HUNTSVILLE—Covenant Fellowship in Huntsville functions as a hybrid multicampus church as a means to give birth to autonomous congregations across the state and the nation.
While he was pastor of First Baptist Church in Huntsville, David Valentine led the congregation
to minister within the prisons located in and around the city and to join other churches to minister to ex-offenders as they were released. Members focused primarily on ministry to correctional staff, but few staff joined the established church.
“Then I realized that the institutional church is not equipped to handle the needs,” he said. “The best way was to start new churches.”
In 2008, Valentine began Covenant Fellowship with the help of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. With the BGCT, First Baptist Church of Deer Park and Union Baptist Association, Covenant Fellowship began starting house churches.
The state’s prison population stands at roughly 154,000 throughout the year, with about 70,000 brought into the system and an equal number released each year, Valentine said.
“Our work built trust with the state, and then the state asked if we would assist them with prisoners to lower the recidivism rate,” he explained. “Our biggest goal is how to minister to those impacted by the criminal justice system.”
Covenant Fellowship touches every group connected to the system in some way—inmates, staff, ex-offenders and the families of each.
The ministry is built around life transformation groups, meeting at the prison and in several other locations. Covenant Fellowship trains leaders and tracks each group. Church leaders make sure ex-offenders are put in touch with a group in his or her home area once they have been released.
The fellowship also connects each group to a church or an association in its network of about 70,000 entities. As each life transformation group matures, it becomes a house church. “Our goal is for them to be autonomous churches,” Valentine said. “God didn’t call us to be the administrative center. … We’re just trying to identify the cluster groups and then are developing leaders.”
Currently, Covenant Fellowship has about two dozen life transformation groups through which it ministers. The church offers a celebration service each Sunday. “But our main aim is to move people to the small groups,” he said, adding that many prefer only the small group atmosphere.
Once an ex-offender is released, the entities affiliated with the fellowship’s network in the area help him or her find housing and a job. They also provide support to those who have been trained to be house church leaders and help them begin new groups as needed.
Covenant Fellowship sees God at work through the life transformation groups. About two years ago, a high-ranking gang member came to Christ and now works with other gang members. The church also baptized 100 individuals in the system last year, Valentine said.