I recently attended the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Birmingham, Alabama. On Tuesday, Dr. Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, gave his report, emphasizing once again that church plants are more effective in evangelism than established churches. (The report said there were 12.4 attendees for every baptism in a church plant, while there were 19.8 attendees for every baptism in an established church, a 63% greater effectiveness.) This is not new information, as every study done on this since at least 1990 has reported the same results. The question is, why?
“We serve our community because we love our community,” proclaimed the flyer from the new church in town. And in a matter of months they definitely gained a reputation for serving the community well. They painted a school, collected shoes for the homeless, picked up trash after community events and cut up trees that blew over in a storm. It was impressive. And three years later, their church disbanded. That was not so impressive.
I am still unsure of how I got the invitation, but I did. It was a small gathering of local Boston pastors and seminary professors – and me.
We were all together to share a breakfast and hear Dr. John M. Perkins share an exhortation. (For those unfamiliar with Dr. Perkins, he is a long-time pastor, a writer, an evangelical leader for racial reconciliation and the co-founder of the Christian Community Development Association.) Despite the fact that he was in his early 80s at the time, he encouraged all of us in the room with passion and zeal for the mission of God.
In Christian circles today, church planting remains a popular ministry option. It’s not hard to find a multitude of church planting resources. Books, seminars, podcasts, websites, even entire mission agencies, exist to help church planters succeed. A large majority of these resources imply, if not explicitly declare, that the end game for a church planter is to plant a church as God has directed him. But such a goal falls far short of God’s desire.
Before church planting was a part of my life, discipleship pathway was not in my vocabulary. But now, 18 months in, I’m thoroughly convinced that discipleship pathway is the way forward, and the very thing that God will use to take our church to the next level of growth. Here are three reasons why I think this.
Where we are in New England, there are so many churches that have abandoned the Gospel and faithfulness to the Scripture. Many of these churches have become nothing more than buildings that are a tribute to a past that was once so influenced by the Truth. Like King Josiah, can we see godly pastors lead them back to faithfulness?
I have long been passionate about our region of the country. From my first missions experience here forty years ago while a college student from the South to my current position of service in church planting, those who are a part of our family of churches in this region have always recognized the difference New England represents. It is a place of spiritual heritage in our land. It is a place of cultural influence across the nation. And it is a place of significant impact upon every life touched by our economy and our education.
Plainfield, VT, sits along a stretch of road called Route 2. While small and typical for a Vermont village, it boasts of great influence for this specific area. Goddard College, the alma mater for William H. Macy and the fruition of Unitarian/Transcendentalist educational ideals has its main campus on the edge of Plainfield. Tuesday evenings in the summertime becomes a vibrant nightlife for Plainfield. You can walk through the downtown streets, crisscrossing the Winooski River to the sounds of rushing water, a guitarist playing along the rock walls that line the street and yoga participants crossing the street to enjoy the Tuesday pizza special at Positive Pie.