Church's 'Radical Experiment' Shakes Up Ala. City

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The city of Birmingham is in the middle of a radical experiment, spurred on by one of its churches -- the Church at Brook Hills and its pastor, Dr. David Platt.

"There's certainly nothing going on in this church that's attributed to my wisdom or my experience or competence or anything else," Platt told CBN News. "Any good thing is attributable to His Glory alone. The prayer was 'God let me make a difference for You that is utterly disproportionate to who I am.'"

Platt said God put in his heart an overflow of personal conviction - an overflow that he shared with his 4,000-member congregation and through his book, "Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream."

The New York Times bestseller asks the question, "Do you believe that Jesus is worth abandoning everything for?" And from this pastor's inward look sprouted a church's outward focus on Birmingham and the world.

"Over four and a half billion people who at this moment are without Christ and are on a road that leads to a crisis eternity, and that's an urgent spiritual need on top of urgent physical need," Platt stressed.

Back to the Bible

So the Church at Brook Hills began "The Radical Experiment" by going back to the Bible.

The Book of Acts describes the early church as selling their property and possessions to give to anyone in need. One of the experiment's main challenges involves sacrifice and setting a cap on your lifestyle. Families were encouraged to limit the amount they spend on themselves.

Sacrificing for a set purpose for several people in the church has meant selling their suburban homes and moving to inner city neighborhoods in Birmingham. To them, it's a way to share the Gospel and free up resources to bless others.

"When we bought our house in the suburbs, we weren't thinking about our neighbors," church member Ben DeLoach explained.

Ben and Kylie DeLoach and Paul and Jessica Ward said God led them to move to East Lake, a Birmingham neighborhood known for crime, drugs, and poverty.

"We were not being intentional about where we lived as far as advancing the Gospel goes," DeLoach said. "When we bought this house we were, and that makes all the difference."

They're already seeing results.

"If they call, we can be five minutes away, instead of an hour away," Kylie DeLoach explained. "So, yes, we've been able to work with several families -- single mother families."

"It's fun and exciting and hard, and sometimes overwhelming, but not scary and uncertain," church member Jessica Ward said.

"There's a peace knowing that we are following God and the comfort that kind of shelter provides," her husband, Paul, explained.

Caring for Orphans, Widows

Another key inspiration for "The Radical Experiment" is the Book of James, which says, pure religion, according to God, is to care for orphans and widows. Church members have committed to taking care of every foster child in their county.

Gene and Benita Bussell adopted twin boys.

"Just like our own story and salvation -- how God takes us, gives us a new name, and gives us a hope that we wouldn't have had without Him. He's done that for Evan and Neil," said Benita Bussell, as tears of joy ran down her face.

Church members Jake and Blair Kelley have two foster children. Jake said "The Radical Experiment" is bringing about racial healing as well.

"Our children are African American, and I was raised in an all-white city in rural Alabama. And there are days. I'll go days without thinking my child is black," Jake Kelley told CBN News.

"People will give us looks sometimes at the mall, and sometimes I wonder, 'What are you looking at?,'" he continued. "But then I realize, we don't look like everyone else, and we do kind of draw a crowd."

Giving More Time

"The Radical Experiment" isn't just about reaching Birmingham. Pastor Platt also encourages his congregation to give about two percent of their time each year, or about one week, to serving in a different context.

For many, that means an overseas missions trip in places like Sudan and India.

"(It was) the first time that we had ever seen children who were dying of diarrhea," church member Spencer Sutton said. "They took us about a mile down a dirt path to a cesspool, and they said, 'This is where we get water.'"

Going radical for church member Spencer Sutton has meant starting the non-profit organization known as Neverthirst.

"God told us pretty clearly that the way that we're going to support the local church in difficult areas is through clean water," Sutton said.

"It's just really refreshing that we don't need the biggest and the best," Kelley said. "We can use our resources in a way to further the Kingdom, and that's just been amazing to see the Body of Christ come to live that out."

Keeping it in Balance

Regent University professor Dr. James Flynn said it's refreshing to see this move by the younger generation, but he cautions against imbalance.

"We could begin to emphasize the works," Flynn explained. "It could become a social gospel. It could become all about the works rather than about the Gospel itself, but God is just going to have to take these young champions and give them wisdom on how to lead and to guide the movement."

When Platt began preaching on going "radical," some members left his church. Now he says there are more people at the church than when he started. In addition, numerous churches around the world have expressed interest in starting "The Radical Experiment" with their congregations.

"My life is to be spent for the spread of this Gospel in a world of urgent spiritual and physical need," Platt said.

*Original broadcast December 22, 2010. 

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Mark Martin

Mark Martin

CBN News Reporter

Mark Martin is a reporter and anchor at CBN News, covering various issues from military matters to alternative fuels. Mark has reported internationally in the Middle East and traveled to Bahrain to cover stories on the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkMartinCBN and "like" him at