Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Champion a Church Plant

While this article was primarily written for a Southern Baptist readership, most of the ideas that Diane Davis suggests may be used to encourage church planters irrespective of the denomination with which they may be affiliated. 

My mother and her parents were involved in a church plant around the time I began elementary school. In later years I learned from my mother that she and her parents had taken an active interest in missions. One of her closest friends in high school, the daughter of a Presbyterian pastor, would become a missionary to China. 

The pastor of the first Episcopal church my family attended after we emigrated to the United States had been a missionary to the Philippines. The Episcopal church that my mother, my three nieces, and I attended on holidays here in westernmost Kentucky was the last Episcopal church planted in this region. It was a young church that held its services in a wooden A-framed building and its Sunday school classes in a large trailer. 

Since the mid-1980s I have been involved in a number of church plants—two Episcopal church plants, a United Methodist church plant, and two Southern Baptist church plants. The most recent Southern Baptist church plant might be more accurately described as a non-denomination church plant.

I learned one thing from my involvement with the first Episcopal church plant. It was that Episcopalians are inclined to view new church plants as poor relatives due to their status as subsidized missions. The kind of support that they offered new congregations took the form of hand-me-downs and discards. They did not realize that a new church plant is on the forefront of the mission field and that faded vestments, bent processional crosses, dented smoke-blackened censors, and torn dog-eared hymnals and prayer books were not going to help a new congregation to reach and engage the unchurched. 

We became a dumping ground for everything that was cluttering their sacristies and storage rooms. The most helpful gift we received was a one-time grant of money that enabled us to buy a brand-new upright piano. The electric organ that one church donated was broken. What I learned from this experience was that the kind of encouragement and support which a church offers to those pioneering a new congregation should convey the message that we value you and what you are doing.

As for the second Episcopal church plant, while the bishop had sanctioned the new work, the rectors of the two Episcopal churches in the area at which it was targeted refused to acknowledge its existence. The area was experiencing explosive population growth and could have easily supported a third Episcopal church. One church had gone to three services on Sunday morning and a fourth service on Sunday evening. The other church had launched a third service on Sunday morning but had encountered difficulties due to having outgrown its rector's leadership ability. It would subsequently discontinue the third service. A number of their church members referred derogatively to the new church's members as "happy-clappy Holy Rollers."  This was a reference to the charismatic leanings of the members of my former church's healing and prayer ministry who had started the new work. 

My experience with my first Southern Baptist church plant was quite different. Volunteers from other Southern Baptist churches helped the church planter and his wife to conduct a community survey which enabled them to gauge interest in a new church in their target area and identify any unmet needs that the new church might meet. Volunteers from New Orleans Baptist Seminary helped to conduct the worship services and to lead the small groups. Volunteers from other Southern Baptist churches helped to staff the new church’s Vacation Bible School. The message that we received was that we and what we were doing were highly valued. Take time to read Diane Davis' article and to consider how you and your church might encourage  a church planter.

Photo credit: Bridge Church, Madisonville, Louisiana

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