T.J. Ward, a 37-year-old church planting pastor in
Winston-Salem, hasn’t had a paycheck since leaving his old church in
Jacksonville, Fla., in December 2009, although he will start receiving a salary
from New Church this coming January.
Over the last 18 months, he and wife, Wendy — and their two little girls have
lived only on her Bank of America salary.
They traded their dream home in Jacksonville for a “starter”
home in Winston-Salem.
When Ward decided to become a church planter, he had no idea
where he would plant. He and Wendy just knew they would have to leave their
large network of family and friends in Jacksonville behind.
“We were happy where we were,” says Ward.
“We were effective in the church where we were serving. God
was using us, but I felt like He was leading me toward church planting. I
ignored it for six months — I
But he and Wendy continued to discuss it and were willing to
The Wards began fasting, praying and pouring over a map of
the United States.
They started examining church planting in different state
conventions and associations, studied some demographics and narrowed their
choice down to the Tar Heel State.
“I liked that the North Carolina convention was pushing
church planting,” he recalls. After more discussions with the Baptist State
Convention of North Carolina’s (BSC) staff and counsel from mentors like pastor
Spike Hogan in Jacksonville, they chose Winston-Salem for their new church
“God lined up the circumstances and Winston-Salem seemed to
Launched last January, New Church — that’s the name of the church — now runs in the 150’s every Sunday, meeting in a local
Ward’s vision and the church’s name came from 2 Cor. 5:17: “Therefore
if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and
look, new things have come.” New Church’s slogan is “It’s church … just
“At New Church, we say we want to help people who are far
from God experience new life in Jesus Christ,” Ward said.
“New Church is some people’s first exposure to church. Our
vision is to reach them, and people who maybe have been away from God for
Since January 9, 2011, 62 people at New Church have made
decisions for Christ.
Although they meet at a local “Y,” the facility lacks a
pool. So Ward baptizes new believers —
decked out in blue T-shirts inscribed on front with “I took the plunge at New
Church” — in a horse trough.
On Easter Sunday in late April, New Church drew an all-time
high attendance of 244 — its
goal had been 300 — and had 34
professions of faith, four over its goal.
“We’re humbled by what God is doing here,” said Ward, who
spent 10 years as a teacher, vice principal and principal in Christian
education before going into the ministry back in Jacksonville in 2008. “Winston-Salem is a very churched culture,” Ward says.
“A lot of people here grew up in church but have the wrong
idea of what a true relationship with God is all about. We’re seeing lives
completely changed and people getting plugged back into building relationships
and growing in their faith. It’s been amazing.”
In addition to crediting God, Ward attributes much of New
Church’s early success as a church plant to its three main sponsoring churches
and their pastors who are his mentors and advisers.
The three supporting churches are Chets Creek Church in
Jacksonville, Fla.; Avalon Church in McDonough, Ga.; and The Summit Church in
Chets Creek Church Lead Pastor Spike Hogan not only gave
Ward much counsel at the outset, but “he’s been wonderful at providing
encouragement along the way,” says Ward.
Hogan, highly regarded as a church planter’s church planter,
came to Chets Creek as pastor in October 1999, patterning that new plant after
Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California.
Hogan was named to the North American Mission Board’s board
of trustees in 2010.
New Church in Winston-Salem is only the latest church plant
financially supported by Chets Creek, which also has a hand in church plants in
Las Vegas and Reno, Nev., Miramar and Tallahassee Fla., and Martinsburg, W.Va.
In all, Chets Creek has helped plant 13 new Southern Baptist churches since
Hogan arrived 13 years ago — a
new church each year.
Chets Creek Church has seen tremendous growth. Starting with
only 30 meeting in an elementary school, the attendance quickly climbed to 80
and in only three months, zoomed to 100.
“We set a goal to grow by 10 percent a year, and we have
more than averaged that. Our other goal was to baptize 10 percent of average
attendance each year,” said Hogan.
“I’m convinced that God blesses and honors initiative when
it’s reasonable and realistic.”
Hogan adds that any successful church plant must start out
with benchmarks on paper: what will worship attendance be, and what will it be
in five years? How many small groups are needed?
What about giving and baptisms?
Chets Creek now runs 2,000 people in six services — three adult services, and services
for children, middle school, and high school students.
Today, the church operates out of a new church facility on a
10-1/2-acre campus in front of
the very elementary school where they launched 12 years ago.
“Our goal is to start one new church a year,” said Hogan. “We
support the church plant financially for three years and sometimes extend to a
fourth year if they need more help.
“Money-wise, we give them $12,000 the first year, $9,000 the
second, and $6,000 in the third year. We also show them how to get funds from
To even be considered as a Chets Creek church plant, Hogan
said the church planter must do his due diligence.
“He must have specific expectations. We need to know that
the pastor is truly called to plant a church. We want confirmation that the
planter’s wife is on board,” Hogan said.
“We want to see a realistic but challenging five-year
calendar and plan. We want a commitment to the Cooperative Program. We want to
see evidence the planter has studied and prepared to plant a church. And we
want to know that there is a core of members for the new church.
“It’s a mistaken idea that when you plant a new church, you
have to end up with half your membership moving across town or across the
country, that you give up tons of money and that the new church is going to
drain you dry,” said Hogan.
“The answer is not to dump a lot of money in the church
plant. It’s not about the money. It’s about leadership and surrounding yourself
with good folks.”
Hogan relies heavily on Chets Creek Church’s mission pastor
Chris Price to help with their church planting.
“Acts says church planting is the No. 1 church priority — presenting the gospel to the world,”
“It’s the church being the church, representing Christ.
Churches are the delivery agent to accomplish the Great Commission.
“If we as a church are not doing our best to replicate and
multiply what God is doing and the vision He has given us, we’re missing the
mark as a church.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah
writes for the North American Mission Board.)