Prayer helps equip church planters for Kingdom impactby C. Walter Overman
Since the North American Mission Board (NAMB) was formed in 1997, Southern Baptists have planted more than 20,000 churches in North America, averaging more than 1,500 new starts each year. With an emphasis on planting culturally and ethnically diverse churches that emphasize evangelism and multiplication, Southern Baptists are planting more North American churches than any other denomination.
Year after year North Carolina has been among the leaders in church planting. The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC) has helped start 556 churches in the past six years.
In 2011, the BSCNC helped start 89 churches. North Carolina counts a church plant when her core team begins worship. The BSCNC currently funds 138 church plants in the two-year funding cycle. The North American Mission Board only recognizes church plants once they are assigned a Southern Baptist Convention identification number, an assignment made when the plant makes her first contribution to the Cooperative Program.
Only 60 of the new 89 church plants were assigned a Southern Baptist Convention identification number in 2011. The remaining 29 will begin Cooperative Program contributions this year.
Yet, with more than 4,300 BSCNC churches some people question the need to plant more churches in North Carolina.
Mark Gray, BSCNC church planting team leader, said that although many wonderful things are happening in established churches, some churches are experiencing decline and are not effectively reaching their communities. Statistics repeatedly demonstrate that new church plants are the most effective tool to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“New church plants reach people for the Lord at three times the rate of existing churches,” he said.
For that reason, Gray believes church planting will play a critical role in the effort to reach the 5.6 million people in North Carolina who do not know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. With so much at stake, the BSCNC church planting team works hard to ensure that every church planter is trained and equipped.
“We know that when we invest in church planters on the front end to help them understand the principles to be an effective church planter we will have a much a better impact on the lost in North Carolina,” Gray said.
The investment in church planters begins with a rigorous assessment process designed to help confirm a potential planter’s call to church planting. The assessment also gives the church planting team an opportunity to determine if a candidate has a passion for, and a history of, leading people to faith in Jesus Christ.
“We are looking for someone who really has a passion to reach the lost,” Gray said. “It’s one thing to talk about reaching the lost; it’s another thing to actually reach the lost.”
After the initial assessment, many planters who complete church planting training are eligible to receive BSCNC funding to help with the new church plant. In 2011, 198 people, representing 23 language groups, completed the comprehensive, four-day training.
During the training, church planters learn how to target specific people groups, disciple new converts and organize a core team. They are also encouraged to begin thinking about how their church can help start another church.
“Our goal is not to plant a church, our goal is to plant a church that plants churches,” Gray said.
The most important factor before launching is to gather a solid group of leaders. “One of the challenges of church planting is a guy who conducts his public launch too quickly before his planting core is discipled and matured enough to take the lead and run with it,” Gray said. “We do not encourage them to launch quickly.”
The hard work and resources Gray and his team have poured into equipping church planters has led to an 88.5 percent success rate of affiliated church plants during the past four years. The success rate is determined by the viability of the congregation after four years. Gray points to the dedication and years of experience among the BSCNC church planting team as one reason for the success.
Another reason is prayer. The BSCNC church planting team has 187 prayer partners statewide who pray regularly for the specific needs and strategic initiatives of church planters.
“The effectiveness being experienced in new church plants is largely due to the power of prayer and our faithful prayer partners across the state,” Gray said. “We are humbled and grateful for the support and prayers of North Carolina Baptists as we seek to reach the 5.6 million lost and unchurched in our state.”
In 2011, among the 138 churches in the funding cycle, 2,651 people made professions of faith and the average worship attendance was 7,981. While in the funding cycle, churches set aside two percent of undesignated funds for church planting, at least five percent to the Cooperative Program and at least three percent to an association or church planting network. Last year, these churches gave more than $203,000 through the Cooperative Program and about $108,000 to associational missions.
Gray is excited to see church planters embrace the importance of giving to Southern Baptist missions. But more than anything he looks forward to seeing how God continues to provide North Carolina with church planters who are committed to planting churches that reach people for Jesus Christ.
“I am really excited about the continued growth and passion for evangelism among church planters,” he said. “I love seeing people saved.”
There is a great need in the church planting movement that each church in North Carolina can help to meet. Healthy churches are needed to lead in the planting of healthy churches. Church planters, and their congregations, are strengthened and enhanced when a church, or group of churches, get involved through praying, serving and assisting a local church plant.
For more information on how your congregation can become directly involved in church planting please visit www.ncbaptist.org/churchplanting