By Darrell Goemaat
Clare Jewell, national church planting coordinator for Regular Baptist Churches, says that a large percentage of churches believe they are not ready to plant a church. “And many of them are probably right,” he says.
Recently, Pastor Matthew Grim of Dimond Boulevard Baptist Church in Anchorage Alaska, invited Clare to help his church evaluate its readiness to plant a church in its community. A few years ago, former pastor Andy Frey led Dimond Boulevard Baptist to start thinking about reproducing itself and reaching out to its multiethnic community. Pastor Grim, Andy’s son-in-law, invited Clare Jewell and ABWE missionary Leon Duell to help the church implement next steps in the church planting process. Clare spent several days in early June meeting with the deacons, touring the community, and preaching about the need to be an outward-focused church.
Clare believes that churches considering church planting need to change their DNA from an inward-focused to an outward-focused mentality. This change starts with making evangelism a higher priority, he says. “Churches need to reevaluate the good things they are doing to make room for the best things. The main thing is to make disciples, but many churches are so focused on transferring knowledge that they do little to actually train people to follow Christ and reproduce new disciples.”
In the strategy sessions with the Dimond Boulevard leadership, one of the deacons asked Clare how churches make the transition to an outward focus.
Clare says it starts with church leadership. Church leaders need to model this mind-set by personally becoming involved in outreach and then sharing their stories with the congregation. Pastors also need to start integrating these evangelism stories and testimonies into their messages. Another step is to ask people who have recently come to Christ to publicly share their testimonies with the congregation.
A major emphasis that helps elevate outreach is the way churches celebrate baptisms. Clare says, “Many churches follow a rote process where they ask if you’re saved and dunk you, while failing to share the personal life transformation story at the center of this significant step of obedience.” Churches need to ensure that they truly celebrate baptism as one of the key events in the life of the church, he says. “Congregants need to know, ‘This is why we exist—to see lives changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.’”
Last, Clare tells churches considering church planting that they need to change how they measure success. “Too many pastors measure the health of their church by the number of people who show up and how much money is in the offering,” he says. Some churches are so focused on gathering at church that their people have little time left in the week to be with the lost.
Churches need to develop an outward focus that starts with measuring success by the number of redemptive conversations and activities their people are having. “Churches should start measuring the number of people who are sharing the gospel each week and the amount of time they are spending with lost people,” Clare says.
One church in Indiana has radically embraced this idea of changing the way it measures success and is publicly documenting the results. The church set up magnetic boards in the foyer, and people are invited to move magnets each week to indicate the number of times they participated in outreach activities.
Those activities include praying for at least three unsaved people during the week, spending at least 30 minutes each week with an unsaved person, giving at least one unsaved person a resource or piece of gospel literature each week, inviting at least one unsaved person to a church service or activity, and sharing the gospel with at least one unsaved person each week. Churches can see at a glance whether they are following through with their commitment to be outward focused.
To allow time for these activities, Clare believes churches need to start “deprograming,” as in, evaluating the number of programs they schedule each week that take time away from personal evangelism. “Churches need to start making room on the church calendar for their people to share the gospel.”
He admits that implementing that strategy might involve cutting back on some time-honored programs and asking people to realistically evaluate the merits of their own family activities and lifestyle commitments.
In a sermon to Dimond Boulevard Baptist, Clare pointed out that the congregation’s community is ripe for harvest. While Anchorage has about 60,000 professing evangelicals, more than 250,000 people claim no religious affiliation at all.
The community is also multiethnic, with significant populations of Russians, South Americans, Asians, and Muslims. Leon Duell, who speaks Russian fluently, is trying to reach those populations with weekly ESL classes followed by a 15-minute Bible study.
In moving toward planting a church, Dimond Boulevard Baptist’s leaders have agreed to do three things. They will assess the outward activity of the church, they will assess the church’s current programing to make time for people to be involved in evangelism, and they will provide evangelism training for their people. “They are now in the process of integrating the vision throughout the church,” Clare says.
The whole point for churches like Dimond Boulevard Baptist who want to plant another church is to develop an outward focus. “Before you plant a church,” Clare says, “you need to make sure that your people are focused on reaching the lost, or you will just reproduce another inward-focused church. Your church will reproduce after its kind.”
Darrell Goemaat is director of photography for Regular Baptist Press.