Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley

Light + Life Executive Editor

Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.

by Jeff Finley

After launching in 2012, Chapel of Change Christian Fellowship quickly transformed from a single California church plant to a multiplication force. Now the rapidly growing Free Methodist congregation is launching a church plant in another time zone, state and conference.

“It starts off with our heart’s desire at Chapel of Change to be a church-planting center for the Free Methodists nationwide or even globally. That’s our prayer. That’s our desire. That’s our passion,” Chapel of Change Lead Pastor Brian Warth explained in an interview with Light + Life. “We’re a multiplying church. Our vision is to launch a thousand churches to the glory of God.”

The River Conference Superintendents Amelia Cleveland-Traylor and Michael Traylor are welcoming Simon and Catherine Hernandez — who previously launched the Chapel of Change campus in Whittier, California — and Chapel of Change worship leader Kim Hitt to the Lone Star State. Chapel of Change Dallas can be traced to a conversation Warth and Michael Traylor had three years ago at the denomination’s Multiply Conference in Detroit.

“We talked about how in Texas there were a lot of growing cities. In fact, four of the cities in Texas are among the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States,” Traylor said. “We talked about using the Chapel of Change DNA to start a new work.”

That conversation excited Warth, who has Texas ties. While growing up, he briefly lived in Texas with his mother because his family wanted to keep him away from Los Angeles area gangs.

“In that move, they tried to save me. They moved me to the Dallas-Fort Worth area,” Warth said. “I actually went to school out there, but I only stayed there a couple of years, and then I came back [to California] and got in trouble.”

That trouble led to Warth receiving a life sentence as a teen for his involvement in a gang murder. He became a Christian in prison, and he eventually was released on parole. He became a Free Methodist pastor and detailed his story of transformation in his book “Young Man Arise!”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Chapel of Change held services at five campuses — Paramount (the first worship campus), Carson, Merced, Long Beach and Whittier — and launched one church plant, House of Redemption in Long Beach. Now another church plant is forming in Dallas.

“We’re very grateful that the River Conference was bold enough to partner with us,” Warth said.

Chapel of Change Dallas is a new work, but it will be based at a site that is familiar to many longtime Free Methodists in Texas. When it launches in-person worship services, the congregation will meet in the building at 3930 Boulder Drive that has housed Free Methodist ministries under different names such as Kimball FMC, Monte Olivo and Fusion Worship Center.

Michael Traylor said that after most ministry ceased in 2018 with the building “in some significant disrepair,” the River Conference invested “more than $400,000 in renovating that facility with the prayer that we would start another ministry there.”

“We’ve been trying to use it in every way possible to keep the doors open and let people know that it’s alive, and it’s part of the community,” said Amelia Cleveland-Traylor, who noted the renovated facility includes a gym that is used by a Christian basketball camp and other groups. There is now “another church plant in the building — Hosanna Free Methodist Church, which is a Congolese congregation that started with about 60 or 70 people, but it’s up to 150.”

Calia Rodriguez serves as the executive pastor for the building and coordinates its various uses.

Simon and Catherine Hernandez

The Hernandezes are known for encouraging videos on social media, and they have carried that over to the Chapel of Change Dallas Facebook page along with adding weekend services and a Wednesday Bible study. Through the use of sponsored posts, the videos are being boosted to residents of the Dallas area.

The church plant is also using low-tech marketing such as circulating flyers asking people to join the launch team. Multiple people have responded, and the Hernandezes have scheduled time to talk with them and pray for them.

“God is already showing a movement of people wanting to join the core team and to help us build and do prayer walks around the city, evangelize and pass out flyers,” Simon Hernandez said.

This month, the Wednesday Bible study will begin meeting in person at the church building while still streaming online. After the Bible study grows and new people are discipled, a grand opening will be held for Chapel of Change Dallas.

The decision to relocate to Dallas was not an easy one for the couple.

“This is a big move. All we know is Los Angeles, and we grew up in Los Angeles, and God rescued me from the streets of Los Angeles. I always thought God was going to use me in Los Angeles,” Simon said. “As we went through the process of months of praying and seeking God’s will, doors started to open. Signs were very evident, and God personally spoke to both of us that this is what He’s asking of us.”

The couple decided to take a family trip in celebration of their Dec. 15 wedding anniversary.

“We just wanted to take a little time off and enjoy our anniversary, so we said, ‘Why not go to Texas and let’s be like Caleb and spy out the land?’” said Simon, referencing Numbers 13. “The moment we got off the plane, God had work for us, and we responded, and everything just started moving.”

They decided to look at housing although they had no immediate plan to buy anything.

“God led us to our home that we purchased and we live in right now. It was right down the street from the [church] building,” he said. “When we walked in, we knew we were home.”

They visited a park with their children, and they were reminded that they started Chapel of Change’s Whittier campus in a park. They began to evangelize in the Dallas park and led a woman to new faith in Christ.

“The city of Dallas was welcoming us in and pulling us in,” said Catherine Hernandez, who added that after their recent move, “we’re here, and we couldn’t be happier.”

The husband and wife have not had easy lives. As an infant, Catherine was hospitalized for three months as the victim of child abuse in her biological family.

“The doctor told my adoptive mom that I was never supposed to walk. I was never supposed to talk. I was supposed to be paralyzed on my left side my entire life. Only through the power of God am I here now,” she said.

Simon struggled with addiction as a young adult. In his early 30s, he cried out to God to help him escape a lifestyle of gangs, alcohol and illegal drugs.

“I received my salvation. I started going to church, and I felt the power of God come over me, but what happened was the sin in my life outweighed everything. I didn’t know how to handle it,” he said. “Ultimately, I went back to my old ways.”

Then he received an invitation to a Chapel of Change men’s conference.

“When I walked into Chapel of Change, the Holy Spirit overcame me,” he said. “The Holy Spirit said, ‘This is where I want you to serve. This is where I want you to grow.’”

A few months later, Simon registered Catherine for a Chapel of Change women’s conference.

“I went, and when we stepped in that building, the welcome that was there — the feeling of home that was there — it made me never want to leave. It made me want to stay there,” Catherine said. “I had never felt that in a church before.”

The couple served in various ministry positions, and Warth eventually asked them to start the Whittier campus in a park.

“We started with four or five of us praying in the park, and it started to grow and grow,” said Catherine, who revealed that Simon built two pulpits for use in outdoor worship. 

“We grew to have services in the park — baptizing people, people being saved. Then God shifted us to rent a spot in a church,” Simon said.

Kim Hitt

Before learning that her home church would be planting a church in Dallas, Hitt heard God telling her last year that she and her family should move away from California. 

“When the pandemic hit, the Lord began speaking to me and telling me that we were going to be leaving, and I didn’t know exactly where,” Hitt said. “I had family in Kansas, so I started looking in Kansas, but the Lord redirected me to Texas.”

Hitt met with Warth and Kenny Martin, Chapel of Change’s executive pastor of leadership development, and told them God was leading her to move to Texas. Martin scheduled an appointment for her to talk to Michael Traylor about serving as an urban missionary in the River Conference, and Traylor told her the conference was already considering a Chapel of Change church plant in Dallas.

Hitt moved to Dallas in late March. She is already making plans to host an outdoor community outreach concert with another local worship leader. She does not want worship at Chapel of Change Dallas to be limited to one style of music.

“I think that a big part of the divide — even racially and denominationally — is that we sort of put everyone in these boxes worship-wise, and we say, ‘Are you gospel, or are your contemporary, or are you more Spanish or hip-hop?’” Hitt said.

Hitt’s life demonstrates the change that Christ makes when people surrender their lives to Him.

“I actually grew up in a lifestyle of alcohol and drugs amongst different things. My parents did drugs and sold drugs,” she said. “When I was 25, I entered into a Calvary Chapel-based rehabilitation center. It was called U-Turn for Christ. I got saved in that experience.”

She became active in a church and began leading worship, but she felt restrained by the church’s conservative worship style.

“As a leader, I wanted to go deeper in more soaking worship — more prophetic worship, and so I began to explore what those options were and stumbled upon Chapel of Change,” she said. “Within a week, I was on the worship team, and the Lord just really did everything for me. I really didn’t have to do anything. I dove right in to the worship experience at Chapel of Change. Pastor Brian is really enabling in the sense that he gave me an open platform to do the type of worship that I love to do.”

She discovered that worship could also be a form of outreach.

“I’ve worked to do concerts at Chapel of Change where we’ve invited different drug rehabilitation centers, orphanages and homeless shelters,” she said. “We’ve been able to throw free concerts and revivals for the local community there, which is a big part of my heart because of where I come from in my faith.”

That passion for outreach has led her to record music videos and release music to streaming platforms through Sony Music’s Orchard division.

Infiltrating the Cities

Warth hopes that the Dallas plant will be one of many new churches that emerge from Chapel of Change’s commitment to Christ-compelled multiplication.

“My prayer is that we figure out a way to utilize the multiplying spirit of Chapel of Change to infiltrate urban cities across the nation with Free Methodist churches,” he said. “I pray more and more superintendents would partner with us and figure out ways to infiltrate these urban cities.”


Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley

Light+Life Executive Editor

Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.