Holly Springs

In 1990, Holly Springs had approximately 900 people. Today, in 2013, the population is about 26,000. The growth continues. When you look at a map (click here), Holly Springs has grown like an ameba as it infiltrates the countryside. Forests are flattened and houses are perched closely together in subdivision after subdivision. As a way to give the town a sense of identity, the council is investing in its Park and Recreation department. Bass Lake, for example, is located in town and is 90 acres body of water owned by the Town of Holly Springs. The lake provides residents a number of opportunities to engage in the outdoors. Council just approved a large sum of money for upgrades to their current facilities including the creation of a new baseball stadium. Perhaps the Blue Jays will want to find a new home for spring training in the future. In talking with a gentleman who works at Bass Lake, he says that the vision and direction of Holly Springs is incredible. Over the past few years, the town has built a beautiful colonial Town Hall, a library with a cultural arts centre and live theatre, and a sports recreation facility. So growth is happening with real estate as well as the private and public sectors. What is interesting about this town, however, is that the churches appear to be the same size as they were 50 years ago. Yes, even in the Bible Belt, this area feels neglected. Family, sports, homes, shopping, recreation, and intentional planning are important values to this town. But the days when people migrate to an area and the first thing built is a church building are long gone. Optimism abounds concerning the amount of growth with the new highways and new parks and new everything. But God makes everything new using a different technique. Rather than structures and infrastructures, the Holy Spirit makes new the hearts of people in a project of redemption that touches everything. The Holy Spirit uses people to live out and communicate this Good News, and that is work I am looking forward to doing. In other words, the hope is that over the next 20 years, the optimistic talk about ‘growth’ will focus on the work of the Holy Spirit and His building projects in the hearts of people.

Holly Springs Town Hall
HS Town Hall

Bass Lake
Bass Lake


Let me introduce my wife. Heather Asha Immanuel is her poetic maiden name. We were married July 17, 2004 in Durham, NC. We were wed by the pastor from Blacknall Presbyterian Church at First Baptist Church. Right from the get go our marriage was ecumenical. For those of you who know Heather, you will know of her loyalty to all things Southern. She embodies the charm, hospitality, kindness, and warmth of the South. She is excited to be living back down here, and I’m excited for her excitement. If you’ve met her in the past, chances are she will remember you and your old phone number. In other words, Heather is very intelligent and remembers details like a computer. For those who know me, that makes us a great match. Heather is also incredibly beautiful, and she is one of those rare cases where her beauty increases with age. She may be 33, but she looks much younger. Her southern sophistication and her selfless sensitivity makes her one incredible Dixie Belle. Finally, and most importantly, Heather loves Jesus. She wants to serve Jesus everyday, and wants to lead others to do the same. Let me introduce for you my two boys: Mark Adrian Immanuel was born March 17, 2009. I don’t think I have ever experienced someone with more energy. From the time he wakes up to the time he goes to sleep at night- it’s ‘go-time’. Yes, he has ‘Quiet Time’ every afternoon, but even that is getting louder. His energy is infectious, and his desire to play with Daddy gets me going. I get to construct train tracks, colour Micky and Minnie, play Zingo, and a million other things. We also get to read… a lot! His little learning brain absorbs things like a gigantic sponge. He also recalls things like his mother. He brings incredible joy to our family and says things that keep us laughing. Yesterday, for example, he asked if he could be excused from the supper table this way: “May I please be excuse me?” Our second boy is named Deacon Thomas. He is our 6 month old and he’s growing like a weed. At the same time, he’s quickly discovering the world around him. He’s strong. His head no longer bobs back and forth. I think he may have a quieter disposition than Mark, but it may be too early to tell. Deacon’s personality grows each day, laughing at repeated vibrations from my mouth, or from Mark singing The Horn on the ‘Guss’ goes beep, beep, beep (repeat 63x). I can’t wait to see how this little guy is going to develop over the next 6 months! I write about family because in a move, family is incredibly important. Family is the bridge that keeps you connected The amount of details it takes to move is incredible, and you need to work together to make it work. Of course, family extends. Leaving my side of the family in Ontario and in the north in general is a ‘tough pill to swallow’, but even so, we have had two separate visits from my parents and my brother Dylan and his wife Nikki already. We even got to have a birthday party on March 17th for both my dad and Mark at my in-laws place (by the way, Happy Birthday, Mom Immanuel!). And when we did first get here, we stayed at my in-laws for the first week in order to tackle, each day, the chaos of boxes in our new house.. That made the transition much easier for us, and their eagerness to help us get settled continues. In sum, our families have served as the trusses that help hold us up as we start this journey. Church planting studies show that one major indicator that helps the success of a new church plant is family support. I can see why. Having that extra support is a great source of comfort, the same source of comfort it brought us living in Ontario. In that support, we have the courage and encouragement to pursue this new chapter with confidence.

Deacon: Day 1


Our Immanuel Family

Our Knetsch Family (my apologies in advance for any family member who objects to the posting of this picture ; )


Only with the Caboose

Residency Day 12:
It’s Monday, and raining. I’m sitting quietly in a Starbucks at the corner of Edwards Mill and Duraleigh in Raleigh. It’s 9:39 in the morning, and I just read the following words from Church Planting Landmines. After using the analogy of playing chess, and proving how important the ‘middle game’ is to the game, Tom Nebel and Gary Rohrmayer write, “The middle game [as a pastor in ministry] is the years between 35-55. Statistically speaking, people in ministry burn out, give up, or are disqualified most often between the ages of 35-55. In other words, if you are younger than 35 and haven’t lost the game yet, don’t be deceived into thinking that you’re bullet-proof. The fact is that that train just hasn’t come down your tracks yet- at least the way it will.” So here I sit as an idealistic and optimistic 33 year old wondering what train will be coming down my tracks. Yesterday, a family from Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Hamilton came to visit. They were on vacation visiting family nearby. In one great conversation, I was asked the personal question: “What if this whole church planting thing fails?” I would like to say that failure is not an option. It has to work! At the same time, I am fully aware that failure is a reality. Many church plants don’t take root. Many godly, holy, multi-talented planters didn’t succeed in planting a church that lasts. That’s why this residency is so important. Growing ‘self’ before growing ‘church’ is the tagline to this website. That’s because all the people and material I’m researching suggests that the ‘self’ needs to be ‘in order’ before you dive into this particular ministry. Some people have scared me a little, in fact. I think it’s comparable to what I do to couples I’ve led in premarital counselling. I scare them as much as I can in their state of puppy-dog love. They need to know that God designed marriage to embody covenant, not coziness. I’m grateful for the voices that come before me in this endeavour of church planting, and I’m praying that the train coming my way won’t hit me, but will take me on a God-led journey with the Holy Spirit as the engine and me as the caboose.

What Moving Looks Like

Time for some pictures to give you a sense of what it was like to move from our wonderful old home in Hamilton, to our wonderful new home in Raleigh. What we left behind… Below is a picture of our sidewalk a week or so before we left. I will miss my neighbour, Eddie and his great snowplough!

Our old living room.

Working outside with Daddy, Mark sat on the heat register to warm up.

On our first night of driving, we hit a snow/wind storm. We stopped in Dunkirk, New York for an emergency stop. Here’s Heather driving the next morning. Notice the coffee shop in the background!


With the help of members of First Reformed Church of Cary and friends of the family, we moved in to our new temporary home. Here’s a picture of our new living room.

Saying Good-bye is hard to do!

On February 19th, the Knetsch family rolled out of Hamilton, Ontario. I drove a 26-foot U-haul and my wife, Heather, drove our little Corolla with our two boys Mark (3) and Deacon (6 months). Leaving our home in Hamilton, Ontario was very difficult. I compared the process of moving to pulling out a carrot out of the ground. You have no idea how deep that root goes. It’s only when you start pulling at it that you realize, “Man, this root goes way down!” The tugging at the heart took its toll. Saying good-bye to a community that you love and vice versa wasn’t easy. Each face we said good-bye to has a history and a story. Some of these faces we know better, some we don’t know as well. But in community, when you serve a covenantal unit of people, it’s difficult then to leave these invested relationships. From my colleague Henry, to those who have heard my preach for hours over the years, it’s hard to say bye. We also had a great group of friends whom we will miss dearly. Of course, then there’s the good-byes to the members of the family who lived closer to us. My parents and brother helped us move, and I tried to procrastinate the formal good-bye all day long. Knowing that both my parents and my brother and his wife will be visiting in March is a great comfort. The reality of living further away from our church community and family hasn’t really sunk in yet I think.

I broke down at dinner time with my grandparents on the 19th. We were planning on leaving earlier that day, but we ended up leaving at 7:00pm. At dinner time, I asked my grandparents if they had an advice for how to handle the hurt of leaving. My grandfather at first said, “Just know you go with our blessing.” But after thinking further, he said with a serious look in his eyes, “It’s hard now to leave, but my hope is that the next time you leave a community, it will be even harder.” After a moment to digest his words, his sentiment was deep. He’s challenging me to keep setting roots deep wherever we are- to keep loving and to keep receiving love. That’s the goal now.

When we walked out of my grandparents apartment, I thanked my grandmother for reading Psalm 121 as she closed dinner. She than told me that that was the psalm the pastor read to them the Sunday before they immigrated to Canada from the Netherlands in the 1950s. They blessed us so much as we left Canada and shifted into gear towards the South to start a new community.

Throughout this process, we have prayed, and prayed, and prayed. We will continue to pray now that we’ve arrived, because in that prayer we sense the nearness and closeness of our Heavenly Father. That is one relationship that stays. There are no good-byes with Him as we now begin a journey of new hellos with others in the South.