In 2004, Giotis Kantartzis explored how his church could engage their city (Athens, Greece) when the summer Olympics came to town. First Evangelical Athens set up a center to welcome and serve visitors in their city with Christian hospitality. This began a process by which the church began re-evaluating how they viewed the “other people” in their city. During the 2008 economic crisis, when their church was damaged during the riots, Giotis led his church to respond with compassion and engagement, rather than withdrawal and self-protection, to the distraught and angry contingent within the city’s population. He helped his congregation begin to ask how they could move toward the difficult and troubled communities in Athens with the gospel message of reconciliation.
In 2012, Glyfada was launched in one of the city’s suburbs, and in 2015, Exarchia was launched in the anarchist district in Athens. An Iranian church plant and an additional suburban church plant were launched next, along with a variety of mercy ministries to work in parallel with these churches to care for refugees, unemployed youth, and other vulnerable people in Athens. Giotis Kantartzis, the pastor of First Evangelical Athens, and George Tolias, the pastor of Glyfada, spoke at Second’s World Missions Conference in 2017. First Evangelical Athens, with one pastor and about 400 members, had planted four churches over five years at that point, along with other mercy ministries, and it was an inspiration to our members.
Apparently, that was only phase one. As they were planting new churches, they were also building an “incubator” program, an internship model for envisioning and training new church planters. Young leaders brought into this program spent a year serving and learning about ministry in these urban, church planting settings. These churches apparently were only the beginning of their church planting vision. In the fall of 2018, Giotis and the elders of First Evangelical Athens launched The Parish church plant, a church serving those who live nearby, often homeless on the streets of Athens. Their vision is literally to take the gospel to the place where these people live, creating a church in their parish.
George Tolias in Glyfada has built a team to launch the Pagrati church plant. About thirty minutes north of Glyfada is a university area in Athens, which the leaders of his church have identified as a strategic area for a new church plant. The team has begun gathering in the area, meeting its residents and students and building friendships. They have initiated evangelistic relationships and are seeking to lead people to faith in Christ.
Alex and Tim, the pastors of Exarchia, have begun a countdown to launch the Urban Chapel in a neighboring area. While their church targets the residents of Exarchia in the heart of the anarchist district of Athens, they recognize that there are secular students who might admire the anarchists, but who are too intimidated to actually enter that area. (By way of a side note, Tim and Alex, along with the founding core team members, have literally moved into that anarchist neighborhood with their wives and young children.) Tim and Alex are now building a core team, remodeling a venue, and preparing to launch The Urban Chapel. This new church has a vision to reach students and young people who are far from the gospel but still not ready to become official anarchists.
So, what is the goal of church planting? It is not only to establish new communities that worship and serve God together, but also to establish new bases for launching communities of faith among people still far from the gospel.