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Alumni Profile in Excellence: Cultivating an Idea Virus

March 12, 2009

Allan Karr is on a mission. By beginning several organizations, serving in a variety of congregations, and teaching rising leaders in the classroom, he is working to transform one community at a time - with every tribe and every nation in mind.

Early on, Karr knew that his passion and his ministry were for the diverse cultures in his own country.

"The very first time I remember gaining an interest in ethnic diversity was in sociology at OBU with Dr. Paul Rutledge," Karr said. "We talked about different cultures and different world views."

"It was a milestone moment in my life," he said. "I thought 'this is who I am, this is what I love.' I really began to realize that I had a passion for cultural work."

After graduating from OBU in 1985, Karr began pursuing his master's degree at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and took a full time preaching position in Missouri. When he completed his master's degree, he and his wife, Kathy, moved to Florida so he could begin working toward a Ph.D. degree at Florida State University.

Though Karr fully intended to serve as a pastor at a local church while completing his degree, his heart began to lead him in a different direction.

"I felt that God had started to direct me to do church planting," he said. "So I started contacting people to see how this would be possible."

Karr was ultimately led to Riverside Baptist Church in Denver, which agreed to sponsor him to begin Castle Valley church in Castle Rock, Colorado.

"We prayerfully decided that we were open to plant a church anywhere in the world, and then we prayerfully narrowed it down to Colorado," he said.

Karr continued to follow his "prayer-driven idea" and as Castle Valley grew, the Karrs were able to plant two other churches in the area, essentially "starting a church that planted other churches." Little did he know that his work with Castle Valley and the other church plants in the area was just the beginning to his dynamic career.

"I got a call from Golden Gate Seminary about joining The Nehemiah Project," he said. "The North American Mission Board and Golden Gate have a partnership with the project, and they both asked me to join."

At the time, Karr did not feel led to leave Colorado, so the seminary offered for him to stay in the area. Karr signed on to become a professor of church planting for the seminary and he also was designated as a national missionary by the North American Mission Board, serving as a director for The Nehemiah Project, helping to better equip church planters.

Karr quickly found that he received more than just a teaching position. He also had the opportunity to work with a multitude of diverse cultures, backgrounds and languages.

"I really get to be like a foreign missionary," he said. "Ninety percent of my time I spend with international people, especially with my students. It is very diverse, which I like. It's my passion."

By teaching courses at each of the five Golden Gate locations in Phoenix, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver, Wash., Karr is able to encourage his students - primarily made up of missionaries and church leaders - to follow their passion to engage with specific people groups.

"The cities that I travel to and do my work in are extremely diverse," he said. "In Denver there are more than 175 languages spoken in the school system. And in San Francisco, if there is a student who has a passion for a specific people group, it's very likely that in the Bay Area there are those who speak that language and who are of that nationality."

Karr's work with his students further motivated him to continue church planting in his own community, and to integrate different models of churches his students and his family had encountered around the world.

"We wanted to experiment with a church of a different model," he said. "We wanted to figure out a way that we could save money and use people who had other full time careers, but also wanted to be involved in the ministry."

Karr and his family then began the Ethne Church Network, a collection of churches which share the vision to reach all people groups. The network churches, primarily meeting in homes, began to multiply. Some were started by Karr's former students.

Karr's nuclear family includes (front row, from left) Alyssa, Micah, Hannah, (back row) Joshua, a current OBU sophomore, Kathy and Allan.

Now made up of about 17 churches, with almost 800 people involved, the network has grown to include churches designed for specific people groups in the area. The churches aim to transform the communities around them.

"The church has grown to be what the name is, a church for all people groups," he said.

Karr has been able to also spread the church network idea to those he interacted with at the Golden Gate locations, causing networks to be formed throughout the western United States.

"Other people have heard of the network and have used it in other cities," he said. "I think of it as an idea virus. The virus would be something that people pick up from someone else. The idea just spread."

Karr recently expanded the Ethne Church Network concept to include a ministry for local refugees by beginning Ethne Global Services. The agency helps supply care to local refugees who are not being provided for. EGS has grown to 25 clients, who receive help with school, finding jobs and saving money.

Karr's family helps six of the refugees. They have had the opportunity to become legal guardians to two former refugee girls, Saymyahtoo and July. They also had the chance to travel to Thailand with the Ethne Church Network to work at refugee camps.

The Ethne Church Network, Golden Gate, The Nehemiah Project and his active roles in other organizations have given Karr the opportunity to expose his children - Joshua, Alyssa, Hannah and Micah - to a variety of cultures.

"Almost every time I travel, I try to take some of my family," he said. "I travel, when I can, with my kids so that they, too, can be exposed to the diverse cultures."

Though Karr is involved in what would seem like more than five full-time jobs, he is not finished and is not slowing down. He continues to pursue his mission of reaching all people groups however he can.

Click the following link to view a full list of previous Profile in Excellence recipients.