A Growing Burden
We exist largely because of the burden of Bob Potter, who pastored Grace Church of Mentor from 1972-2005. In the early 90s the Lord began convincing him of the need to go on the “offensive” and start planting churches in Northeast Ohio. He felt that conservative churches had for too long focused almost exclusively on Gospel defense (which is crucial but not sufficient for church health). He was also convinced of the need for churches to be more unified, frequently saying, “The only thing that distinguished churches is the New Testament was geography.” In 1995 he planted a Bible church in Parma (now Southwest Community Baptist). In 1997 the Lord burdened him for Madison. God has since used Pastor Potter and Grace Church of Mentor to plant five churches in this area.
A “Chance” Meeting
Chris Anderson, a seminary student from Colorado, happened to cross paths with Tim Potter, the assistant pastor at Grace Church, after a Bible Conference service at BJU in South Carolina. God had given Chris a burden to plant a church, but Chris wasn’t sure where. God had given Grace Church a burden to hire a church planter, but they weren’t sure who. Voila! The rest is history. Pastor Chris frequently reminded Tri-County of Proverbs 16:9: “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”
A Bible Study in Harpersfield
Grace Church brought Chris on staff in July 1997, and within a month he started a weekly Bible study in the Simcic’s home, praying Christ’s promise in Matthew 16:18: “Lord Jesus, use the clear, Spirit-empowered teaching of Your Word to build Your church.” The Bible study continued and grew throughout the next year.
First Worship Service
October 4, 1998
We held our first service in the lecture hall at Madison High School, about sixty people attending. By the holidays our regular attendance was around thirty believers, about half of them were from Grace: believers from this area who had been driving 25 – 50 miles one way to worship in Mentor. Although we are now entirely independent of Grace Church, we continue to be filled with thankfulness for their exemplary heart for the Gospel and for their significant investment in our congregation. Every year since our founding, we have a special luncheon to celebrate our anniversary on the first Sunday of October.
April 1, 2000
On April Fool’s Day 2000, we officially started the church. No joke! About 30 believers covenanted together to form an independent congregation, adopting a church covenant, Constitution, Statement of Faith, & began supporting our first missionary church planter, Dave Saxton (who has since established an independent church in Cuyahoga Falls).
The Next Decade
As anyone who’s experienced it knows, church planting is fraught with challenges. We’ve had our share of heartbreaking setbacks. Despite the hardships, we’ve seen consistent, healthy growth: each year seeing the Lord save a few individuals, baptizing several, and adding about five to ten believers to the church. Other milestones throughout the first decade included the following: the leadership team grew in 2002, we purchased ten acres of land in 2004, called an assistant pastor in 2005, began Every Member Ministry (EMM) Bible studies in 2006, added four deacons in 2008, and built a new facility in 2010. We continue to rely on Jesus’ invincible promise: “I will build My church.”
Calling Our Second Pastor
After 15 years of faithful pastoral ministry at Tri-County, Chris sensed that God was leading him to revitalize a congregation in the greater Atlanta area. Between August – October 2012 Tri-County determined to call Joe Tyrpak, to assume the role of lead pastor. Joe had served as the assistant pastor for seven years. The church voted 98% to call him, and Chris stayed for two more months to help Joe with the transition of leadership. Joe accepted the church’s call as from the Lord, praying the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:24: “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
A Current Snapshot
Tri-County’s current weekly attendance is about 150 people. We have just over 100 members. We currently have three elders and five deacons, and currently partner with five foreign church-planters—in Germany, Panama, Wales, and in restricted access countries within the 10/40 window.
We are praying that the Lord would save 20 individuals from our community within the space of one year, and that they’d be baptized and added to the church. We will pray for this kind of outpouring of God’s Spirit until He does it or until He comes. At the start of 2013 Pastor Joe said, “The best days for Tri-County are ahead of us, not behind us. May we thank God for the past, but may we not live in the past! We’ve got new ministry to pursue and new memories to make. Let’s ‘forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead’ (Philippians 3:13). As missionary Adoniram Judson famously said, ‘The future is as bright as the promises of God,’ and, Tri-County, we’ve only scratched the surface; we’re a young church! Let’s press on together.”