junior high school in Conroe on February 9. No doubt, Efrain and Megan Cirilo are the right people for the job!
Is God calling you to be a part of something like this? It is the desire of Merge Church to raise up, train, and equip future church planters and send them with a team and resources to plant even more churches in the greater Houston area. They are praying for a “church planter resident” who would be trained over two to three years with the goal of being sent to plant another church. If you sense God’s call to plant a church in the greater Houston area and are interested in joining the Merge team, visit www.mergeconroe.com to inquire further. Pastor Efrain also encourages CHOGnews readers to subscribe to their newsletter and follow Merge Church on social media.