Spotlight Interview with Curtis Cook

By Prestonwood Network Staff

Prestonwood Network: As the “godfather” of church planting, what are the three most important things that you have learned as a planter?

Curtis Cook: I have often thought of these three things as being essential: work hard; pray hard; don’t give up. Planting a church is certainly more than hard work, but it is not less than hard work. We have to be willing to devote ourselves and spend ourselves in Gospel ministry. There is certainly a danger of ministers’ working to the point of burnout, and we must be alert to that and have some safeguards. But, at the same time, an equal danger for pastors and church planters is actually not to work hard enough. What better cause in which to invest our energy than planting a church?

While planting a church is not less than hard work, it is also certainly more than hard work because it is spiritual work. Many of us, myself included, can lead toward self-reliance and sometimes lean on hard work that we can do, rather than faithfully and desperately looking to our Father in heaven. In order for our church plant to bear fruit that will last, we must be cultivating a life of prayer.

I think a spirit-empowered tenacity is important for church planting where we say that we will not give up unless it becomes abundantly clear that we must. I do think there are times when a planter may invest himself well, and there comes a time to stop the work. But I do think sometimes we give up too soon. We think short-term and have a skewed view of success, and so we give up.

Prestonwood Network: Hope Fellowship Church has now planted several success churches throughout the greater Boston area. How can a church plant become a multiplying center that is sending out pastors and leaders to plant other churches?

Curtis Cook: I think first, the church leadership has to decide this is something they really want to do, and they consider the cost. It is costly in every way to plant churches. It takes time, people, money; it’s emotionally draining and more. There is a high cost in sending out pastors, leaders and members to be a part of a plant. So, the church leadership must make a decision and then begin regularly to cast this vision to the church and help them see the cost but also the goodness of this cost. We talk about it, much as a married couple having a baby knows it is costly and exhausting, but it is a wonderful investment. I think then the church needs to start finding ways to give people the chance to grow in leading, preaching, etc. And then the church needs to decide that it is willing to send its very best people to join a new plant. I would say also that a church will likely never think they are quite ready. It’s tempting to think that we will do it in the future when we have more time, more people and/or more money. You do want to be wise, but eventually you’ll just have to step out and do it.

Prestonwood Network: What are you currently most excited about for Hope Fellowship?

Curtis Cook: I’m most excited about what’s happening broadly in greater Boston through a wide number of churches and church planters. Some of those church plants are daughter, grand-daughter and even great-granddaughter churches of Hope, and that seems crazy, but we are seeing something very significant and encouraging happen.

I’m also very encouraged by the opportunities we have had to engage in global missions in several locations around the world in the last year and how more people in our church have participated in a project than ever before.

Prestonwood Network: Why is church planting so difficult? And on the other hand, why is church planting so rewarding?

Curtis Cook: Church planting is hard for quite a number of reasons, but there are few in particular that we have seen in Boston. Church planting often involves slow and steady growth as opposed to fast growth. This can be frustrating to the planter and also to partners around the country. Church planting is also slow because you are sharing the Gospel with people who have never heard, and it takes a long time for them to explore and believe the Gospel. Church planting in cities is also very expensive, and this affects everything about the plant and the life of the planter.

It is also rewarding for many reasons. It is rewarding to see people hear the Gospel for the very first time and slowly process that Good News and then come to believe. It is rewarding to see believers mature and begin to own the mission as they serve on the ground level of a church plant where there is so much to be done. It is tremendously rewarding to see the multiplication of a church and to see real progress being made in a city.

Prestonwood Network: What would be your advice to a young church planter who is just getting started in a new city?

Curtis Cook: Begin to immediately call that city “home.” Put down roots and treat it as though it is your home, even if you have an accent from somewhere else. Let the people in that city know that your family is putting down roots there. Learn the city and seek to love the city.

I would also encourage them to humbly go and meet the other pastors in town. There may not be many churches, but there are likely some that have been there. Go and initiate a meeting with them; buy them coffee or a meal; ask them about their ministry, and humbly tell them you hope to join in the good work in that city.

I would also encourage them to immediately start thinking long-term. Don’t just consider what you can do next year, but consider what could happen over the next 10 years.

Prestonwood Network: How have you personally measured success for Hope Fellowship over the years?

Curtis Cook: This is a very important question and struggle for church planters and pastors. If we can’t do this well, we’ll end up crushed.

I’ve tried to evaluate whether we are being diligent, hard-working and faithful in what God has given us to do. Are we being generous? Are we sharing the Gospel? Are we discipling people?

As the years have gone by, I’ve seen the value of longevity in ministry and of measuring across a longer period of time rather than across a few weeks or months.

Prestonwood Network: What are a few ministries that you do to love, serve, and reach your community in Cambridge?

Curtis Cook: We provide a weekly ministry for those who are struggling with homelessness. Every Sunday evening, people can come to our church facility to share in a meal served family style, and volunteers share the meal with them as friends; they can take a shower and receive some clothes. The Gospel is also shared each week in this ministry.

We also offer free English classes for internationals. Many internationals come to our city every year, and this is one way to touch the nations.

We provide school supplies to children at the beginning of each school year.

We offer two entry points for people who are curious about Christianity. One is called Tavern Talk, and meets in a restaurant. It has an open discussion about a philosophical question, and then connects it to the Gospel. The other is a course called Christianity Explored, and it walks through the Gospel of Mark in seven weeks. It is designed for the skeptic or curious.

Prestonwood Network: How can the Prestonwood Network pray for you?

Curtis Cook: Pray for us to be faithful in our efforts, and we would love for you to pray that God would bring many conversions through the work. Pray that we would be able to continue to plant churches. Pray that, by the grace of God, our church would increasingly be multi-generational, multi-ethnic, multi-educational and that the uniqueness of the community of the Gospel would be evident.

Prestonwood Network: Thank you so much for your investment in the Prestonwood Network, the Boston area, and above all the kingdom of God. We are praying for you and for Hope Fellowship Church.

Curtis Cook serves as Senior Pastor at Hope Fellowship Church in Cambridge, MA.

More information on Hope Fellowship can be found hopefellowshipchurch.org. Please feel free to share a word of encouragement or prayer with Pastor Curtis at curtis@hopefellowshipchurch.org.