The midst of a nationwide coronavirus pandemic that has shut down churches in many locales and greatly restricted attendance in others likely isn’t the most opportune time to begin a job as director of Church Multiplication Network, the Assemblies of God resource for church planters.
But the high-energy Jeffery Portmann has faced daunting tasks before. The 7.5 million residents of Washington state comprise one of the least Christian areas of the country, where Portmann oversaw five church-planting efforts in five years, sometimes using out-of-the-box methods. As these challenging times demand, Portmann already is being creative in helping launch new congregations.
“Some principles will never change, but we must embrace innovative ways to move forward in order to connect people,” says Portmann, who succeeded Chris Railey in August. “We’re putting significant energy into providing tools and resources for launching online campuses.”
Portmann and his wife, Joanne, aren’t new to CMN, having served the ministry in various capacities for six years while pastoring newhope church in Puyallup, Washington. The Portmanns planted in the city of 42,360, located about 10 miles southeast of Tacoma, even though they knew no one there. During that span, he concurred with the church planting mission and vision of General Superintendent Doug Clay. The Portmanns also got to know Springfield-based CMN personnel such as Director of Operations John Jay Wilson, Director of Leadership Personnel John Davidson, Director of Strategic Partnerships Mike McCrary, and Director of Network Development Preston Ulmer.
“We are the beneficiaries of the vision, the resources, and the relationships of CMN,” says Portmann, 49. “We have experienced firsthand the why behind what we do. CMN has poured so much into us already.”
Portmann became a church planter in 2014 after serving on staff for 16 years at New Life Church in Renton, Washington. For 10 of those years he simultaneously worked as Northwest Ministries Network youth director and then for another two years as network church planting director. When Portmann felt the church planting nudge in 2014, Troy H. Jones, lead pastor of New Life Church in Renton since 2004, fully supported him. Jones even told anyone in the Renton megachurch who wanted to become part of the new work in Puyallup to feel free to leave.
“The health of a church is to multiply and expand the Kingdom,” says Jones, 54.
FIVE IN FIVE
Portmann carried on the tradition, as newhope in Puyallup planted campuses with different pastors in South Hill, South Kitsap, Silverdale, a campus that moved online, and a Hispanic church across the Puget Sound. Each time, Portmann followed his mentor Jones in recommending anyone who felt led to go to a new campus to do so.
Only 10 months after opening the Puyallup church, newhope launched a campus in a coffeehouse. Because the site had no place for children’s ministry, newhope arranged to house kids in a nearby school bus in which the seats had been removed and a wood floor installed, among other modifications.
“That stirred the scrappy spirit in our team,” Portmann recalls. “It forced us to be innovative, like pioneers.” Portmann believes every congregation should view itself as either a pioneering or settlement work. Settlements deploy the pioneers and provide a haven for the wounded to heal, he says.
While many view the Northwest as post-Christian, Portmann sees the region more as pre-Christian because of the lack of the penetration of the gospel in recent decades.
“We had people in our neighborhood with no living relatives who ever had been to church,” Portmann notes. “Many local residents don’t know anyone who goes to church.”
Consequently, Portmann often preached sermons demonstrating how the gospel can transform lives. He regularly chose to identify with those in the pews rather than pound home a message of condemnation from the pulpit.
“The gospel is good news for broken people — like me,” Portmann says.
Although he is 100 percent committed to CMN, Portmann remains on the teaching and advisory team of newhope.
“There is value in being an ongoing practitioner,” he says. “My heart is to stay tethered.”
One factor in keeping Washington ties is that until moving to Springfield, Missouri, for his new post, Portmann has lived his entire life there. He even received his Doctorate of Ministry from Springfield’s Assemblies of God Theological Seminary largely through a cohort conducted at the AG’s Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington. The Portmanns’ two sons also reside in Washington: Justus, a 24-year-old youth pastor with his wife, Brittany, at newhope’s hub campus, and 21-year-old Josiah, an arborist who volunteers in youth ministry.
While CMN has boosted its online presence during the pandemic, Portmann believes there is no substitute for in-person training. On-site Launch events, with the requisite social distance precautions, will continue unabated.
“Jesus developing people is always our model,” Portmann says. “He had people walk with Him.”
Portmann believes it is essential for church planters to be connected to coaches and mentors if they are to succeed.
“Almost every profession — whether it’s a welder, tattoo artist, or brain surgeon — has some kind of apprenticeship,” Portmann says. “For 3½ years, Jesus sent out people who had been called.”
Portmann, whose wife is Samoan, is encouraged that 44 percent of AG church attendees are ethnic minorities.
“Our CMN lead and field-based teams are continuing to increase in diversity,” Portmann says. “Our Launch training is a picture of heaven: young and old, men and women, people of varying ethnicities.”
Jones says he isn’t surprised that the Fellowship tapped the affable Portmann to lead its church planting efforts.
“Jeffery is a leader magnet and CMN needs someone who will attract the best and brightest leaders to plant churches,” Jones says. “He has experienced the hard knocks of church planting; it’s not just theory for him.”
Northwest Ministry Network Superintendent Don E. Ross thinks Portmann will be able to replicate on a national level what he did in the Evergreen State, which he notes is 86 percent unchurched. Ross says Portmann fully responded out of obedience to start the Puyallup church and he understood the culture of the ministry area where he planted.
“Dr. Portmann’s ability to cast vision is simply excellent,” Ross says. “He has the ability to ‘write history in advance’ through his vision casting.”
Since its inception in 2008, CMN has helped to start nearly 4,000 congregations in the AG.