By John Greening
This was a first for me—attending back-to-back Sunday services of three separate congregations, each representing a different ethnicity, with all three meeting in the same building. I experienced this wonder during a recent church planting tour of the Northwest and West that I took with my wife, Daria, and our colleagues Clare Jewell, national church planting coordinator for Regular Baptist Churches, and Darrell Goemaat, director of photography for Regular Baptist Ministries.
The Portland, Oregon, facility in which these churches meet was once the home of an Anglo congregation. Sadly, that church did not survive. Rather than simply selling the property to recoup its investment, the church turned over its building to Northwest Baptist Home Mission, which had the foresight to allow first one, then two, and eventually three ethnic congregations to share the facility. Each congregation has its own pastor, directs its own worship, and ministers to its own people under International Baptist Church.
Today these three thriving congregations are reaching unique people groups in the greater Portland metro area: Spanish, Vietnamese, and Karen (a tribe from Myanmar). Pastor Pete and Deb Steele, missionaries with the Baptist Network Northwest, are the coordinating overseers for International Baptist Church. Pete, a member of BNN’s administrative team, mentors the congregations’ capable pastors, facilitates operational details, and assists all three groups in their development of new ministries. Recently Pete oversaw a facility renovation of a wing, which will allow the groups to expand their connections.
Besides the sheer thrill of seeing firsthand these actively growing congregations, I learned five important lessons.
Creative vision casting can lead to remarkable results. Repurposing a facility that appeared doomed resulted in an exponential increase in ministry.
Rather than aiming for the immediate goal of developing one multiethnic congregation, this church’s ministry structure allows three groups of believers—each who desires to be with its own people—to use a single facility. This stair-step approach allows believers to develop readiness for future multiethnic ministries.
Mentoring and building collaborative relationships among these congregational pastors can yield greater fruit when it is done in the sphere of ongoing development and coordination.
Maximizing the potential of a facility through shared relationships becomes a win-win for all involved—lowering costs, reaching unreached people groups, and expanding outreach potential through diverse ministries.
International Baptist Church’s testimony of sharing spaces and coordinating schedules becomes a visual display of the gospel’s power to break down walls that normally divide people in society.
On this tour, we also visited Chris and Colleen Pagniello of Highland Baptist Church, Hayward, California. The Pagniellos sensed God’s calling to step out of secular employment to assume the pastorate of a pastorless church. Each week this Anglo couple lovingly leads a congregation representing 10 ethnic groups from the surrounding community. They said yes to the compelling invitation of Christ to follow Him and become fishers of men. As people of different ages and career tracks respond to Christ’s call, He continues to build His church, allowing for more church planting to take place.
In the Silicon Valley’s high-tech region of Milpitas, California, we visited another godly couple, Sidney and Anna Capillas, as they actively engaged with their primarily Filipino congregation. Sidney and Anna were sent out by nearby Sunrise Valley Baptist Church in San Jose and are faithfully establishing Northside Harvest Baptist Church in a highly atheistic area.
These two churches are intentionally multiplying churches by planting and replanting. It is God’s strategy to reach every tribe, tongue, and nation.
We traveled on to a dynamic Spanish-speaking congregation in Hayward, Iglesia Biblica La Roca, led by Pastor Carlos Vasquez. This Baptist Church Planters ministry was alive with the vibrancy of genuine faith in Christ and displaying a hunger for God’s Word. Meeting on a Sunday afternoon, these brothers and sisters received us with sincere love. Children and teens, moms and dads, as well as senior citizens demonstrated the happy union that believers experience when they assemble. Christ’s life was incarnate through this church in that community.
Sunday evening, we enjoyed worshiping in a joint service in Tracy, California, with two other churches planted by BCP. Church planters Tim and Susan Heinrich started Crossroads Baptist Church near where Tim’s dad, Bill, had pastored. The other congregation, Deaf Baptist Church, led by Kevin and Kenyata Maki, is focusing its attention within the deaf community of San Jose. Pastors of sister churches in the Central Valley area have formed good friendships of mutual support in their church-planting efforts.
I cannot help but ask, What might God choose to accomplish through us if within our association of churches every church participated in a church-planting partnership? What could you do with your facilities? What people groups are nearby? What contacts in your community do your people have that could become a church-planting seed? Clare Jewell would love to help you and your church think about the possibilities of church planting. Visit www.rbChurchPlanting.org to learn how you can take part in the essential work of starting new churches.
John Greening is national representative of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.
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