Then news came that some of the International Mission Board missionaries he had worked with on the trip had been killed on the mission field. Newland hit his knees in prayer. Content to stay but willing to go, Newland’s heart turned to the great unreached cities of North America.
He started regularly praying for the cities and looking for opportunities to serve in one of them. Soon Fall Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis called him to serve as its pastor.
“I felt that God hadn’t just called me to pastor Fall Creek but to reach this city with the Gospel,” Newland said. “I came to the conclusion that I’m probably not going to be a good church planter personally, so I want to champion church planting. And I’m probably not going to grow a megachurch…. So if we’re going to reach this city, I’m going to have to stand up on a platform and scream for church planters and church planting partners to come and help us reach this city.”
That’s exactly what he’s doing in Indianapolis. Fall Creek – which had started half of Indianapolis’ Southern Baptist churches before Newland’s arrival – has launched three more churches in the last five years. Now, as chair of the Send North America: Indianapolis coalition, Newland is leading an effort to bring a new generation of church planters and church planting partners to Indianapolis to help him reach the city with the gospel.
Send North America is the North American Mission Board’s strategy to mobilize and assist churches and individuals in hands-on church planting in 29 cities throughout the U.S. and Canada. Through Send North America, NAMB will come alongside Southern Baptist churches that are not directly involved in church planting and help connect them to a church plant. And NAMB will partner with Southern Baptist churches already planting churches to help them increase their efforts.
The Indianapolis coalition will connect Southern Baptist partners from across North America to church planters with a passion to start evangelistic Southern Baptist churches in the city.
One of the 11 largest cities in the United States according to 2010 U.S. Census statistics, Indianapolis is home to more than 820,000 people. Two million live somewhere in the metro area. Yet local Southern Baptist leaders believe only 1 in 5 Indy residents go to church each weekend. While Southern Baptists have been in the city since 1953, today you’ll only find one Southern Baptist church for every 18,000 people in the metro area – as compared to one SBC church for every 1,732 people in nearby Kentucky.
Newland believes church planting is the key to reaching the city and turning those numbers around.
“The size of churches in Indianapolis – at least Southern Baptist churches – is dreadfully small,” Newland said. “If we’re going to reach this city with the gospel of Jesus Christ, we’re either going to have to get way better than we currently are or we’re going to have to start new work – or both.”
With so few people in Indianapolis churches, the city is full of opportunities for evangelistic church planters. For example, despite the fact that the population of downtown Indianapolis (inside the Interstate 465 loop) jumped by 35,000 people in the past decade, Southern Baptists have only one current church plant in that area. The foreign-born population of the city, meanwhile, has doubled as well – leaving a dramatic need for new church plants among non-English speakers.
To meet these growing church planting needs, the coalition is looking for 90 church planters to join them in Indianapolis throughout the next five years.
Photo by Jim Whitmer.
Church planter Charlie Fehrman and John Newland, pastor of Fall Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis, talk over the needs for church planting in the city. The Send North America: Indianapolis coalition, which Newland chairs, is praying God would call 90 new church planters to the city in the next five years.
Yet despite the vast spiritual needs of the city and church planting opportunities, sharing Christ and starting new churches in the city is tough work. Tony Manning, for example, started a church to reach the affluent family-orientated nearby suburb of Fishers in 2009. Ironically, it’s his community’s clean-cut personality that may be one of its biggest barriers to reaching the city with the gospel.
“I’d say the need for Jesus in Fishers has been overlooked by the people,” said Manning, who is no relation to the famous NFL quarterback who calls Indianapolis home. “They’re really good people who are family-based. If they have needs, they’re used to buying or renting what they need.”
They’re also incredibly busy. Many in their community have calendars full of “good” activities – from family time to youth sports to community groups, Manning said. But in the process, they’ve crowded out spiritual matters.
While most people know Indianapolis as the home of the Indianapolis 500, few might realize that it has quietly become a North American transportation and sporting-event hub in the Midwest. The capital city of the state dubbed “The Crossroads of America,” Indianapolis has more major Interstates crossing it than any major city in the nation – and therefore it’s the headquarters or shipping center for a variety of major companies. It’s also the home of the NCAA, the National Federation of State High School Associations and 10 professional and amateur sports teams.
The Greater Orlando Baptist Association already has signed on to be a part of Send North America: Indianapolis. Yet more outside partners are needed to fuel the church planting necessary to reach the city, Newland said.
Churches that want to partner through Send North America: Indianapolis can visit namb.net/indianapolis and click on the “mobilize me” button.
“We’re desperate for those partners who are going to come alongside and provide hands to the plow, energy for the horses and vision,” Newland said. “We need people with vision for their own communities to come and share with us and help us and pray with us, to give us a new perspective on how to reach our community.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry is the North American Mission Board’s regional communications coordinator for the Midwest.)