HORSHAM, Pa. – Riverside Community Church, planted in 2000, has started four other churches, all with men from the church.
Pastor Ezra Strickhouser was part of the original launch team. He came on staff after eight years, and became lead pastor in 2017, right as the church transitioned from setting up and tearing down every week in a rental location to purchasing a church property.
“For 13 years we met in a movie theater, and then God blessed us with a traditional stone church building right here in the heart of our community,” Strickhouser said.
“Because we were a mobile church for so long, we really wanted the building to be used for Kingdom purposes. We host Baptist mission teams who come and serve in Philly. It’s been a blessing to be a center of hospitality for people coming here to serve the people of our region.”
The church’s proximity to Philadelphia has led the Riverside congregation to a variety of ministry opportunities.
“We live in a suburban community where everything looks good on the outside, but we know that challenges are buried under that facade,” Strickhouser said. “We want to bring the Gospel into the lives of our neighbors here in Horsham. We’re also in a position to bless some of our neighbors in underserved neighborhoods in Philadelphia that are only a 20-minute drive from our church.
“Our greatest evangelistic strategy is equipping our people to share the Gospel and invite friends and family to church,” the pastor continued. “I feel like every Sunday in our gathering there are people who need to be more connected to Jesus.”
Since COVID, the primary connecting point for the 200 who worship in two identical Sunday morning services is a three- to five-person discipleship group.
“We really feel three to five people is the ideal size for everyone to have a chance to share how the truth is intersecting with their life,” Strickhouser said. “We try [in the discipleship groups] to push personal application of the truth.”
The pastor and a team of discipleship group leaders develop study guides to go along with the expository messages that are preached on Sunday mornings. The study guides can be used by individuals or in discipleship groups and are available for free on the church’s website: www.riversideconnect.com/discipleship.
The pastor was on staff when the first three church plants were started, and lead pastor for the fourth, with more plants awaiting God’s call on the planters.
“We focus on the calling of the planter over the location,” Strickhouser said. He works with planters to prayerfully determine where God wants them to plant a church. “There is so much lostness here in the Northeast. We need lots of solid new churches centered on Jesus and the Gospel.
“We’ve planted as God opened doors for us,” the pastor added. “First, a church that was 45 minutes to our west called and offered to give us their church building to start a new church. That was an incredible blessing. We sent an associate pastor to plant that church.”
The church sent another associate pastor to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for training. When that man returned with a core team, he targeted a community 15 minutes south of Riverside.
With the third, “a solid group was coming to our church from a community 25 minutes north of us. They were praying about a church plant in their community, so we formed them into a core group and sent them out with one of our associate pastors who was feeling called to lead that plant,” Strickhouser said.
The fourth plant emerged from a member of the church who was discipled, developed as a leader, and brought on staff part time as he gathered a core team. They launched 20 minutes northeast of Riverside.
Each church plant becomes autonomous, rather than being a satellite congregation. The worship style and feel of each new church is unique, but faithfulness to Scripture and an emphasis on the Gospel is central to the DNA of all the church plants, Strickhouser said.
“Because we started as a church plant, we saw the doors that opened and the opportunities it created,” the pastor said in explaining the reason Riverside Church starts churches. “We believe church planting is the most effective way to reach new communities and people who are unchurched.”
In part because of its commitment to church planting, Riverside is a strong advocate for the Cooperative Program, the way Southern Baptists work together in state conventions, North America and internationally, in missions that together propel the cause of Christ worldwide.
“We really benefit from CP,” Strickhouser said. “With each plant we received funding and coaching from the North American Mission Board. We love what the SBC is doing with church planting, disaster relief and international missions.
“The financial support has been really beneficial, and the NAMB missionaries have been a real blessing and value to us,” the pastor continued. “The Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania-South Jersey, our state convention, is a huge blessing too. The relationships we’ve formed because of CP giving have been really beneficial to us and to our church plants. We believe in the Cooperative Program!
“Here in the Philadelphia area, we’ve really developed great relationships with other churches as we walked through discussions around racial tensions and divisions in America.” Strickhouser continued. “As a group of pastors, we got together, and Riverside’s participation in an event called Hope 4 Philly grew out of that. We partner with Great Commission Church and Believer’s Bible Fellowship to bless a community in North Philadelphia.”
Hope 4 Philly provides a fun day filled with haircuts for kids, school supply backpacks, job fairs, social services, professional-level gospel entertainment and block party-style activities such as free food, carnival games and friendly conversations that can turn into Gospel encounters.
“Here in Philly, we have an incredible level of racial diversity,” Strickhouser said. “So many of our partnerships look like a picture of the Kingdom [of God], which is something I really appreciate about living and serving here.”
Riverside continues to develop new leaders and potential church planters through hands-on ministry experience, studies in Systematic Theology, an expository preaching workshop, and discipleship training.
This, the pastor said, and all ministry starts with the need to get people beyond church attendance and to a place where they have a real and intentional relationship with Jesus.
“We are people equipping people to reflect the transformational love of Jesus,” the pastor said. “If we are doing that, we are walking in obedience to Jesus, and the new church plants and everything else flows out of that.”
Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.