The Virginia Evangelizing Fellowship (VEF)had its genesis in the desire of Christians in Virginia to continue the restoration of New Testament Christianity while avoiding the establishment of another denomination. While other elements of the historical Stone-Campbell movement were requiring cooperation with various national mission societies or demanding separation over the use of musical instruments in the church, those responsible for establishing the VEF sought to avoid such entanglements while restoring the zeal for evangelism and fellowship which were hallmarks of the first century church.
To this end, an initial rally was held in 1938 at the 24th Street Church of Christ in Newport News (now Northside Christian Church in Yorktown) for churches who shared the desire for such a restoration. Subsequent meetings at the Salem church in 1939 and the County Line Church of Christ and the Sheva Church in Henry County in 1940 resulted in the election of the first slate of officers and the drafting of the first Constitution for the VEF.
During the 1941 meeting in Norfolk, the fledgling organization decided to start its first new congregation, to be located in Staunton. The Waynesboro Church, due to its proximity to the proposed work, was instrumental in the launch, which began with a series of week-long evangelistic meetings held in a converted garage. G.T. Bateman was called as the first Evangelist of the VEF, taking over the Staunton work as of April 1, 1942. In 1943 Evangelist Bateman held a meeting at Winchester which resulted in the formation of a new church there. These first church starts were typical of how the VEF worked in these early days, with the VEF evangelist holding meetings in an area in an attempt to get a new church off the ground from scratch. In later years (all the way up to the early 1980’s), the VEF’s efforts sometimes included helping with the construction of a church building, according to building plans prepared for that purpose and built in multiple locations around the state.
The VEF Rally (as the annual meeting had become known) of 1946 decided to publish a VEF News, and the first mimeographed edition was dated October, 1946. It contained a statement of purpose, list of officers, the Ropeholder Plan (to recruit monthly contributors to the work), facts about the cooperative work and a brief history. The first printed copy of the VEF News was dated July, 1947.
Noble Tribble became the new VEF Evangelist in January of 1947. Following his resignation in May, 1951, no replacement was hired until July, 1954 when Ernest A. Miller was called. In October, 1956 a new plan for evangelism was noted in which ministers in the state offered their services to hold revival meetings, with all offerings received to be given to the VEF. At that time there were over 200 “Ropeholders” contributing a dollar a month to the VEF. A campaign was started to secure 200 contributors of five dollars each when new churches were started, which was replaced later by the Apollos Appeal.
In 1974 Ralph Carter was called as the first full-time Director of Evangelism (DOE) for the VEF. He would represent the VEF across Virginia, lead in revivals and seminars, raise funds and seek to evangelize throughout the state. In 1977 Roy Miller succeeded Ralph Carter as DOE, continuing in that position until January, 1987. Marion G. Harris was called as DOE on Roy Miller’s departure and continued in that role until his death in 2004.
The VEF expanded its efforts through the years to include a loan fund from which interest-free loans to churches were made, and a ministerial assistance program which subsidized the salary of a church’s minister to allow the church to make the jump from a part-time to a full-time preacher. For many years, the VEF sponsored a statewide Youth Rally and later added events for younger students. In addition to the annual VEF Rally, there was also a Mid-Winter Rally and, at various times, other programs designed to assist and encourage paid and volunteer workers of all kinds in Virginia.
In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the children’s and youth events were spun off as a separate organization that was independent from the VEF. This move coincided with a new emphasis on evangelism through the planting of new churches. It was recognized that, over time, the VEF had devolved to the point where very little new evangelism was taking place through the direct efforts of the VEF. Most of the work involved giving small amounts of money to struggling churches to either move a minister to full time, or to fix up deteriorating church buildings for congregations that were struggling to stay afloat. Most new churches started in the state at that time were started by other churches, sometimes as a healthy plan to expand into a new area, but often as a result of an unhealthy church split.
As the result of a 1986 lunch meeting between Dave Hileman, then the preaching minister at the Union Grove church near Charlottesville, Marion Harris (in town to preach a revival at Union Grove) and Ralph Carter (then the preacher of the Cherry Avenue church in Charlottesville), a plan was put into motion to find high-growth areas in Virginia and plant new churches in those areas. Dave became the first chairman of the “Church Planting Taskforce” (CPT) and Marion began the task of raising money specifically for the purpose of planting new churches in high-growth areas. In 1989, Virginia Vision was launched as a program of the VEF to plant new, self-supporting churches in high-growth areas of the state which were underserved by independent Christian churches. With the goal of increasing the rate at which the new churches were being planted, the VEF in January of 2002 called Tim Cole as its first full-time Director of Church Planting (DOCP). Tim, who came to the position after having served as one of the founding ministers of a successful Virginia Vision church plant in Virginia Beach, was hired to oversee all aspects of new church planting, from fundraising to recruitment to assisting the church planters with start-up planning and follow-up coaching. A large estate gift to the VEF helped to accelerate the rate at which churches were able to be planted, and then giving to Virginia Vision by the new church plants as they grew and became self-sustaining kept the momentum going. In 2006, Tim Cole again launched a new church, Velocity, in western Richmond, remaining as the DOCP in a part-time capacity. VEF/Virginia Vision by this time had gained national recognition as a unique church-planting organization and VEF/VV was asked to serve in an advisory role with church planting groups in neighboring states.
At the same time that the CPT was getting off the ground, it was recognized that the “existing” churches in the state had needs that could not be met just by throwing money at them. Thus, the VEF directors were organized into groups that sought to better manage the requests received from existing churches, and programs were developed (self-studies and VEF staff-directed programs) to help churches diagnose and address the underlying issues that were preventing them from reaching their growth potential. In 1997 Dave Hileman, who had been serving as the volunteer chairman of the CPT, was hired part time as the Director of Church Resources to spearhead these efforts. Dave became the full-time DOCR in August of 2002. His wife, Cindy, started as the first paid part-time bookkeeper in 2005, retiring in May, 2020.
Following the unexpected death of Marion Harris in February of 2004, Dave Hileman was asked to become the new Executive Director of the VEF, serving as its chief administrator. Under Dave’s direction, 501 C (3) status was achieved in 2005. In 2006 a new position, Director of Church Relations, was created and Harry Gill became the first one to fill the position, which included responsibility for promotion and fundraising, coordination of coaching programs for ministers of existing churches and implementation of Fusion Groups, which provide peer-to-peer encouragement, fellowship and education for preachers and other church staff members. (Harry retired in 2014.)
On October 30, 2015, at the International Conference on Missions in Richmond, which was hosted by the VEF and the churches of Virginia, a historic announcement was made. In 2013, the leaders of the VEF and those of Envision (its counterpart in North Carolina) began a conversation about making a greater impact in our region by combining their efforts to become a single team. Envision had started out as the Piedmont Evangelizing Fellowship in 1971, reorganizing in 2004 as Envision. PEF/Envision had planted over thirty churches in North Carolina. The VEF had, by that time, already expanded its geographic footprint to plant churches in Maryland, West Virginia and the Washington, D.C. area. After becoming convinced they could realize even more kingdom growth as one organization, both boards moved toward merger.
During this season, a special team was tasked with the process for selecting a new name for the combined organization. That name, announced at ICOM, was Waypoint Church Partners. A “waypoint” is a modern navigational term signifying a specific point along a journey. They are used by pilots and ship captains to chart a course to their destination. In modern technical terms, waypoints are the specific coordinates used by GPS devices as reference points along a charted course. More generally, a waypoint is a reference point that helps us know where we are and where we are going. Whether we are walking, driving, sailing or flying, waypoints help us find our way. This, in turn, is what we are about as an organization; coming alongside churches, both new ones and established ones, as well as their leaders, to help them understand where they are and where they are headed in their journey to accomplish their God-given mission and then together charting a strategic course to navigate from one waypoint to the next.
Church planting is continually changing as there are more options constantly emerging for how to create new communities of faith. Waypoint currently (in 2020) has three Group Production System (GPS) models in use whereby a new church emerges out of small groups. Our standard model for church planting is also in a state of frequent adjustment as we continue to learn and to evolve as needed in our efforts to effectively evangelize as many as possible in our region (and around the world—see below).
Since 2015, Waypoint has supported the start of new churches domestically (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C.), internationally through ICOM donations (Africa–Togo & Ghana, New Zealand, Brazil, Belarus, India, Canada, Nepal, Moldova, Mexico), hosted the International Conference on Missions in 2015 and again in 2021, expanded the provision of no-interest loans, seminars and services to congregations and been in the forefront of leadership in the Restoration Movement. South Carolina Evangelistic Association (SCEA) officially merged with Waypoint on Feb. 7, 2022, expanding our territory of serving and planting churches to the state of South Carolina. One area of leadership is in the Waypoint 55 webinars held each month on important topics for church leaders. There have also been many “pop-up” webinars to address relevant topics of the moment.
Waypoint’s digital outreach has grown beyond the regular webinars in both numbers of people engaged and in scope, with two YouTube channels, frequent social media posts, two podcasts (one specifically for minister’s wives) and other content-based communication. An online giving program, iplantchurches.com, gives supporters an easy way to give regularly.
Tim Cole, former church planter and Director of Church Planting with the VEF became the first Executive Director of Waypoint Church Partners in the fall of 2015. Dave Hileman became Associate Director when Tim became Executive Director. Dave went part-time in 2019, retiring at the end of 2021. Currently serving on staff, in addition to Tim, are Dyke McCord as Associate Director, Neil Wheeler as Director of Leader Care, Paul Viers as part-time Regional Representative in the southwest Virginia/Tennessee/Kentucky area and Lisa Cole as part-time Director of Planting Wives Care. Support staff members include Erin Raines as Financial Administrator and Rebecca Hott as Communications Director.
The purpose of Waypoint today is much the same today as what was articulated by the founders of the VEF in 1938, though its geographic reach has greatly expanded. Waypoint Church Partners exists to foster and assist evangelism throughout the Mid-Atlantic Region, planting new churches and strengthening existing churches, all accomplished through the voluntary cooperation and fellowship of Christians and churches who choose to participate in this effort. If the Lord wills it, Waypoint Church Partners will continue to pursue this purpose until He returns.