Perseverance through rocky start pays off in church planting

Date Posted: 7/8/2021

 
By Lindsay Peyton  - En Español
 
The news about the Rev. Alex Zeisig’s new appointment was disconcerting at best. He was scheduled to become pastor at an already established church plant – the west campus at St. Peter’s UMC Katy. The congregation was struggling, and attendance waning, because the plant had lost its previous pastor, resulting in a schism. Zeisig, however, was undeterred. In fact, his commitment to the members who remained only grew stronger.
 
Regularly, before Zeisig arrived, Lead Pastor, the Rev. Pat Sparks at St. Peter’s main campus, 20775 Kingsland Blvd, would call and report the number of members in the church plant’s pews. “And every time, attendance would drop,” he recalled. “It went from 250 to 80 to 50 to 30.”
 
Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the challenge ahead, Zeisig became more resolved. “Every week, my heart just grew with love for these people who I knew were hurting and were willing to persevere.”
 
Those individuals who remained at the church plant lost a pastor, then a worship leader. They were upset about the schism in their own congregation and seemed disconnected from the main campus of St. Peter’s UMC.
 
At the same time, the remaining members were fiercely dedicated to their congregation, the Wesleyan tradition and St. Peter’s. Before Zeisig arrived in mid-May 2017, he called each person individually. He told them, “I would love to meet you. I know it’s been a hard time, but I believe God is still moving.”
 
Then, Zeisig scheduled countless coffees with members. He asked, “What does being faithful look like to you? What do you believe in?”
 
“What happens in a time of crisis is people start to ask, ‘Who are we?’” the pastor explained.
 
The church plant had been meeting at Cinco Ranch High School. Shortly after Zeisig’s appointment, Hurricane Harvey struck. Operations shut down for three weeks after the storm. More families left the congregation.
 
“But God moves in even the most broken circumstances,” Zeisig said. “I think of it like stained glass. He takes the broken pieces and knits them together into a work of art.”
 
In fact, there was a silver lining in Harvey, Zeisig explained. The two campuses of St. Peter’s united to muck and gut houses.
 
“It was a reminder of the community’s unity,” the pastor said. “It was a reminder of what our churches can do together. It was also a reminder that we’re not alone. We’re not 32 people on our campus. We’re 1,000 people, all together at St. Peter’s.”
 


In 2018, the Sunday School at St. Peter’s main campus began to help set-up sessions on the west campus. They often send about a dozen volunteers for a period of almost a year. “It shows the strength of what having a second campus can mean, as well as the resources a large church can provide,” Zeisig said.
 
Before he arrived, the church had purchased about 11 acres of land at 4700 FM 1463, with dreams of eventually building a congregation. But the tumultuous period had caused the project to go on hold.
 
Now, church attendance was again on the rise. Zeisig clearly remembers the first time in February 2019, when 17 new families arrived. The individuals who remained at the church all that time came up to their pastor afterwards with tears of joy.
 
“This thing they wanted so much started to manifest,” Zeisig said. “God is here. God is with us. We are moving forward on this vision.”
 
That meant it was finally time to build on the land. The first step involved launching a capital campaign; next, the planning stage began. “We were moving forward with the architect and general contractor and committed to breaking ground in June,” Zeisig said.
 
Then, COVID-19 hit. Instead of halting the project, the congregation voted to more forward.
 
“The opportunity to reach people out in West Katy and Fulshear was still there,” Zeisig said. “We went from 2017, when we wondered, should we even do this, to being in the throes of the early pandemic and saying we should definitely do this.”
 
Before COVID-19, attendance had reached an average of 150 to 180 people on Sundays. By the time the new building opened in March, 200 people showed up for the soft opening. “I called Pat afterward, ‘We need a second service,’” Zeisig recalled.
 
For the grand opening, he added a 9 a.m. service, and 320 people attended that day. “It’s been really good ever since,” he said. “It’s really been just incredible.”
 
In fact, new families joined and told Zeisig that seeing the new building erected during the pandemic gave them hope. They told him they would drive by the construction site and say, “When that place opens, we’re going to be there.”
 
“When everything was shut down, the Kingdom of Heaven was still being constructed,” Zeisig said. “Now, every week on Sunday, people are meeting here to glorify God and be a part of what He does.”


 
During the Texas Annual Conference, Zeisig was honored with the Eric Anderson Award, which is granted to young ministers who do outstanding work with evangelism.
 
“I had heard about the award in years past,” Zeisig said. “It’s such a rich heritage of pastors that God is using. More than anything, it’s humbling that I get to be someone who represents God’s work in the community. I’m honored to lead the people of God at St. Peter’s during this season.”
 
Not one to rest on past laurels, Zeisig is searching for ways to be the best leader during this time. The church is still in a transition – and even more so with the effects of the pandemic. The congregation now has a new home and a stronger relationship with its sister campus.
 
“How can we continue to be a redemptive force in the community?” Zeisig asks. “Now our focus is on reconnecting – with God and with each other. We’re asking the question, this is where we are, so what is the next step?”
 
“This building is not a finish line,” he continued. “It’s a starting line. We’ve done a lot to get to the starting line – and now we’re leaning into the future, where God is calling us to be.”
 
This summer, we will be featuring young leaders in the Texas Annual Conference, lay and clergy who are making a difference in their local church. If you would like to nominate someone for a story, please email communications@txcumc.og.