God burdened Matt Rice’s heart for northwest Cary when the area was nothing more than dirt roads.
“Nothing was there; I started praying along the dirt roads,” said Rice, the pastor of The Creek Church of Cary that started in 2008. “I prayed for God to do something in this area.”
Now, schools, neighborhoods, grocery stores and highways have replaced the dirt roads, and people continue moving in to northwest Cary. The area is already diverse, with Asians representing 25 percent of the population, and the African-American population is projected to increase 55 percent by 2017.
By 2017, the total population is expected to increase by nearly 24 percent.
Before starting the Creek, Rice was the evangelism minister at Apex Baptist Church, where he served for nine years. Rice said the church and the Raleigh Baptist Association had a vision to reach northwest Cary, located west of Raleigh, with the gospel. And so, Rice left Apex to plant The Creek Church.
The church, which averages around 160 people each week, gathers for Sunday morning worship service at Mills Park Middle School. For two and a half years the church held services at Carpenter Elementary School before moving to Mills Park.
The Creek is one of many young church plants in North Carolina seeking to impact lostness.
In 2011, the Baptist State Convention Church Planting Team worked with 89 new church plants across the state. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) reports that the number of church plants reported by state conventions increased 27 percent between 2010 and 2011. NAMB also has set a challenge to see a net gain of 5,000 Southern Baptist congregations by 2022. With an average of 890 congregations dying off each year, more than 13,500 new churches will need to be planted in the next 10 years.
BR photo by Shawn Hendricks
Matt Rice leads The Creek Church, a church plant in Cary. The church meets at a middle school.
Reaching the unchurched population of North Carolina – alone – is going to take a lot more churches than that, said Tom Billings, executive director of Union Baptist Association in Houston, Texas. Billings spoke during a meeting in July with N.C. directors of missions. He said in order to reach the unchurched population of the state, a minimum of 25,815 churches – each averaging 200 in attendance – will need to be planted to reach more than 5.6 million unchurched people who live in the state. According to one report, new church plants reach people for Christ at three times the rate of existing churches, contended Milton Hollifield, the state convention’s executive director-treasurer, in a recent column he wrote for the Aug. 4 issue of the Biblical Recorder.
“Therefore, if we do not plant churches, we miss a critical opportunity to reach people with the gospel,” Hollifield reported. “Our prayer is that healthy church plants will multiply by planting other healthy churches.”
Last year new N.C. churches reported 2,651 professions of faith. Church plants also report an 82 percent survivability rate over four years, which Hollified contended, makes the average survivability of church plants in the state higher than the national average. Pushing back spiritual darkness through church planting requires planters to maintain a perspective that goes beyond themselves and their church. “It’s not about your kingdom,” Rice said. “It’s about what is best for the Kingdom of God.”
The Creek Church is focused on reaching their community with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rice said they have learned that “doing life” with people is one of the best ways to accomplish that, especially among the many internationals in northwest Cary. “I never realized how important it was to develop relationships until I got to northwest Cary,” Rice said. “The people really want to build relationships, it just takes time. You have to be patient, be faithful. Live in the community with them.”
Much of the church’s outreach is done through small groups, or “huddle groups,” that meet throughout the week. Each group is encouraged to reach out to a business, neighborhood and school. The church partners and serves in various community events. For instance, this past spring the church held an Easter egg hunt at Mills Park Middle School. The event, which attracted hundreds of people from nearby neighborhoods, featured free food and games.
Reaching a community requires investing time, Rice said. He coaches basketball and baseball teams for the town of Cary, which provides opportunities to meet different people and have conversations that turn to spiritual issues.
He encourages other church planters not to focus too much on the numbers.
“Don’t put so much pressure on yourself,” Rice said.
“Rest in the gospel and live in the gospel. At the end of the day, you know God called you to do this. Don’t allow the low or high numbers to discourage you or fill you with pride.
“The measure of success is not in how many are coming, but in how many are being sent and discipled,” he said. “We’re able to invest in people to make sure they are disciples and not just converts. We have a great community. There is a great unity among the body at The Creek.”
Committed to stay
Rice grew up in Connecticut, moving to North Carolina to attend Gardner-Webb University. In Connecticut, in the late 1980s, Rice’s parents planted a church. “I saw the beauty of staying through the good, the bad and the ugly,” he said. That same mentality transferred to Rice, as he is committed to Cary for as long as God will allow him to serve.
“This church plant is the best, and the hardest, thing I have ever been part of. But I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” he said.
“I want to be able to watch the tree in my driveway crack through the driveway; I want to be here that long. I love being pastor of The Creek Church.”