By Clare Jewell
First Baptist Church was eager to develop leaders and start new churches. A six-month study in the book of Acts convinced the leaders and the majority of the congregation that churches were designed by God to reproduce. Another month of fasting and prayer prepared their hearts for action. They were motivated. They had faith. But they did not have resources.
Programs or People?
First Baptist had a long and storied history in its community of 25,000 people. In the past decade alone, members had managed to serve monthly meals to dozens of low-income families, start a recovery ministry for people suffering from addictions, operate a large Upwards basketball league that served more than 300 kids, and initiate a tutoring ministry for underachieving students at the local elementary school.
In spite of all the activity and programs, First Baptist was as stagnate as the water in their baptismal tank. Only one or two adults had come to Christ over the past five years. The church was serving people in the name of Jesus but had done nothing to reduce the “lostness” in a county in which more than 50,000 people claimed no affiliation with any type of religion.
Well-meaning pastors from the regional fellowship insisted that Pastor Smith, the lead pastor of First Baptist Church, should be pleased. Attendance was steady. Offerings were rock solid. His church was a pillar in the community, and he was well respected for running high-quality programs that effectively served people.
While he appreciated the sentiment and the motivation behind it, those pats on the back did little to console Pastor Smith. He was too aware of the movement of the first-century church. People came to faith. Leaders were trained and deployed. New churches were started to reach people far from God. How could he settle for well-run programs when God had called him to run after people?
That is the question with which we must wrestle. How can we shift from running programs to reaching people? What can a relatively small church do to decrease the lostness in its community? Where does a small church with big vision go to find the resources needed to reproduce and multiply? If not for our Baptist heritage, we could play the lottery or start Thursday night bingo, but few would be willing to take such a gamble. Besides, luck is a poor substitute for faithfulness.
So where do we turn?
To each other.
In an association rooted in autonomy and independence, it’s time to return to a more Biblical model of interdependence. It’s time to work together to reach people who are far from God through the reproduction of leaders and churches committed to the Great Commission.
How do we do that? One great model is micronetworks, or four or five churches that come together to engage in God’s mission.
Why four or five churches? A small-sized (micro) group allows leaders to build the kind of trusting relationships necessary to partner together for a mission that requires commitment, energy, sacrifice, and resources.
Why networks? Networks allow small, medium, and large churches to work together to accomplish what they could never do alone. They can pool resources and leverage skill sets that would otherwise be unavailable.
When asked why he is committed to forming a micronetwork, John Scally, lead pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Flint, Mich., says, “My reasoning for starting a micronetwork is to see the gospel spread to every community. My goal is to raise up leaders through multiplication to achieve this goal.”
Pastor Shannon Popp, lead pastor of Holly Road Baptist in Centennial, Colo., says, “In Denver, Colorado, and the surrounding areas, we are getting our spiritual hide kicked around. We do not have nearly enough gospel-preaching and disciple-making churches. We must unite together to do the one thing we can do together that we cannot do alone—reach every soul in Denver with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
What is the goal? Each network of churches establishes its own vision and goals, but the essential focus is on reproducing leaders, planting new churches, and renewing churches that are stagnant or in decline. Simply put, this is not another fellowship group with little to no movement. These micronetworks are designed to fully engage churches of all sizes in God’s plan to knock down the gates of Hell.
Pastor Scally says, “My goal is to see an army of networks that are planting churches in multiple regions.”
Ken Lowe, a network leader in Ohio, puts it bluntly: “I would like to be a catalyst of several micronetworks in the state of Ohio that will stimulate the growth of joint training and leadership development.”
Matthew Nihiser, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Lancaster, Ohio, adds, “We are seeking to steer our fellowship into a full-orbed gospel partnership. We want to work together to spread the gospel in Central Ohio by revitalizing and planting new churches.”
Meanwhile, Involve Church in Nampa, Idaho, is laser focused on developing leaders. Pastor Ryan Frank says he’s “hoping churches will unite to train pastors and leaders from within their own congregations. Churches need God-honoring, faithful leaders to guide them through the next several decades.”
These and other visionary leaders within the GARBC understand the urgency of our day. That’s why they are budgeting or “tithing” a number of hours each week for the development of these micronetworks. It’s also the reason that the Regular Baptist Builders Club and ABWE EveryEthne are working together to help move this process forward.
When asked what he would say to encourage other pastors to get involved, Pastor Nihiser says, “We are better together than apart. Micronetworks seem to solve some of the issues that we are facing: How do we partner together? How do we organize the effort? What level of commitment is required to make this happen?”
Ken Lowe adds, “If your church wants to grow and develop a more strategic missions footprint regionally, you should get involved.”
Clarifying the Process
Every micronetwork begins with a cohort of pastors.
First, a local church pastor determines to focus on reproducing leaders and churches in partnership with other like-minded churches in his region.
Second, this pastor joins a cohort of five or six other pastors and receives training within the cohort via Zoom conferences for one hour each month. This helps build competence and accountability as well as a network of other pastors who are praying with him.
Third, this pastor becomes a network leader and builds healthy relationships with three to four like-minded pastors in his region. He shares the vision for reproducing leaders and churches together.
Fourth, as the group forms, they establish Radical Minimums, or simple qualifications for being a committed member of the network. This generally includes the following:
- a commitment to meet and engage together (monthly is best);
- agreement on doctrinal alignment;
- financial commitment, which can vary, but some form of commitment should be required and agreed to; and
- missional alignment, or clear agreement and focus on a specific mission, which is, to plant churches, revitalize churches, and/or develop leaders.
Cohort coaching continues for as long as needed.
Providing for the Mission
First Baptist Church still has a vision and a passion for reaching lost people, making disciples, developing leaders, and planting churches. But now the church has the one thing it was missing—resources! Six months ago the church joined a small network with four other churches, and together they are equipping three young leaders and one middle-aged man in the process of a career change to step out and lead their first church plants in 2022.
Things are moving along so well that the network pastors have agreed to mentor a couple of future network leaders from a city about 30 miles to the east. Pastor Smith echoes the sentiment of the group when he says, “God’s first command was to be fruitful and multiply. It’s about time we responded.”
Clare Jewell is director of Regular Baptist Builders Club and Regular Baptist Church Planting. For more information on this topic, he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.