By Joe Westbury
Illustration by Jamel Akib
When many Christians who are now adults were growing up they were taught a
song about missions that pretty much summed up the condition of their world of
50 years ago. The song affirmed the perceived reality that the mission field
was overseas. It was international, thousands of miles from where you laid your
head each night.
Red, brown, yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus
loves the little children of the world.
But the mission field didnt remain overseas for long. As a result of massive
waves of new immigrants, North America has become an international mission
field in short order. Its still made up of people who are red, brown, yellow,
black and white. Jesus still loves them, but they now live down the street.
In recent years Southern Baptist church planting efforts have likewise
changed. Responding to the vast lostness of the United States and Canada is no
longer seen in terms of planting cookie-cutter churches but in planting seeds
among a variety of people groups and population segments longing to hear the
Church planters in North America now look at their mission field as either
people groups like Han Chinese or Egyptian Arabs or
as population segments composed of groups of people with similar social
characteristics, lifestyles or interests. Cowboy churches and biker churches
are congregations as viable as those launched among Han Chinese or Egyptian
Similarities exist between the missionary on the international field and the
church planter on the domestic field. Both tailor their approaches to a
specific audience, but the church planter in North America has the advantage of
partnering with another church to undergird his efforts.
Planters say the key to their success is the partnership between an
established church and the mission thats just learning how to walk.
Strong, healthy partnerships between existing and new churches are critical
to developing strong, healthy, reproducing churcheschurches that reach their
communities with Christ, says Richard Harris, vice president, Church Planting,
Since 1980 only a few SBC churches have directly sponsored or partnered with
a new church. And many of those relationships were more formalities than
intentional commitmentsnot true partnering experiences.
In 2002 only 4.8 percent of SBC churches reported sponsoring or partnering
with a new church-type mission, according to the Annual Church Profile. And,
according to a study by George Barna, only 13 percent of pastors participated
in a church plant in the previous year. But congregations taking the step to
partner with a new church start are discovering the joy theyve been
Good sponsor churches are essential for giving the church plant the healthy
start it deserves, Harris adds. The sponsor church brings many positives to the
Community credibility if the plant is in the same city, or if the sponsor
has a credible radio or television program
Doctrinal integrity and accountability
People and financial resources
Business credibility, or just a good credit record thats often necessary to
rent buildings and purchase land or equipment. One planter in New York City
could not rent an apartment until NAMB contractually guaranteed the rent for
Experience. Often the new plant is reaching a people group or population
segment the sponsor church has experienced success in reaching. The
sponsor then brings a wealth of strategic expertise to the cause.
Encouragement. The sponsor is often the planters source of encouragement,
mentoring and spiritual counsel for dealing with the every day issues and
challenges of growing a church. Filling this void of loneliness and caring
concern is what keeps the planter going.
texas Gen X planter
Will Lewis is a prime example of those benefiting from partnerships. The
church planter who has started two congregations and is now beginning his third
says he couldnt do it without the help of a partnering church. With the support
of a Corpus Christi church in the background, he was able to channel more of
his ministry toward building leadership in the new congregation. That
investment has paid big dividends.
Lewis, 35, has felt called to start churches among those of his age groupthe
Generation X population that has largely written off church involvement. Now
that Gen Xers are married and starting their families, their values are
beginning to change and their searching is becoming more serious, he says.
Lewis first began North Metro Church in the Lewisville/Coppell area and,
after it was established, moved to Mission, Texas, where he launched Valley
Fellowship. While at that congregation he mentored church member Ingo Tophoven
in how to grow as a Christian.
Every Monday they would meet and explore how to put down deep roots in the
Bible and how to be sensitive to Gods call. Before long, Ingo sensed a call to
the pastorate. As Lewis helped Tophoven gain experience through leading
training sessions, teaching classes and occasionally preaching, it became
apparent that he was ready for a church.
Sensing a call to begin another Gen X church, Lewis continued discipling
Tophoven until the 300-member congregation called him as their pastor. Lewis
then felt free to move to College Station with his family to plant the seeds of
Brazos Fellowship. That church launched in January.
It was amazing how God raised up one of our own members to assume the role
of pastor for our people, Lewis says. With Gods direction we grew our own
leadership from the ranks of our laity, and that freed me up to start another
Lewis has been on both sides of such partnerships. Valley Fellowship was
launched through a partnership with Bay Area Fellowship of Corpus Christi. And
while he was at Valley Fellowship, he led the church to start a new
congregation among English-speaking Hispanics.
At that church, Cornerstone was birthed and members of Valley Fellowship
were there to help it take its first steps toward independence.
I remember how much love and support Bay Area provided us in the beginning
when we were meeting in a former hardware store. It was a huge amount of
encouragement that helped us through some tough times. I wanted to be sure we
were there to do the same for Cornerstone, he says.
When you walk onto a church field and look around and realize that no one
there shares your vision, you can really become discouraged. Thats natural. But
when you get a call from the partnering church, you realize youre not aloneyou
have an entire army behind you, praying for you and supporting you in a variety
of ways to make this work.
Canadian church planter Cesar Parra, who is starting a new church among
Hispanics in Toronto, shares those sentiments.
My pastor, Francisco Aular, had a dream of starting a bilingual church. It
would be the first daughter of Iglesia Bautista Betel. He saw my potential as a
future church starter and helped me understand my call to the ministry.
He discipled me for three years before we started Emmanuel Baptist in a
high-rise multihousing complex in north Toronto. For one entire year the mother
church sent 40 members to worship with us and to help us reach the community,
plus two couples who helped us as volunteer staff members.
Their help has made all the difference in the world for us, Parra says.
Will Lewis, who ministers far to the southwest of Cesar Parra in Texas, has
similar words of appreciation for the nurturing relationship between his church
start and the partnering church: The mother churchs role is to serve as a
resource to keep the church planter strong and healthy and to provide
encouragement. I know of too many church planters who were out there on their
own like the Lone Ranger, and they burned out because they didnt have the
safety net of a partnering church.
I wouldnt want to do it any other way. Partnerships are just as good for the
mother church as they are for the church plant. Everyone wins.
Joe Westbury is a writer in Atlanta, Georgia.
Do we really need another church? by Jim Burnett
August 22, 2004, will forever be etched in my mind as a Sunday of new
miracles. It was the day that Willow Pointe Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi,
a two-year-old church that I pastor, witnessed the birth of not one new church,
but two. In that morning service electricity seemed to fill the air as we
signed a partnership with New Life Christian Com-munity, a small core group of
Hispanic believers. We also prayed for another church launching 15 miles from
With these two new starts, plus one that we sponsored the year before,
church planting is now part of the DNA of Willow Pointe. In fact, since sitting
down to write this article, Ive received another sponsorship request from a
pastor in Chester County, Pennsylvania. He wants us to consider partnering with
him to plant a Southern Baptist church where evangelistic opportunities abound.
His request is no less than a Macedonian call like the one Paul received in
Even so, not everyone feels a conviction to plant churches, nor sees the
Have you ever heard another Christian say the last thing we need in this
city is another church? That conclusion is easy to reach, especially if you
live in the south where theres a church on almost every corner. Sometimes,
however, the reluctance to entertain the thoughts of planting new churches is
not due to the belief that already there are too many churches but from the
perceived competitive threat these new plants pose.
I would remind us that lighthouses do not compete. We must revisit the New
Testament and understand that church planting was at the heart of fulfilling
the Great Commission and continues to be so today. In my decade-and-a-half
tenure as a Southern Baptist pastor, my philosophy concerning church planting
has radically changed. Heres how it happened.
About five years ago, I heard a director of missions from the Maryland/
Delaware Convention speak, and what he said totally challenged and reshaped my
philosophy concerning the need for additional churches. He shared a horrifying
statistic: there was one Southern Baptist church for every 17,000 people in his
geographical area. That day, God gave me a passion for church planting. I could
not rest nor be content to live in the buckle of the Bible Belt any longer
doing nothing for the people of the Northeast who had such need of Christian
influence. Sheepishly, I went to our missions committee not knowing that God
had already begun a church planting movement in our hearts. With blazing speed
for a Baptist church, Raymond Road, the church I served at the time, committed
$30,000 over a three-year period to help begin a church in Frederick, Maryland.
That commitment was made at the same time the church was entering a building
I am continually impressed with the need to start churches not only across
the nation and world but locally as well. I see that our society is changing at
Unfortunately, many local, established churches are slow to respond and
embrace technology and methodologies that make the message of Christ relevant
and appealing to society. As a result, segments of people live all around us
who will never visit a traditional church. They either feel unwanted or that
the church isnt pertinent to them. If were to reach the Jetsons of today we
must stop relating like the Flintstones of yesterday. We need to move from the
Stone Age to the computer age. We must accept that its difficult to reach a
postmodernist with the vocabulary and mindset of a modernist.
Across our country today, God is raising up storefront churches and duplex
churches that will effectively relate to the masses of people who are
disillusioned with institutionalized church and organized religion. These
infant churches are bold and daring when it comes to trying diverse methods to
reach the lost, while staying true to the message of the gospel. Tradition,
ritual and custom have resulted in high church for many congregations, but what
people desire and need the most is real church.
Four things I have come to realize in my short tenure as senior pastor of
a two-year church plant are 1) you dont have to be a mega church to plant
other churches, just an obedient one (our debt-free membership numbers about
225 and is quite mobile when it comes to missions); 2) you dont have to own
property or have a building with stained glass windows, church pews or a
steeple to help other churches get started (we currently meet in a storefront
strip mall that was a carpet outlet in its former life, and we are content to
rent the facility rather than own it); 3) you dont have to jump start God when
it comes to missions; you just need to join Him (Jesus reminds us that His
Father continues to workJohn 5:17); and 4) theres a huge difference between a
church that supports missions and a church thats on mission.
How to get started
Are you interested in joining God in this church planting movement? Heres
how to get started Pick up the phone and call the church planting department of
your Southern Baptist state convention (see pages 18 and 19) or visit
www.namb.net. They provide information outlining and detailing how you can
become involved. Seek like-minded people whom God has impassioned to start
churches and begin praying with them. If youre a pastor, begin raising your
congregations awareness of the need for church planting through sermons and
testimonies. Invite a church planter to speak to your people and let them hear
his heart. Invite speakers from your association, state convention or NAMB.
They can help prepare your church to sponsor other churches by explaining the
various types of sponsorship and inspire your congregation with success
Weve supported each of the new churches in different ways. For example,
Willow Pointe made a financial commitment of $500 a month for one year to the
first church plant. Now, the new church is financially sound and averaging
about 90 in attendance. Facility sponsorship was offered to the Hispanic church
start. They use our facilities at no cost, and we gave our blessing to two of
our church families to join the Spanish work, encouraging them to give their
tithes, talents and time to this infant church. Our sponsorship of the third
church plant comes by way of mentoring the church planter. Our pastor of
missions and ministry and I meet regularly with the new pastor to pray with him
and encourage him. Soon Ill join him for some church-planting training led by
the church planting department of the Mississippi Baptist Convention.
These are just a few ways to sponsor new church plants. The important thing
is to embrace the God-inspired church planting movement sweeping our state,
nation and world, reaching as many as we can before the Lord returns.
Jim Burnett is pastor of Willow Pointe Church in
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