At Thrive Church Network, we love highlighting network partners who are making a difference in their communities. Recently, we had the chance to speak with Pastor Brian Phillips for an interview about The Grove Church and their journey to acquire a building.
TCN: Brian, tell me a little about your ministry journey. What led you to the Grove?
Brian: In 2000 I was called to plant a church, I didn’t like that. My wife and I were evangelists for many, many years, but the Lord kept putting it on my heart. Slowly, the passion started to develop. Then I started asking why He would want me to plant a church.
In 2005, Dan Betzer was speaking on Pentecostal churches at family camp in Carlinville. He was talking about how Pentecostal is another word for harvest. That night, God told me I am His harvester. I stopped asking Him why and started asking Him where He would want me to go.
Soon after, a business friend called and said if I started a church in St. Louis, he would help fund it. Later that afternoon, someone called from Florida asking me to plant a church there. Then I got another opportunity to plant a church in San Francisco.
I was raising funds in Carlinville, IL, at the time because I was still there as a missionary. I was headed to Rockford to do fundraising when God told me to meet with a gentleman and tell him that I was going to plant a church. We met at five in the morning at Cracker Barrel. I told my friend, “God told me to tell you that I’m going to plant a church and I don’t know why I’m telling you, but He told me to.” The man starts crying right in front me. God had given him a dream of a real and powerful church in Poplar Grove. He was saying, “I can see the building, I can see the people.” Then he was acting like I was gonna plant the church in Poplar Grove! I told him I wasn’t doing it because I had other opportunities.
I told my wife about everything and to pray about the opportunities for thirty days, and after that we would see where we were led. After thirty days, I asked her and we both had peace about Poplar Grove. That was where God wanted us to go. We moved there with little money and I didn’t have a job. We moved in August 2006, had six months to launch the church, and I got paid through different strangers who would give me a check for five hundred or a thousand dollars. By 2009, there were 250 people in the church.
TCN: What challenges did you face in this ministry position?
Brian: God was setting me up. In 2009 the Holy Spirit visited me in a very penetrating way and wrecked my life, and wrecked my church, and wrecked everything! The Holy Spirit confronted me saying, “You’re jaded to Pentecost. You’re Pentecostal on paper, but you’re not Pentecostal in practice.” That one wasn’t fun to digest because he was right. I had a couple options. I could harden my heart and keep my church at 250 and maybe take it to 500, or I could repent, change my ways, and transform, and then my life would be in His hands — no matter what the church did.
I see a cancer forming in the church. The church is being shaped by culture. The church isn’t shaping culture. That night, I repented like never before at my kitchen table. God asked, “Why are you jaded towards Pentecost? You don’t have to fear man. You fear Me and Me alone. I’ll take you into the earth and you’ll be the salt, you’ll be the light, you’ll be something that shapes and penetrates the hearts of men and penetrates the culture.”
The church of 250 was bringing in an average seven grand a week. Everyone didn’t quite adapt to the new message. Over the course of about eight months, we went down to fifty people and down to $40,000 in the red, and my wilderness began. Four years of wilderness. Four years of my performance not getting me anywhere.
The Lord told me that nothing I do is going to work. I was gonna shut the doors to the church. I thought, “Okay Lord, you brought me here and you killed me and now we’re just gonna shut this thing down and you can take me on my next assignment.”
I honestly thought that was what the Lord was going to do. The funding was gone. Everyone who was supporting us left.
And then one day I drove by a building. The building was built in 2004 and used to be the largest bar in Boone County. It was a party bar, a hoedown bar. The owner was a pagan. She worshipped the pagan gods.
TCN: Can you tell me a little more about your church’s journey and how the building was acquired?
Brian: Well, I drove past this building, and the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, “I’m going to give this building to you for The Grove Church.” He started giving me prophetic words from all these international missionaries that would come. They would all say the same thing:”You want this to be a powerful house to save, heal, and deliver and send and train people into the nations — to be living water.”
It took a year and a half to get that building from the time the Lord spoke it. Our church was getting down to about thirty by now. Offerings were about eight-hundred dollars a week.
We went round and round with the bank. The bank said, “No, no, no, the price is too low.” They finally let the building go for $250,000 - they finally said yes. I wrote a contract and the board was in on it. We had no money, we were $35,000 in the hole at the time, but we had a contingency. We had eight weeks. We had a window of eight weeks to get a quarter of a million dollars. And the Lord said, “I’m gonna give you this property,” and I believed that He was gonna give it to us. So I prayed.
There’s a family that we reached in the church that were hardcore drug addicts. They had come into the church and were born again and set free from drugs almost instantaneously. Their family started to come along and got born again. This family doesn’t cue me in too much, but the day I announced it to the church that the Lord was gonna give us this property, 1.5 years later the family calls and says to meet them at Starbucks. So I went and a lady from the family sat across from me at the table and asked how much I got the contract for. I said $250,000. This lady, a dear friend, takes out her checkbook with tears streaming down her face and tells me that the day I announced at The Grove about the building we were looking at, the Lord told her to buy the property for the church. So she writes a check for $250,000 and puts it in my hands.
TCN: What would you say the church has learned through this experience?
Brian: They’ve learned that God is the builder of His house. We had 30 or 40 people and were $30,000 in debt. Watching all of this and seeing it happen, shows people in deep ways that God is alive. They learned three main things — that God is the builder, we can hear from God, and we need to obey Him.
TCN: What have you learned through your time at the Grove?
Brian: Like I said, I’ve learned first and foremost that the Lord is the builder of His house and God is in control of this ministry. The second thing I’ve learned is to hear His voice and to obey.
TCN: What do you love most about what you do at The Grove?
Brian: The thing I love most is the freedom I have to pursue the presence of God. I get to live that lifestyle. It’s a great benefit to what we do as pastors.
I also like leading people, creating and building strong leaders, and believing in the everyday average person.
TCN: What have you seen God do in your church and in the community?
Brian: I’ve seen God take what we did for five years at the church, from setting up and tearing down in a high school, and I’ve seen God call this church into existence. The Lord promises in scripture that He will rebuild His name. I’ve seen God tear down a system and a structure of darkness in the community. The bar was the largest bar in Boone County. Marilyn Manson had played there in the middle of nowhere. God tore down that system of darkness and built His house of presence. Through this church, He took us from being gypsy types to landowners. The community has been blessed through The Grove by this.
Knowing God can do all of that in the worst circumstances of the earth, in my lifetime, is awesome.