Phoenix church planters turning back darkness

by Michael Smith, posted Friday, May 26, 2017 (10 months ago)

PHOENIX (BP) -- As the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) prepares to hold its annual meeting in Phoenix on June 13-14, three church planters -- all Arizona natives -- are helping to push back darkness in the Valley of the Sun.

Trey Van Camp, pastor of Heart Cry Gathering in Queen Creek, Ariz., baptized several new believers this past Mother's Day. Van Camp, an Arizona native, launched Heart Cry in January 2016 and has already baptized 27 people.
Photo courtesy of Heart Cry Gathering
Phoenix, one of the North American Mission Board's 32 Send Cities, has a great need for the Gospel, with only 12.6 percent of the city's residents affiliated with evangelical churches, according to NAMB research.

Jeremiah Semmler, CityView Church

Semmler, 38, who was born and raised in the Deer Valley area of Phoenix, planted CityView Church at a movie theater in the area in September 2015.

"CityView's mission is simple: Love God, love people and love our city," Semmler said. "We believe the love of Jesus can't be confined to the walls of a building."

The church looks for ways to connect with its community, including serving dinners to teachers at a local elementary school and delivering 500 "survival kits" to employees at 20 department stores on Black Friday.

Starting with a core team of 15, the church now has about 300 people attending two Sunday services. CityView has a vibrant children's ministry called CityKids, that ministers to more than 100 children each Sunday.

Phoenix native Jeremiah Semmler, left, planted CityView Church in 2015. Here he baptizes Nancy, one of 30 people baptized since the church began.
Photo courtesy of CityView Church
The church also invites its members to build relationships with each other by attending CityGroups that meet in homes around the city throughout the week.

CityView has celebrated more than 30 baptisms since its launch, with 10 more scheduled for the first Sunday in June.

Before planting CityView, Semmler served as the youth pastor at the nondenominational Calvary Community Church in Phoenix for more than 16 years. He didn't know much about the SBC or NAMB before being connected with NAMB Send City Phoenix missionary Monty Patton. Calvary Community is now affiliated with the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention.

Semmler says he appreciates the network and collaboration NAMB provides church planters. He is looking forward to attending his first SBC annual meeting this year.

Andrew Bailey, Palm Vista Phoenix

Andrew Bailey pastors the Phoenix campus of Palm Vista Baptist Church. The church plant launched downtown in March 2016 and is averaging 60 in worship with seven baptisms since it began.
Photo courtesy of Palm Vista Baptist Church
Palm Vista Baptist Church, which also has a campus in Surprise, Ariz., launched its campus in Phoenix in March 2016.

Bailey, 26, says that Palm Vista Phoenix is located in a transitioning community, evidenced by the fact that his church is the sixth to meet in that location in the past five years.

He says the community has many needs, which Palm Vista is trying to meet through an on-campus food pantry and by holding events in two nearby elementary schools.

Bailey and his wife Sarah recently became foster parents, and he says it is encouraging to see their passion for helping orphaned children spread to the Palm Vista congregation. The church averages 60 people in worship each Sunday and has celebrated seven baptisms since the campus' launch.

Another goal of Palm Vista Phoenix is to "do life with our community," Bailey said. To that end, the church is planning to launch midweek Bible study groups meeting in homes in the fall.

"We are blessed to be part of God's plan in Phoenix to reach out to a very broken and hurting community and show them that we care for and love them," Bailey said.

Trey Van Camp, Heart Cry Gathering

Van Camp, 25, a fourth-generation Southern Baptist pastor, launched Heart Cry Gathering on Jan. 10, 2016, at a movie theater in Queen Creek in the East Valley.

"Our vision is simple: We exist to reach and teach everyone for Christ," Van Camp said.

He has identified three God-sized dreams for Heart Cry Gathering, which is a multigenerational congregation that averages 70-80 people in its Sunday service.

First, the church is seeking to baptize 200 people within three years of its launch. Through May 21 of this year, they had baptized 27 people, including 14 from a Mormon background.

Second, Heart Cry Gathering is seeking to mobilize the students at nearby Arizona State University Polytechnic "to use their marketable skill sets all around the world for the kingdom of God." The church holds a Thursday night Bible study on campus and it plans to expand its efforts in the fall.

Third, "God has given us the dream to create a safe and loving environment for [Mormons] and atheists to come and dialogue about Jesus," Van Camp said.

All three church planters say that a challenge that comes with being a Phoenix native is making connections with churches outside of their area. They are hopeful they will be able to build relationships with out-of-state pastors during the upcoming SBC annual meeting.

Patton, NAMB's city missionary for Phoenix, is looking forward to showing off his city and sharing about the Gospel work being done there during a "Catch The Vision" (CTV) tour June 9-11.

During the NAMB-sponsored tour, SBC pastors and church leaders will explore the city to gain a greater understanding of what it means to plant churches in an urban context.

To learn more about Send North America: Phoenix and the CTV tour, visit

Michael Smith writes for the North American Mission Board.
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