STEELE CREEK -- To anyone else, it might seem someone just doesn't want Mike Paolicelli to launch a church in Steele Creek. But not to Paolicelli.
"It gives us more determination than ever to surrender to God and to change absolutely nothing about what we're doing," he said. "I'm more convinced than ever."
On Easter Sunday, a day meant for new beginnings, Paolicelli held his first service for Renew Church at Lake Wylie Elementary School.
"There were 14 new faces and about 60 people," said member Carol Yard of Wesley Chapel, N.C.
After moving to the area in 2006 after ministering, among other places, from train station platforms, Paolicelli began the Chrio church in 2007 in Steele Creek. About four months into the effort, Paolicelli had to put the upstart church on the back burner to spend time with his late mother, then battling cancer.
"I figured I could always plant a church," he said. "I couldn't always help my mom."
In August, Paolicelli prayed about giving church planting another try. From five people -- plus the pastor and his wife, Janet, and two children Titus, 5, and Simeon, 3 -- the number of church members quickly grew to 95 at a September meeting in congregation members' homes.
Paolicelli planned to begin Renew on Feb. 22, but was dealt another setback when -- 11 months to the day following his mother's death -- he was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
Now, three months into the first stage of treatment with results in the top 10 percent of all patients, Paolicelli, 45, is even more determined to see Renew grow.
"Less than 10 percent of the people have these kinds of results this fast," he said. "We know it's not just chemo."
Paolicelli's wife said Sunday although starting a new church while battling cancer is "a lot at once, we're looking for the power of God and not man. That's the light in all of this."
Church members, like Yard, who drives more than hour for service each week after being introduced to Paolicelli in December by her son Trevor Yard, 25, of Steele Creek, say their pastor's illness rallied its members.
"It's exciting to witness a new church that started despite his frailty," she said. "You'd never know he was sick."
Her son said although he was saddened he might not see Paolicelli again, "these hurdles are just another testimony to the strength of God's will."
While Paolicelli isn't shying away from his personal story, he's not basing his church on it, either. Focusing on complete surrender to God and applicable Bible teaching, Paolicelli hopes to provide a "community of worshippers" with Renew.
"The central message we have in the church is to unequivocally trust God with every part of your life," he said. "People want happiness, security, peace. What we need to realize is the most happiness, the most security, the most peace that we can ever find is found in surrender. The more they give up, the more they get."
Daniel Pogue, a worship team leader for Renew, worshipped at other locations before finding his new home. He hopes his experience will be shared by many others.
"It was time to start taking what I've learned and applying it," he said. "It's very applicable to modern life. You can really just take it home with you."
Paolicelli promises expository, "verse-by-verse" preaching with an emphasis on how Scripture relates to the 21st Century. Services even include the "Oprah moment," when the pastor takes questions from the congregation following, but only about half the time pertaining to, the sermon.
"We don't just teach the Bible in isolation," Paolicelli said. "You will see God's word like never before, and you'll be able to apply it, like never before."
What members like the Yards have found in Renew is a family for worship.
"It was more personal, meeting Mike after service, and he seemed so warm and passionate," said Trevor, who joined in October. "It helped me get through a lot."
For his mother, it's about the church's mission.
"I tried to be part of a bigger church. Here, everybody was giving," she said. "It was a church doing what it's supposed to do. These are just everyday people from all walks of life."
Paolicelli admits "most of the lessons I've learned I've learned through failure. I think that resonates with most people."
Yet he leaves the success or failure of Renew to God, focusing instead on being faithful with the time he has.
"We just don't know how much time we have," he said. "We just don't."
Want to know more?
Renew Church meets at 10:30 a.m. Sundays at Lake Wylie Elementary School in Steele Creek. For more information about the church, call 704-800-1207 or visit godfactor.com. Paolicelli, who writes Altared Living for Lake Wylie Pilot, can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.