By Tobin Perry
INDIANAPOLIS – Three years ago Barry Rager was the pastor of a small Kentucky church. Most of his days were centered on important church business. He prepared sermons, visited sick members and mediated church disputes. All good work. All important work. All kingdom work.
“I was kind of like the coach saying, ‘Hey, reach the people you are with,’ but I wasn’t actually the one doing it,” Rager says.
Three years later, and his life couldn’t be more different. Living in the midst of the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood of Indianapolis’ inner core, his mission field is everywhere.
A trip to Indianapolis for the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention first opened Ragers eyes to the needs of the city. It wasn’t until 2012 that James Edwards came to him with an offer: “We want to plant a church in a major U.S. city, and we want you to be the planter.” Rager didn’t have to think hard about which city.
Edwards, pastor of Pleasant Valley Community Church, and the congregation felt the call to plant a church in an urban city, which eventually led to a strong calling for a church plant in Indianapolis. Edwards had met the Ragers on a playground where a strong friendship was formed. For years, the Ragers and Edwards encouraged and supported each other and their separate ministries. When Pleasant Valley felt God tell them to plant a church, they prayerfully considered who would lead the church plant.
“Barry Rager’s name continued to surface,” said Edwards. Pleasant Valley asked the Ragers to pray about planting a church in Indianapolis. “It was clear to Barry and Amy that God was calling them to plant a church in the heart of Indianapolis,” said Edwards. “Our strong inclination to partner with Barry and Amy came primarily through the leadership of the Holy Spirit.”
A once thriving city in the 1920s, by the 1960s many of the residents moved to new suburban homes, due to overcrowding. Over the next several decades, Mapleton-Fall Creek continued to struggle.
Today, 41.5 percent of residents do not have a high school diploma. A 2013 NeighborhoodScout.com article called the northern half of the area the 17th most dangerous neighborhood in the U.S.
To most, it’s a terrible trade-off. As their new neighbors fight to get out of inner-city Indianapolis, the Ragers have fought their way in.http://www.newcirclechurch.com
Once the Ragers relocated to Indianapolis, they were told it would likely take them years to connect with their neighbors and build disciple-making relationships.
“When we moved in, we decided that we were going to be as open and positive as we possibly could be,” Amy Rager says. “Most of the people around here keep their blinds shut 24-7. They’re very closed. So we thought, you know what? Our blinds are going to be open. We’re going to act like we trust these people. We’re going to do anything we can to initiate that relationship.”
Before their boxes were even unpacked, the family showed up on their neighbors’ doorsteps with freshly-baked homemade cookies. They also invited their neighbors into their home for dinner.
As they continued to build community, the Ragers eventually started worship services with 40 people attending in September 2014. That was the launch of New Circle Church, Indianapolis. A year later their worship attendance more than doubled and they had seen 22 people baptized.
Barry focuses the church on a simple-yet-comprehensive mission—introducing people to Jesus, developing gospel-centered community and commissioning them to reach people for Christ (Christ, Community and Commission).
“What I get to do is brag on Jesus and what He has done,” Rager says. “It is such an honor to brag on Jesus.”
“I think if it is never our intention to live on mission, then we won’t live on mission,” Rager says. “We have to be intentional in the way we use our time, and in the meetings we have with people.
Pray for the Ragers for:
- continued growth as they work towards being self-sustaining;
- the discipleship of new believers;
- the training and development of new leadership;
- the projected first church plant of New Circle Church in 2016 or 2017.
Send North America: Indianapolis, part of the North American Mission Board’s national church planting strategy, benefits from the generous gifts to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® and the Cooperation Program. Rager receives support through the offering as well.
The goal for the 2016 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is $70 million. To learn more about the Week of Prayer, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and how your church can be mobilized to push back lostness in North America, visit anniearmstrong.com. To read about the other 2016 featured missionaries, visit anniearmstrong.com/missionaries-2016.
Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.