It took a decade for Scott Blue to respond to the church planting vision that started when he was in seminary in the 1990s.
He admits that with shame “because it took so long.”
“Regardless of how many books you read on church planting, it’s never preparation enough for the emotional, physical, and spiritual challenges. It can almost completely paralyze you.”
He said that with no irony, even though 20 years before responding to his calling, Blue was paralyzed in a diving accident.
Blue, a quadriplegic, maneuvers the stage with ease at his church with his wheelchair. A ramp gives him access to the church stage, and his van has been customized so he can drive. Because he has some hand and arm mobility, Blue uses a control to drive his van and steer his wheelchair.
Church members don’t see his condition as an obstacle. The main difference is there are no handshakes from Blue. The knucklebump is the greeting you receive. He cannot open his hands, so he offers his fist for greeting.
Blue, a church planter and pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Laurinburg, is a native of the town.
A graduate of St. Andrews Presbyterian College and a missions, evangelism and church growth graduate from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., Blue also earned a doctorate in Christian preaching from Southern.
Nestled in an old shopping center amid hair and nail salons and across the parking lot from the town’s only movie theater (two screens) and an aging skating rink, Grace is sponsored by Stewartsville Baptist Church in Laurinburg, a town of more than 25,000 in southeast North Carolina. They’ve been called the “Wal-Mart church,” because they send a gift card to first-time guests or the “hot chocolate church,” because they’ve given refreshments to people during the Christmas parade the past two years.
Last summer, the church held three backyard Bible clubs in multi-unit housing communities.
“We want to show the love of Jesus in order to build bridges to share the Good News of Christ,” Blue said.
“We’re a growing church,” Blue said. “I think we’re growing the right way.”
That way includes a clear vision, focused on reaching the unchurched.
“I know our focus is right,” said Pam Roeben, music coordinator, who has five children between the ages of 7 and 19. “We want to please God.”
Started with a group of five families, Grace currently averages close to 80. They’ve used their flexible space for a variety of outreach activities: coffee houses, Mexican Fiesta Game Night, showing the movie Fireproof, etc.
Almost half the members are high school age and younger and they have active roles in the services, which encourages their involvement. On one February Wednesday night, they visited local businesses distributing candy and sharing the gospel.
Wendy Hamilton’s four children began attending Grace last summer and she said they “come home with so much knowledge.” She admired how Grace got them involved in an apartment complex ministry across from the church as well as distributing food to public servants at Christmas. She praised Grace attendees as “selfless.”
Grace’s non-traditional service also drew Alan Barnhill, a volunteer firefighter. As a drummer and former band member, Barnhill’s musical preference leaned toward rock n’ roll and hard rock. Now he plays in the church band, and loves the contemporary and praise music.
Grace stresses missions and half the church last year ministered in Brazil, Uganda, Germany or Greensboro. This summer, groups will minister in Charleston, S.C., and again in Brazil. The church is decorated with flags from the countries in which they minister.
With all of Grace’s successes, Blue said church plants face some steep problems.
“There really hasn’t been a truly healthy Southern Baptist church plant in Scotland County in 20 or 30 years,” he said.
Laurinburg has high unemployment and teen pregnancy rates and a low education level.
“We’ve had at least four events that could have killed most church plants,” Blue said. “We’ve also made plenty of mistakes. We’re thankful that God got us through them.”
When Grace first started, Blue said he received nasty e-mails and was accosted about infringing on other’s territory.
“We experienced some persecution right off the bat,” he said, but “we want to work with other churches to reach people in Laurinburg.”
A self-described Type A personality, Blue and Grace’s other leaders feel they are flying by the seat of their pants sometimes. They meet monthly to try to stay ahead of constant change.
“We want to be very progressive … as long as it doesn’t conflict with scripture,” Blue said. “We’re very conservative in our theology and our Baptist identity.”
The building has three rooms for children and nursery, a small kitchen, and fellowship area that bleeds into the worship area. On the outer edges of the main room is a foosball and ping-pong table. Now, they are praying for a pool table.
“We let people be themselves,” Blue said.
Describing Grace as missional, Blue said they are “trying to apply the same concepts as missionaries in their context.”
Blue also is a visiting lecturer of religion at University of North Carolina-Pembroke, where he teaches Introduction to Religion and Introduction to New Testament.
In the beginning
Grace, which baptized 12 last year, started in November 2007, and Stewartsville gave $10,000 seed money. Current Stewartsville pastor Eddy Simmons, a former International Mission Board missionary, said Blue has a “great vision.”
Stewartsville committed to help Grace financially for three years, and the churches have partnered on mission trips.
“I think the Lord blesses churches that start other churches,” Simmons said.
Grace sets aside two percent of gifts in a special fund to plant a church later.
Blue hopes by year three Grace will be able to help plant another church. Members need to pray “a lot” and consider dedicating a year of their lives to seek God’s will about using them in a church plant.
“You also need a kingdom mentality,” Simmons said.
A church doesn’t have to be big to plant another. Stewartsville averages 400 on Sunday.
“It has to be a kingdom thing,” Simmons said. “You multiply better that way. The newer churches are reaching people.”
Still a young congregation, Grace needs help with children, the nursery, their 412 Student Ministries (after 1 Tim. 4:12: “no one should despise your youth”), and community outreach.
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