A Passion to Plant

March 27, 2024 |Peter Burgo

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Orchard Alliance partners with a coastal Maryland church to extend gospel presence. 

To commemorate 100 years of ministry in 1987, The Christian and Missionary Alliance (The Alliance) launched its Easter 100 campaign—a commitment to plant 100 new churches by Easter 1987. Island Alliance Church in the coastal Maryland town of Stevensville, was one of those churches.

But church planting was about much more than just Island Alliance’s origins. It was a key strand of the church’s DNA that lay in wait—that is, until God ignited the opportunity by calling and equipping leaders with the passion and vision to launch the effort.

Over the first few decades, the church ebbed and flowed in attendance but always remained gospel centric—wholly committed to prayer and evangelism and intentionally hospitable to its Stevensville community through outreach events and a vibrant children’s ministry. Over time, drawn by these events, people from Centreville, a small community about 20 minutes to the east, began attending Island Alliance.

It soon became clear to Tom Leonard, senior pastor of the church since 2004, that the time was right to plant a church.

It soon became clear to Tom Leonard, senior pastor of the church since 2004, that the time was right to plant a church. “When I came, I had been in church planting, and this was my first established church,” notes Tom. “I had shared with the elders when I came that church planting is a passion, it’s in my blood, and I would love to see our congregation plant another church down the road. Unfortunately, that just never became a reality until about two and a half years ago when we said, ‘If we’re going to ever plant a church, then we need to bring somebody on that can help us to do that.’ And that’s where Craig Fadel came into the picture.”


Tom Leonard

Tom Leonard


Craig Fadel

Craig Fadel

Craig, who was part of the greater Maryland shore community, had been part of several plants and a planting network.

“For me,” says Craig, “there was a strong conviction that I’m supposed to be helping plant churches—specifically here on the shore where we were. When I was in conversation with Island Alliance about a potential role for me there, that was a non-negotiable. I asked, ‘Hey, what’s the plan for church planting?’ I was thrilled when they responded, ‘Oh yeah, we would love to plant a church. We’ve been talking about it for decades.’ That was enough for me. I said, ‘All right, if we’re willing to head down that road, I’m going to push us that direction.’”

A Well-laid Foundation

“Our mission is simple: Love Jesus and love people to Jesus,” adds Tom. “We feel the best way to extend that mission is through planting churches and developing leaders. Island Alliance has always prioritized prayer, discipleship, outreach, and small group ministries. These are the things that kept us going—and even moved us forward—during COVID. But they also provided a solid foundation for training leaders and reproducing churches, which is what we were really hoping would happen sooner than later. So, in some ways, it happened faster than we expected, but it’s also been decades in the making.”

After much prayerful consideration, Tom, Craig, and Island Alliance’s elders felt God directing them to set their sights on Centreville—not just to plant a church, but to plant a “pregnant church”—that is, a church that’s planning to birth a daughter church from the outset. In this spirit, Harvest Alliance Church of Centreville sprung to life—with its sights already set on another neighboring community for the next plant.


Island Alliance Youth


Dispelling the Darkness

But Harvest Alliance wasn’t launched just to meet a church planting goal. It was planted to address deep needs of Centreville and its neighboring communities. As Tom describes it, “It is a rapidly changing area. It used to be primarily a farm community, but with the development of homes and businesses, it has become sort of like another bedroom community.”

Craig adds, “Learning about the demographics was certainly interesting and helpful, but what I found more compelling was the lack of churches in general that are healthy and reaching young people. We have also seen church plants go in and not survive. It’s a spiritually dark community—and it’s palpable. Every time I drive into Centreville, if I have my kids with me (which I usually do), we pause and pray for the Lord to break in.

“We’ve also had a significant number of people from Centreville attending Island Alliance for decades. Many of them told us they have been praying for an evangelical, Bible-preaching church in Centreville because it is a dark place and in desperate need of the light of Christ.”

In summer 2023, Island Alliance’s elders established a launch/outreach team to prepare the way. The team began making regular prayer walks through Centreville. In September, the elders, under the unity of the Spirit, announced, “It’s time. The Lord is saying, ‘Go. Go now.’ The church then entered into 90 days of unified prayer and concluded that Harvest Alliance would officially launch in early January 2024.


Establishing an Abiding Presence

God honored and blessed the decision by providing opportunities to raise the new church’s visibility in the community. Island Alliance’s summer VBS event was well attended and demonstrated the church’s desire to have a meaningful, impactful presence in the greater community. The church also participated in a county-wide musical event that helped to get the word out; and October’s Trunk-or-treat outreach event had over 700 guests in attendance.


Trunk-or-Treat Outreach


The church leaders soon realized the importance of establishing a permanent presence in Centreville to make a clear statement that “We love this community and we’re here to stay.”

“As of September 2023,” Craig explains, “we had not even officially started looking for a place. But within 90 days, we found and purchased the building that God had chosen for us. His hand was clearly at work, and Orchard Alliance helped move things forward to meet the tight time frame. The building’s lease became available in late October. We went there and walked the site as they were clearing it out from the previous lease. We said, ‘Wow, this would be a great church.’ The property owners responded, ‘Well, we don’t want to lease it. We want to sell it.’ So, we asked ourselves, Well, should we buy it? I mean, we had money in the bank and were pretty healthy financially, but this is a huge investment for a church that hasn’t done church planting before.


New Building


A “Sacred Scramble”

“We had a local bank that carried our mortgage (which has since been paid off), and they were very amenable to working with us. But Orchard Alliance offered us an equally good rate with a shared sense of mission for the Centreville community and some flexibility in our financial agreement. They worked hard to get everything to the point where we could close before Christmas. I’m not sure that would’ve happened with the local bank. Orchard came and toured the building, and it was encouraging to hear them say, ‘Wow, this is fantastic!’ It was a huge blessing to have them come and confirm everything God had been revealing to us and is leading us into.


New Sanctuary


Craig continues, “It was days before Christmas, and the building was not even ready, but we agreed to just decorate as best we could and hold the Christmas Eve service there. We didn’t try to speculate about attendance, but our preview services at the local library and the 4H Park meeting room drew 50 to 70. So, we thought, Hopefully, we’ll get a hundred—or maybe even a little more.”


New Nursery Room


But God clearly had bigger plans. 192 showed up for the largely unadvertised evening service—and this was after welcoming 296 to the morning worship!

“We are so thankful for God’s faithfulness to us,” Tom and Craig gratefully note, “and can’t wait to see how He moves as we welcome our friends and neighbors to celebrate His Resurrection this Easter.”

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