Do you recognize anyone in this picture? This 1963 photo, sent to me by church-planting friends in the GARBC, shows a meeting of the former church-planting mission Fellowship of Baptists for Home Missions, held at Burholme Baptist Church, Philadelphia, Pa. I can locate my dad and mom, pastor and wife of Burholme Baptist Church, in that distinguished group of faithful servants.
My dad and mom were not church planters in those days, though they later participated in two church-planting ministries. However, my parents were living out what the small preposition in the name of the mission described. They were “for” home missions, or, as we call it today, church planting.
The preposition “for” carries the action of two essential groups. One is the courageous cadre of church planters who are on the front lines, starting new churches in communities that desperately need the gospel. The second, equally important group is a fellowship of Baptists committed to supporting church planters in prayer, with finances, and in lending people and resources to the effort.
In the January/February Baptist Bulletin, I wrote about my experience of participating in a church plant. In response to that article, I received e-mails of encouragement from church planters who know what it takes to do this work. The letters were so touching I think it important to share a couple of excerpts:
“As I read your article, my mind was filled with a myriad of similar church-planting experiences over the past 47 years of our ministry—a small group in a poorly constructed concrete block basement; another group meeting in our living room with classrooms in the bedrooms; our family of four young children scurrying to tidy up the house enough each Sunday morning to welcome the general public into our home (no small feat in itself); and later progressing to larger quarters in a dance studio with the frustration of keeping our children from performing facial monkeyshines in the mirrors lining the side walls during the worship service. As our children grew, we engaged them in teaching and offering special music. As the church would begin to grow, many times it meant relocating and beginning the process all over again—a new location, new set of circumstances, a community room in a bank, a room in a country club, and a room in a townhouse recreation building. It is not an easy task for a family. Yet we know [God] is able to do abundantly above all that we ask or think.”
An excerpt from another letter: “In our few years of existence, we have survived the deaths of several prominent members and the collapse of our roof on December 12, 2009, which amounted to $139,000 in damages. Our attendance dipped, but God has restored all we lost. Today our building is repaired better than ever, all the bills are paid, and our attendance increased by 14 over the last year. We presently average over 30 on Sunday mornings. If we have another year like 2010, our church will be averaging over 50 in attendance. Fifty is our target for practical and financial stability. There is no reason why we cannot reach it. Although we began without any preparation or resources, we made it because we counted on God being with us. I fully understand the challenges that are before you because I’ve been there and in some respects I’m still there.”
In light of these challenging stories, take a moment to conduct a personal “for” church-planting assessment. On a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), rank the following categories related to church planting: (1) your commitment as an individual, (2) the commitment of your church, and (3) the commitment of the GARBC. How did you, your church, and the fellowship do? Is there room for improvement?
Church planting is not an option. God designed this infrastructure by which we can carry out the assignment from Matthew 28:19 and Acts 1:8. There was a time in our fellowship’s history when church planting was happening at a significant rate. The need is no less today.
At our 2011 GARBC Conference, June 27—July 1, in Denver, Colo., we will pay tribute to noble church planters in our association. Challenges from God’s Word will prompt our fellowship to become “for” church planting. The conference theme, “Destined to Multiply,” communicates the manner in which God fashioned the church. Are we multiplying churches? It would be wonderful if at the close of the conference we took a vote and unanimously declared we are “for” church planting. Maybe we can turn the gold rush slogan, “Pike’s Peak or Bust!” into the GARBC heart cry, “Church Planting or Bust!”
John Greening is national representative for the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.