Zac VanderLey– Staff Writer
Sommer Schaap walked into Kinsey Elementary with a handful of her friends on Sunday morning, April 18. She took a seat on a folding chair in the cafeteria. Then, Pastor Travis Else greeted the congregation of Good Shepherd for the first time.
The entire cafeteria had filled up and extra tables and chairs were added to accommodate the additional attendees. Because no nursery was offered, young children sat with their parents throughout the entirety of the service.
“I went because I wanted to hear Travis Else preach again,” said Schaap, a sophomore theatre arts major. “I wondered what he would do with his own church.”
In addition to Schaap, a collection of other Dordt students and faculty attended the opening of the new church. Aaron Baart, Dordt University chief of staff and dean of chapel, also attended the opening of Good Shepherd. Though Baart is not on Good Shepherd’s steering committee (his wife is), he has spent extensive time helping plant churches. He hopes to encourage his friend, Travis Else, and provide him with thoughts and cautionary tales.
“There’s a lot of cool possibilities,” Baart said regarding Good Shepherd. “Something new can be helpful.”
According to Baart, there has not been a new church in Sioux Center for twenty-five years—especially one like Good Shepherd that appealed to a wide audience. Baart sees the church as an entity that can address the needs of the part of Sioux Center that does not regularly attend church on Sunday—which is around half the population.
Else’s wife and teenage children led worship with a single microphone and piano. Pastor Else delivered his message much closer to the congregation, which Schaap enjoyed. In addition to the more laid-back approach to worship, Good Shepherd also featured a large portion of liturgy.
“It was pretty casual but an intimate style of worship,” Schaap said.
Attendees were given large bulletins with call-and-response readings, information regarding the church’s core values, and the schedule of the service.
Good Shepherd comes roughly a month-and-a-half after Else’s last sermon at First Reformed Church. First Reformed is located on the same street as Good Shepherd—only six houses down the road.
“We need to be continued to be fed,” said Else in a Facebook video uploaded April 12.
The attendance of his church is not a concern, Else claimed in the video, though he said he cares about everyone who decides to attend Good Shepherd. Else applied to several churches across the United States but decided, without conducting a focus group or asking around to gauge interest, to start a new church in Sioux Center.
Else had a desire to create. And, according to the Facebook video, was exhausted with worship wars and the idea that the church needs to continue to renovate. Else also was clear that Good Shepherd would be highly liturgical: built . . . upon 2,000 years of orthodoxy.
The three pillars of the church are word, table, and community—communion is administered every Sunday to any baptized, professing believer who seeks to partake.
Else’s first sermon was titled “The Shepherd cares for His Sheep,” and connected Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd) to John 10:11-21 (I am the Good Shepherd). Else explained the Shepherd, Christ, gives rest and peace to his sheep.
Schaap recalled Else preaching about how people today are drowning in their freedom and possibility in a world that cannot satisfy their desires.
The service featured no screens and no high-powered lighting.
“I’m still church shopping, but I enjoyed Else’s preaching style, and I’m interested to see how the church progresses,” Schaap said.
Good Shepherd, Baart hopes, can appeal to those who have had bad experiences with the church in the past or feel left out within the broader community. The liturgical aspects of Good Shepherd, he noted, can help ground a church in timeless truths.
One of the main draws of Good Shepherd for Baart and his family is the church’s goal to function as a multicultural bridge, specifically desiring to include a diverse congregation. Baart’s kids are excited, and he loves to hear them express joy in church community.
“Historically, the presence of God is encountered in community,” Baart said. “This experience with God is different than in our own devotional practices.”
Pastor Travis Else declined to comment for this story, citing a desire for his church to keep a low-profile.
Sometimes God’s biggest work happens behind the scenes. Thanks for writing this piece!