Roger Ridley pulls into the parking lot of McKinney’s Food Store and points in the distance to a bluff covered with suburban housing.
“Chalco Hills is an entire community of 12,000-projected to grow to 20,000 in the next 10 years,” says Roger, a church-planting missionary in Gretna, Neb.
Roger knows this parking lot well. Soon after moving to Gretna in 1997, Roger and Sheryl Ridley started dreaming about a network of new Baptist churches in the north and west suburbs of Omaha. Dreaming, and praying. Roger would drive to the grocery, find a parking spot that overlooked his target area, and pray about the next church plant.
Supported by a surprisingly strong economy and a growing team of church planters, the dream is becoming a reality. The Ridleys have now been joined by Peter and Mary Lou Jenks, who are planting a church in Bennington, Neb., assisted by Eric and Amy Wilmeth. And a third church in Chalco Hills has been planted by Blane and Kelly Barfknecht. All three missionary couples work through Baptist Church Planters in Grafton, Ohio.
Roger has an interesting qualifying question he asks when surveying an area for possible church plants. “Has anyone been praying for a church plant here? If God has not burdened the heart of anyone, maybe there is a better spot that will be more fertile.”
Roger says the Omaha area has not felt the economic recession that has hit most of the country. The local paper reported the unemployment rate at 4.4 percent-second lowest in the nation. And we drive past a housing development with dozens of newly built homes and a sign advertising prices less than $100,000.
The church-planting efforts are the result of cooperation among the churches that send and support the missionaries, the Nebraska Association of Regular Baptist Churches, Baptist Church Planters, and Baptist Builders Club. With three growing churches already planted, Roger is studying a Lincoln, Neb., suburb as the possible site of a fourth church.
Roger, who also serves on the board of BCP, downplays his role as a church planting strategist. “We give so much credit to our strategy and planning and programs,” Roger says. “It has nothing to do with us. God is doing His work as He sees best. And God honors the prayers of His people.”
The Gretna church has deliberately marked its milestones by sending out part of its congregation to plant more churches. “Our first Sunday in the new building was the last Sunday for the core group who left to plant Bennington Baptist,” Roger says, adding that the Gretna church sent another team to Chalco Hills on the day their own church graduated from mission status. “We were convinced that if we were to start a church, it should have a church-planting mentality from the beginning,” says Roger. “We don’t really want to be a big church.”
Roger admits that it was hard to say good-bye to solid, tithing families. But the Gretna church has since gained new people to offset those who left. The church recently received a $15,000 grant from Baptist Builders Club to assist with the new church plant in Chalco Hills. Roger recommends this as a way for established churches to jump-start their own church-planting programs. “If we are going to see more churches planted in the GARBC, we need to learn how to do it with small churches,” Roger says.
“Church planting shouldn’t be thought of as another program. It is who you are. It is what God called you to be.”
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