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Revitalized New York church transforms into church-planting powerhouse

Michael (Mike) the lead pastor of Cornerstone Bible Church in 2016. At its lowest point, the congregation averaged 40, but the church revitalized and began multiplying. The church has sent two new church plants in New York City.

Editor’s note: Church Planting Emphasis Day in the Southern Baptist Convention is Sunday, March 17. Churches plant new churches, and Send Network aims to come alongside churches of all sizes and help them become a church planting church like Cornerstone. Visit SendNetwork.com/Mobilize to learn more.

PORT JEFFERSON STATION, N.Y. — When Michael (Mike) Rubino started attending Calvary Baptist Christian School on Long Island as a fourth-grade student, he never imagined God would one day call him to pastor the church that housed the school and then craft a vision for church multiplication.

But that’s exactly what has happened.

In 2016, Rubino became the lead pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, now Cornerstone Bible Church. The church was revitalized and soon launched two church plants in New York City.

The church developed a Multiplication Center, complete with a large classroom that Rubino called “a church plant incubator.” He and others have helped dozens of local pastors and lay leaders foster revitalization in their churches while connecting them with church planters who are looking for sending churches.

But the journey hasn’t always been glamorous.

“It was a process,” Rubino said. “The first two years, it was a lot of blood, sweat and tears and trying to mend broken hearts. …

“The first thing I told the church was if I’m going to be the pastor of this church, then I believe in multiplication: we’re going to multiply disciples, leaders and churches. I also believe that other like-minded churches are not the competition – they’re collaborators – so I want to live open-handed with other churches. I want us to get back in the community, and I want our church to reflect the demographic of our community.”

At its lowest point, Cornerstone ran about 40 people, but by 2020, 400 were regularly attending.

“Every system we had broke,” Rubino said. “Every piece of deferred maintenance that was barely holding on, fell apart. We ran out of parking, but the building was full of life. It was beautiful chaos.” 

Rubino knew his church never had a chance of reaching the 3.6 million people on Long Island alone, no matter how large they grew. 

“There was literally no way of reaching our Jerusalem by becoming a megachurch. It would not have expanded the kingdom of God, and we didn’t want to grow our church at the expense of His kingdom,” Rubino said. “So, we started asking, ‘What would it look like not to be a megachurch, but to be a multiplying church?’”

At the time, they had no ties with other churches who were pursuing a similar vision. Rubino said, “We kind of started making it up as we were going along until I got connected to the SBC through the North American Mission Board (NAMB).” 

They connected with NAMB’s Replant team and began offering trainings for their congregation and other pastors and lay leaders in their area whose churches needed revitalization and a vision for multiplication.

“It felt like leaders sprouted up overnight,” Rubino said. 

Eventually, what became the Multiplication Center also attracted those interested in church planting, generating organic relationships between new church plants and older churches. 

“We started creating this hybrid model of planting and replanting,” Rubino said, “and planting new churches in old buildings.”

John Welborn, director of Send New York, called Rubino a strategic leader in an important part of the city and described multiplying churches like Cornerstone as crucial for the expansion of God’s kingdom.

“We don’t come in with this belief that we’re bringing the kingdom of God to our communities,” Welborn shared. “We come in with the mindset that we want to partner with what God has already been doing in a city.”

“There are churches that are struggling but have a heart to be a part of something new and fresh,” Welborn contiued. “So, bringing in the energy and creativity of a church planter, the vigor for evangelism and partnering that with a group of people who are struggling with finding a vision can be a monumental opportunity for kingdom growth.” 

Rubino’s church embraced the opportunity. “We had the revitalization piece,” Rubino said, “and we got the training piece going, and then God made it very clear that revitalization should always lead to multiplication.”

Cornerstone has now planted two churches on Long Island – Joy Church in Shirley and Retro Church in Centereach.

“We’ve been sending 20 people to this church, 10 people to that church, and now our church knows we don’t come to just gather; we come to be sent out,” Rubino said. 

Cornerstone’s Multiplication Center provides meeting space for new churches while they get their feet under them.

“One of our biggest challenges was waiting to find buildings for church planters,” Rubino said. “We needed these guys to start preaching and learning what it means to find people, but they needed to do it in a safe environment.”

Planting churches inside their building sounded outside the box, but Cornerstone agreed that allowing new churches to use the space as an on-ramp met a pressing need.

Rubino said partnering with Send Network, NAMB’s church planting arm, has been life-changing for his church.

“Send Network has provided us with the structure, the resources and the support necessary to do this work in a way that’s ‘decently and in order,’” Rubino said, quoting 1 Corinthians 14:40.

From running what Rubino called “top-of-the-line” assessments for church planters to caring for each other like family, Send Network helped his church shine an even brighter light for Christ in their city.

“I feel really blessed to be a part of this,” he said.

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  • Anna Skudarnova