By Emily Chenevert
Heather and Brian Cromer never set out to plant a church. They were pastors at a small church in Texas for years, and the idea of planting a church wasn’t even on their radar. Little did they know, a mission trip to China would become the bridge to a future relationship with ARC and their undiscovered dream to plant a church.
“We went on a mission trip to China with about 30 country kids, and there was another church there,” says Brian. “We didn’t know that churches like that even existed.”
Called Church of the Highlands, its pastor, Mark Pettus, became good friends with Brian. Brian was connected to an ARC church in Oklahoma City through that relationship, but his desire to plant a church would come later.
“I was on staff overseeing student ministry at Gateway Church in Dallas, Texas, when God spoke to me,” Brian says, describing to his wife, Heather, feeling as if he were pregnant with something that kept growing.
“It was a little over four years ago—the first time God spoke church planting to us,” Brian explains. “We walked through a process together for about six months, and if it were God, He needed to speak to her about this as well,” he says, referring to Heather.
God confirmed it to Heather, too, and it was then that they gave their dream to God and began to share it with their fellow leadership at Gateway.
Brian says, “In a meeting, I showed the leaders my phone and said, ‘This is my desire and hope to plant a church.’ I slid the phone across the table to them and stated, ‘I give it to you first and won’t pick it up until it’s time.’”
At that point, the Gateway leadership team was in a training behind closed doors at the church. Brian was still one of the lead student pastors there, but it was only a matter of time until he would be released.
As for Heather, her hesitations had to do with figuring out her role and challenges with their oldest son Jordan. Heather and Brian had just walked through a difficult season when they realized Jordan was on the autism spectrum, and they were focused on how to help him.
“I said, ‘I will never do this,’” recalls Heather. “It was a shock. I told God that I knew He could do it, but I said, ‘You know that means I have to do this, too.’ I had to pray through what that would look like for me and what my part would be. It was more like—can I trust Him with our children? With everything we had been doing—getting our son into good routines and thriving and succeeding—and now it seemed He was telling us, ‘I want you to move your family and Jordan’s consistency.’ A lot of the things they teach you with autism is opposite of what they teach you when it comes to what church planting will look like. That was my biggest issue—trusting that He could take care of it,” she explains.
Heather kept seeking God and received several confirmations along the way that it was going to be okay.
“Eventually you have to close your eyes and jump,” she says. “At some point, I knew it wasn’t about the fears; I didn’t want fears to choke out what God was trying to speak to me. I had some moments, especially with Jordan, when God spoke clearly to me that He was going to be an asset in the process and that He was made for this,” says Heather.
Heather and Brian felt that God was leading them to learn even more before they launched. Brian went to Church of the Highlands and traveled back and forth from Dallas to Birmingham until they moved there as a family. For Heather, it was a time when she noticed that Jordan began to truly thrive. She connected to a woman at Church of the Highlands who was an expert in autism, which changed everything.
“God gave me the word ‘adventure,’ and I created a trifold calendar and made our journey an adventure,” Heather says. “While we were at Highlands, we saw so many miracles, including Jordan. He tested out of needing special school, and although he is still on the scale, he doesn’t need special attention. He helped lead worship in kids’ church. If you direct him, he is good at helping people feel welcome,” she explains.
The Cromer family walked through a lot of learning and planning, and then their Gateway leadership said it was time. But they still weren’t sure which city.
“The number one question people always asked us was where, not why,” Brian says. “Similarly, whenever God spoke, we were asking, ‘Where?’ We didn’t know. There was a silhouette on the horizon, and I knew something was there, so I had to walk in faith toward it,” says Brian.
“When we walked through the church planting process, we felt like it was our job to put ourselves in a position to hear,” he continues. “We had been doing ministry for a while and had learned a lot about ourselves. We approached God and asked, ‘What are some things you are doing in us, in our family? Help us to know in what type of city we would thrive.’ He gave us some filters. We put every city through those filters.”
Heather and Brian felt that there were three possible cities, so they spent time in all three.
“We tried to spend as much time in those cities as we could,” says Brian. “We studied them. We vacationed in those cities.”
However, Brian kept going back to something Pastor Chris Hodges told him regarding planting their church.
“I constantly had his voice in my head saying, ‘Don’t go anywhere until you have supernatural love for that city—until you would go and buy your burial plot in that city.’”
That city was Cincinnati. Although they didn’t know anyone there or have any connections, Heather and Brian knew Cincinnati was where God was calling them.
Brian says, “We discovered this beautiful city filled with amazing people, beautiful scenery, rich history, and culture. It’s also a broken city. Do a quick Google search, and you’ll find terrible statistics on poverty, crime, segregation, and decline in church engagement. Cincinnati is the fifth most racially divided city in the US. We feel we are to be a bridge builder to reach a generation.”
Heather and Brian started the ARC launch process and moved to Cincinnati. They built their team and launched Queen City Church in September 2018.
“I believe that the presence of a life-giving local church can turn those numbers upside down,” Brian says. “We already are experiencing Ephesians 3:20: ‘Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.’ It’s unreal. We are having the time of our life like I have never felt.”
When asked about the impact ARC has had on them, the word “family” stands out for both Heather and Brian.
Heather says, “I remember the first time I got to go to the ARC Conference. I felt so welcomed and like family. I thought, ‘These people get me,’ and I didn’t really do anything. When Brian first talked to me about planting, the ARC Women’s Podcast helped me. There wasn’t a set mold—the women looked so different, and ARC celebrates that. For me, that podcast was an amazing resource.”
“It’s family; it’s my tribe,” says Brian. “My spiritual fathers and brothers are in ARC. I couldn’t imagine doing this without ARC, and I don’t want to. We refuse to live life alone. I remember that statement at ARC—a seat at the table. I love that because it’s the heart of what ARC can provide to someone. You feel it. You experience it.”
Brian and Heather Cromer are the lead pastors of Queen City Church in Cincinnati, OH (ARC Church Plant number 782.) Their vision is to reach all people and teach them to have a relationship with God that gets better and better. They are expectant for what God is going to do in their city through Queen City Church. To learn, more visit queencitypeople.com.