Think for a moment about your image of a church. Is it stained glass windows
topped by a towering white steeple keeping watch over a town square? Certainly
houses of worship like these remind us that God has a presence on our continent
some might even say a significant presence, after scanning the Bible Belt of
the South, where many church steeples punctuate the skyline.
Population-to-church ratio in U.S. and Canada by
In a growing number of communities in North America however, these images of
church are fading away or never even existed in the first place. Population in
most urban areas is growing at two or three times the rate of growth of new
Protestant churches. In Rhode Island only one Southern Baptist church exists
for every 131,000 peoplethe lowest church-to-population ratio in the United
States. In Canada, that number increases to nearly 200,000 for every SBC
church. Mississippi has the best church-to-population ratio with one SBC church
for every 1,396 people.
Its not just a numbers problem. Increasingly, theres a need for
language-specific churches and churches that will connect culturally with the
population shifts in their areas.
photo by gibbs frazeur
So put away your picture of the church with stained glass and a steeple, and
think instead of churches as redemption centers that build bridges to their
communities. These bridges carry ministries that meet needs and take the gospel
to new people. They energize Christians to go out and make new disciples. And
they look for places that need new churches to meet more needs.
Together with state Southern Baptist conventions, the North American Mission
Board (NAMB) has made church planting a major priority so that Southern
Baptists now lead all denominations in new church starts. NAMB has adopted a
goal of doubling the number of SBC churches to 100,000 by 2020.
Its a God-sized goal, says Richard Harris, NAMBs vice-president for Church
Planting. It will absolutely be a supernatural movement of God when it happens.
We believe thats what He can do and wants to do. And He can use us as well as
other evangelical Christians to do it. To reach that goal of 100,000 SBC
churches by 2020, Southern Baptists need to help start 2,200 new churches in
2002. Subsequent years call for adding 100 more new churches to the previous
years goal, ultimately leading to a goal of 4,000 new church starts in
We know statistically that churches which are 10 years old or older average
2.5 baptisms per 100 resident members, says Harris. However, churches 10 years
old or younger average 10.8 baptisms per 100 resident members. It doesnt take a
crystal ball to see that if youre going to evangelize North America, church
planting is essential. These new churches mayor may notlook like traditional
Southern Baptist churches, buildings complete with stained glass windows, choir
lofts and tall, white steeples. Many new churches meet in homes, schools or
even shopping centers. But their presence cannot be underestimated, especially
when millions of spiritually embattled people are seeking an eternal peace and
hope found only in a personal relationship with Jesus.
The urban challenge
No setting more starkly represents the need for new churches than North
Americas large cities. Many Protestant churches have abandoned cities for
suburbia, and others have stayed in place and died, not able or not willing to
change as the surrounding community has shifted. The result is that some of our
largest cities are left with very few evangelical churches.
Church planting is primarily an evangelistic toolnew churches reach new
people for Christso NAMBs Strategic Focus Cities (SFC) emphasis includes
planting new churches, along with continued focus on strengthening existing
SFC brings volunteers and other resources from Southern Baptists all across
the nation and uses them to introduce people in the largest cities of the
United States and Canada to Christ. The new and existing churches help new
believers grow in their faith through involvement in local churches, many of
which will start new churches, says Gary Frost, vice president of Strategic
58% of new church starts in 2001 were classified as language and
In just two years, NAMBs SFC partnerships with local Southern Baptists have
helped spawn church planting movements in Phoenix, Chicago, Las Vegas and
Boston where a total of 169 new churches have been started and about 23,000
professions of faith have been recorded.
With a Kingdom vision, an evangelistic passion and a multiplication mindset
of church planting, the results are speaking for themselves, adds Frost.
As part of the SFC strategy, large churches in one part of the country are
planting churches in cities hundreds and even thousands of miles away. For
example, a fully funded flagship congregation was planted last year in Las
Vegas, jointly funded by NAMB and First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Georgia.
In Seattle and Philadelphia, SFC sites for 2002, plans call for starting dozens
of ethnic churches among Asians, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and
African Americans who represent the majority of the unchurched populace in
In Philadelphia, a new church start under way through a partnership with
First Baptist Orlando already has 300 members. And Southern Baptists response
to New York City in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks has spawned
church planting efforts there, jump-starting SFC efforts scheduled in that city
As anemic as the church-to-population ratios appear in the northeast United
States, New England looks like fertile ground for church planting compared to
its neighbor farther north where most of Canada remains largely unchurched.
Provinces such as New Brunswick (pop. 755,000) and Newfoundland (pop. 541,000)
do not have a single Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists (CCSB) church.
Only 13 of Canadas 25 largest cities have CCSB churches. Thirty-one cities with
populations of 10,000 to 20,000-plus have no evangelical witness of any kind.
Consequently, NAMB, in concert with the CCSB, has set a goal of planting 1,000
churches and baptizing 100,000 new believers in Canada by the year 2020.
To that end, Joe and Linda Ledford walked away from their careers three
years ago as a journalist and beautician in northeast Tennessee, to follow Gods
call to help start new churches in Prince Edward Island, Canada, a place where
there was only one CCSB church for a thousand miles. Since moving to Canadas
smallest province, Joe and Linda have helped establish two church-start
missions by offering childrens ministries such as Bible clubs and evangelistic
Children will trust you, Joe says. Then the parents see us loving their
children, and they begin to wonder who we are and why were here. Were here
because of Jesus love. (For more information on the Ledfords church planting
ministry go to______________.)
Finding the leaders
Recognizing that the fields are indeed ripe but the laborers few, NAMB is
partnering with Southern Baptist seminaries to put more church planters where
they are most needed. The Nehemiah Project places NAMB missionaries in all six
Southern Baptist seminaries and the Canadian Southern Baptist Theological
Seminary to offer specific training in church planting and to mobilize
vocational church planters to meet the challenge. Because of this partnership,
more than 500 church planter interns have been appointed since 1997 to serve in
summer, semester and full-time capacities.
And as the number of vocational church planters increases, Southern Baptists
are paying more attention to their unique spiritual needs, supporting them so
they can do the work to which they are called. If there have been lone rangers
in Christendom, it has been the church planters who have too often functioned
in that capacity. Thrust into the untamed wilderness of unchurched North
America, many have found church planting to be a lonely and difficult
trekespecially as the church planter works outside the support system of an
established congregation until the church is actually planted and takes
To further cultivate a church planting movement, NAMB, working in
conjunction with its state partners has developed a mentoring program through
which church planters can receive spiritual support. These mentors offer
themselves as people who care as much about the church planter as the church
plantknowing that the loss of a church planter will often mean the loss of a
But even with efforts like the Nehemiah Project, NAMB recognizes that there
will probably never be enough seminary-trained church planters alone to do the
job of reaching our world for Christnor are there enough missionary dollars to
fund the task should the church planters become available.
As a result, the practical advantages of enlisting laity for the cause are
becoming more and more apparent. Tracing the lay church planting movement all
the way back to the stoning of Stephen (when believers scattered in the wake of
persecution, although the apostles and early church leaders remained in place),
NAMB and its partners have invited those in church congregations to join them
in the task of church planting. By raising the awareness of church planting
needs and providing training, this strategy enables everyday Christians to
fulfill their God-ordained role in the church planting movement.
Lay people are the crucial component, says Van Kicklighter, NAMBs
Congregational Leader Development manager for lay church planters.
And most existing churches, he says, have members who possess spiritual
gifts and skills that would make them excellent church plantersskills in
teaching, equipping, leading and vision casting.
We need more lay people who will step up to the plate and say we will leave
our comfort zone and help you impact this people group that hasnt been touched,
Through an established Church Planting Network facilitated by NAMB, lay
leaders can receive encouragement, advice and prayer support in their church
planting endeavors by those who have been there and done that. NAMB also offers
a web site created specifically for those involved or interested in church
planting, www.thevillage.cc. This website is a virtual church planting
community where users can interact in chat rooms as well as access the latest
research and cutting-edge church planting resources. Church planters will also
find the Church Planting Management System, available on CD-ROM, a unique tool
in organizing a new church start.
Equipping and mobilizing lay leaders, providing vocational training,
reaching ethnic groups and cities are all critical components for meeting the
ambitious goal of 100,000 Southern Baptist churches by 2020. Yet all of these
strategies will yield little, if any, lasting fruit without prayer. Seeking
Gods direction in this colossal endeavor allows NAMB and state partners to
focus their energy and resources where God is already at work. After all,
unless God builds His church, His people labor in vain.
As someone once said, prayer is not preparation for the work, prayer is the
work of ministry, and it certainly is true in the arena of church planting,
says John Yarbrough, vice president of Evanglization. Its foundational to what
we do, but it also must permeate all we do precede, permeate and follow
everything we do. Consequently, an important question for assessing the need
for a new church start is simply, Who are you not reaching?
NAMB resources for church planting:
Church Planting Management System
New Churches Needed: Our Church Can Help Handbook and
Who Me? Help Start a Church? Adult Resource kit
North American Mission Study 2002
To order these materials call 800-448-8032.
Matching churches to population
Urban areas are becoming increasingly diverse ethnically. Immigrants who
have come seeking economic prosperity and new opportunities seek out pockets in
a city where they feel culturally at home. Young professionals are returning to
cities bringing new money and cultural rebirth. From block-to-block and even
from one apartment complex to the next, the ethnic, economic and cultural mix
can make major shifts.
These new realities make it almost impossible for one church to reach so
many different types of people. That kind of diversity requires new churches
who can specifically relate to whatever group of people they are trying to
Ethnic congregations are increasing exponentially, many springing from
cross-cultural church planting efforts. This means churches intentionally are
planting congregations unlike themselves in an effort to match the
characteristics of a changing population, trying to minister across language,
race and socio- economic barriers. Of the new Southern Baptist church starts
last year, some 40 percent were classified as language and ethnic
For example, in Seattle a Southern Baptist Korean congregation is sponsoring
a new church start for Native Americansa congregation that has become one of
the associations most exciting new churches.
That ethnic diversity is already being reflected in existing Southern
Baptist churches, where the gospel is presented in about 110 languages in more
than 7,000 ethnic congregations meeting all over North America during any given
Starting new ethnic churches is critical because otherwise many would not be
assimilated into existing churches. For example, studies have shown that many
African Americans prefer congregations formed in consideration of their unique
cultural characteristics over assimilating into existing churches.
And while cross-cultural church planting is having some success, even more
productive is the practice of strategically placing ethnic leaders who can more
effectively reach their culture with the gospel. Convinced that leadership
training is the lifeblood of the future church, NAMB partners with seminaries
to offer Contextual Leadership Development (CLD) centers that equip Christian
leaders with skills and methods that are effective and meaningful within their
For example, in Arizonas border town of Douglas, a local Spanish-speaking
church has trained several church leaders through its CLD center, many of whom
have gone on to pastor churches. With courses offered in their own language and
on site, CLD centers equip Christian leaders to continue to meet the needs of
their own people group and broaden their efforts. Currently, there are about
150 CLD centers throughout the country.
Even with all the resources, support and strategies, Richard Harris admits
that the degree this church planting movement impacts North America and Canada
is contingent solely on the willingness of followers of Christ to step out in
obedience to a clear biblical mandate.
Healthy Christians should be reproducing other Christians through the
empowerment of the Holy Spirit just like healthy churches should be reproducing
other churches, says Harris.
When God shows us a need, He has already met that need if we will get on His
agenda. And Gods will is Gods bill when it comes to any task on His agenda.
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC