Tanner Hogue likes to joke that he has yet to recruit a single person to join his church plant. 

And yet, starting early this summer, 16 adults and 15 children will relocate with Hogue and his family to Norfolk, Va., to plant Port City Church. 

“The Lord has just kind of called all of them,” said Hogue, who will serve as pastor for Port City. “They’re gonna be selling their home[s] and moving, finding new jobs …. They’re people that have been counting the cost for years.”

The team — most of whom are members of Mercy Hill Church in Greensboro — includes teachers, parents, church elders, students, children, teenagers — ordinary men and women who have sensed a call to uproot and live on mission in a new, unfamiliar home. 

“These are our best leaders … people that are all the way bought in. This is who they are,” said Andrew Hopper, pastor of Mercy Hill. “It’s a heartbreak to see them go. It’s just really hard. But at the same time, it’s so good to see these guys get the chance to live out their fullest potential and calling.”

Called to plant

For Hogue and his wife, Samantha, church planting has been a topic of conversation since becoming believers in 2011. After coming to faith while attending North Carolina State University, Hogue felt a burden that churches needed to be multiplying and sharing the gospel, just as someone had shared with him.

“I just assumed that every church should be thinking about that, or how else is the urgent message going to continue forward?” Hogue said.

A few years later, after becoming a math teacher in High Point and joining Mercy Hill, Hogue discovered a love for studying and preaching the Bible. Through opportunities given to him at Mercy Hill, Hogue spent several years learning to preach the gospel and lead within the church, eventually joining the church’s student ministry staff in 2017. 

I just assumed that every church should be thinking about that, or how else is the urgent message going to continue forward?

In the meantime, the Hogues took time every summer to travel to different cities across the country, prayerfully considering whether planting in that city was in their future.

They found Norfolk in 2020. The Hogues felt that the city — with its urban feel and diverse population — was overlooked. They sensed that God may be leading them to plant a church there.

After a season of prayer and confirmation from others and Mercy Hill, the Hogues decided to pursue church planting in Norfolk, beginning training through SendNC and Mercy Hill’s local church planting program.

“It really fell in our lap,” Hogue said. 

Called to join

Ronald Redmond is a middle school science teacher in Greensboro. He and his wife, Anali, along with their five children, have been at Mercy Hill for the past 10 years.

According to Redmond, it’s hard to be involved in Mercy Hill without having missions on your mind.

“This missional living is kind of the air we breathe at Mercy Hill,” Redmond said.

Hearing that the Hogues intended to plant a church was not surprising to Redmond. Having served in student ministry with Hogue before returning to the classroom, they often spoke about church planting.

What did surprise Redmond, however, was that about a year and a half after hearing about the church plant, he and Anali both felt confirmation from God that they should join the Hogues. 

“We had prayerfully considered every church plant that Mercy Hill had sent out,” Redmond said. “Once we began to pray, it was abundantly clear that the Lord was calling us — both my wife and I felt the exact same way about it.”

My response has been that Jesus is worth it. He left the comforts of heaven to come down for us, and ultimately I do believe that Ηe is worth it to lay down these things.

The Redmonds’ story is not unique to them. One by one, other Mercy Hill members committed to join the church plant.

Greta Griswold, for instance, was ready to commit after a season of prayer while serving as a missionary in Asia. As she worked overseas, she felt that God was leading her to pursue law school, and Port City revealed itself as a unique opportunity for her to live on mission while pursuing graduate school in the Norfolk area.

“Sometimes it’s really easy for churches and other people to look at church plants and be like, ‘Man, that’s a special group of people — I can’t do that,’” Griswold said. “[Really,] it’s just a group of people who believe the Lord is who He says He is and is going to do what He says He is going to do.”

Griswold will be moving to Norfolk over the summer to join Port City and begin studying law at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., a city adjacent to Norfolk. 

“It’s not about the skillset or giftings of the group of people, but just the faithfulness of God,” Griswold said. “If God is who He says He is, then anybody can do that.”

Several other families plan to move over the summer alongside Griswold and the Redmonds, including a family with two teenagers and two younger children, a student from N.C. State University and several other couples, singles and families. One member — who happens to be one of Hogue’s first students from his time in ministry — will study online at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary while serving at Port City.

“There have been some people who have looked at me and kind of said, like, ‘Man, why would you do this? There’s a lot going for you where you are,’” Redmond said. “And, man, to be honest, my response has been that Jesus is worth it. He left the comforts of heaven to come down for us, and ultimately I do believe that Ηe is worth it to lay down these things.”

Called to go

On May 7, Mercy Hill will officially commission Port City during their morning service. As he and his church prepare to send Port City out, Hopper hopes that more regular, everyday church members will feel the same sort of call to go.  

“I just think that average, everyday North Carolina Baptists that are leaving for the sake of the mission is just so in line with the book of Acts,” Hopper said. “These church plants, the secret of them … is these teams that are going out [who] are just everyday people that are gonna say, ‘I’m gonna move my life for the sake of the mission.’”

For the members moving to Norfolk, the decision to go has been a leap of faith, according to Hogue. But Hogue is grateful that he does not need to be an “expert” before moving in obedience.

“If we all wait until we have experience to feel confident taking on something new, we might not ever go,” Hogue said. “Everything is a first at some point. Whether it’s sharing the gospel with that coworker for the first time, or changing what neighborhood you live in for missional purposes — you’re going to have to face that impostor syndrome in the face, even in the small, day to day.

“I think the big leaps — the going overseas, the church planting, whatever it is — is just a product of how many times we allow that little leap to unfold.”