Dale Locke felt like the dog that chased the pickup truck and caught it, when he received the green light from his district superintendent to plant a church. The following day, his D.Min. cohort left for their trip to South Korea. Kwang-lim Church, the largest United Methodist Congregation in Korea hosted the class. Dale joined the church members in all-night prayer at the church’s Prayer Mountain, crying out to God to help him plant a church.
“About 3 a.m., I felt God very clearly say to my insecure heart, ‘If you’ll go and trust me, I will build a community of hope in Palm Beach County,’” Dale, Founding and Lead Pastor of Community of Hope, said. “And that’s where we got our name.”
The Locke family moved to Palm Beach County Florida in June of 1996 and began evangelism ministries. Community of Hope wasn’t just Dale’s thing. It was a family affair. When their daughter, Haley, was five years old, Dale packed their Honda with water and Coke to hand out to people in the city.
Dale’s wife, Beth, also an Asbury Seminary graduate and now Executive Director of Family Ministry, has been a co-laborer with him throughout his ministry.
“We all feel like it’s our church that we planted together,” Dale said. “I trust my wife and my two daughters with their advice and input.”
That fall, Dale and his wife started Community of Hope in their living room with eight people. As the church grew, they changed locations five times. Currently, Community of Hope has two campuses and five-weekend services, with an average attendance of 2000 people and more than 1400 in small groups.
“All of this happened to us, not when we were doing well, but when we were struggling,” Dale said. “A lot of times, we can read or hear about a church’s success and walk away discouraged about our own circumstance, feeling we can never experience what we witness in another situation.”
But Community of Hope’s growth was fueled by adversity. When the church was eight years old, Hurricanes Frances, Jeanne, and Wilma directly impacted the area, cutting weekly attendance from 700 to 350.
During this time, Dale remembered a phrase by Rick Warren: “All living things grow.” Dale realized he had always interpreted that phrase as numeric growth, but during this time when their attendance dropped, they began to intentionally focus on helping people grow spiritually.
“Jesus didn’t say grow a church,” Dale said. “He said, ‘Go make disciples.’ When you figure out how to do that, that will start growth in others.”
From the beginning Community of Hope has interested disinterested people in Jesus Christ and seeks to grow fully-devoted followers of Jesus. This approach focuses on the two sides of effective ministry, evangelism and discipleship. Their small groups are divided into three categories, such as traditional small groups; empowered groups that meet around issues like grief and addiction; and explore groups for those who do not identify as followers of Jesus.
Community of Hope offers what they call “door to core” discipleship.
“This is our flywheel,” Dale said. “We know what we’re good at and we just keep doing it.”
When visitors first attend Community of Hope, they can self-elect to attend Starting Point, a 20-minute experience with food and a video depicting the history of the church. A layperson also shares a testimony of how the church has impacted them. At that point, the visitors are invited to take the next step and join a Partnership Class to learn more about basic Christianity.
Dale’s greatest delight is watching visitors go from sitting on the back row, to understanding God’s love and grace, to immersing them in baptism.
“Planting Community of Hope has been the most challenging, and yet most rewarding thing we have ever done,” Dale says. “There is nothing quite like planting yourself in the middle of what God has called you to do, and working at it with all your might.
Community of Hope is currently exploring future locations. As Dale surrounds himself with younger leaders, he’s excited to mentor them in ministry as stewards of what God has given him. Dale also provides teaching around multi-site ministries and coaching with pastors in his conference and district.
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