— “If we stop reaching people, we’re going to die,” church planter Bobby Pell,
pastor of NorthWoods Church
in suburban Evansville, Ind.,
“I never want our people to get away from that sense of
desperation, and the best way I knew to do that was always to be about the
process of church planting,” Pell said. “We have been effective in reaching
people as a church plant, and we want to invest in church planting. We believe
it is an effective way of evangelizing in communities.”
The Cooperative Program is the most effective way of funding
church planting, the pastor said. CP helps support Southern Baptist work in
state conventions, across North America and around the
“From a church planting perspective, the Cooperative Program
is crucial to how the North American Mission Board receives funds and is a
conduit in helping church planters be on the field,” said Pell, who twice has
served three years with church planter support from NAMB. “One of the things CP
does that people don’t think about is that it relieves stress from the planter
and his family. From a church planter’s perspective, it’s a big deal for the
wife and family to have some (financial) security….
“If there wasn’t a Cooperative Program, there would be fewer
churches planted, and what planters there were would all be bivocational
because there wouldn’t be income from a congregation yet,” Pell said. “They
wouldn’t be able to devote all their attention to the church plant.”
illustrates the symbiotic relationship between the Cooperative Program and a
Pell moved to Indiana
in 1993 from Chattanooga, Tenn.,
to plant a church in Greencastle, Ind.
He started with four families – and church planter support from NAMB – and when
he left nine years later to plant NorthWoods, more than 500 people were
participating in Sunday morning worship. The church also had started two other
He moved to suburban Evansville
in 2002 after catching the vision of another group of four families. They’d
been sent by Grace Baptist
Church in Evansville
to plant a church. Today the congregation numbers about 525.
“Our church is very much a church planting church,” Pell
said. “We’ve planted churches in lots of places…. Our philosophy has been
that we need to be about the process of church planting.
“To not be missional is to be wrong,” Pell said. “The Bible
tells us we are to make disciples. We are His witnesses. This is not a choice.
This is obedience or disobedience. We have the (Southern Baptist) Convention
with 85 percent of churches plateaued or in decline. When we as local churches
stop making the effort to reach people, we have moved into sin.”
About 125 people were involved at NorthWoods
Church when it started its first
church plant. It was in Vincennes,
about an hour north.
“We helped financially, administratively and with prayer
support,” Pell said. “In church planting you don’t always have to give up
people, but you always have to give up something. The question from a church’s
perspective is, ‘Do we have a sacrificial heart?’ I pray we do, but that does
become a hard question.”
started in 2004; Bloomington in
2006. Like NorthWoods, they too started by giving 10 percent to missions
through the Cooperative Program.
“CP funding was crucial in allowing our churches to get off
the ground and communicating the Gospel,” Pell said. “There is no better way
for us to be doing missions than for us to be doing missions together.
“It has been very good to see God at work,” he said. “I’m
very appreciative of that, and I recognize it’s His hand.”
Others recognize Pell’s giftedness in church planting. He is
team leader for church planting in the Southwestern Indiana Baptist Association
and a church planting trainer and assessor for the State Convention of Baptists
“Bobby understands our Indiana
culture, which is a challenging new work area,” said John Horn, director of
missions for the Southwestern Indiana Baptist Association. “It’s certainly not
as easy to start a church in Indiana
as it is in the Bible Belt.
“Bobby’s entrepreneurial, creative, evangelistic, very solid
biblically in how he does ministry, and he’s cooperative as a Baptist in
networking with others,” Horn said. “He maximizes Kingdom work. We’re very
blessed to have him in our association.”
NorthWoods sent out 40 people from its congregation to start
a church in downtown – inner-city – Evansville
last year. Also last year, NorthWoods sent out 50 people to start a church in
neighboring Warrick County,
the largest unchurched county in the area.
That plant currently is a second campus of the NorthWoods
church “with the desire and hope that the campus would one day become an
autonomous body,” Pell said. That congregation leases a storefront. Pell preaches
– sometimes via video – and on occasion the campus pastor preaches.
“Part of the reason behind him preaching live is a training
process for the future,” Pell said. “I am currently in the process of mentoring
three people in our congregation as possible church planters for the future.
“God has blessed us with the church planters,” Pell said. “My
responsibility is to train them to the best of my ability and to send them out
as prepared as they can be.
“The greatest opportunities I have today are to develop
leaders to go out as missional people either as a church planter, a member of a
church plant or to assist us where we are in reaching and discipling the lost,”
Pell said. “We are constantly looking at areas around us to plant the next
congregation, and the moment we have the leadership and the funding and we have
the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we’re going to go again.”
When NorthWoods sent out 90 people last year to start two
churches, it left gaps at NorthWoods.
“The people who go are the most missional you have,” Pell
said. “What you’re faced with is the responsibility to develop missional people
to replace them. And that’s difficult. At the end of last year we experienced
that, but we made adjustments and we’re OK. We did not allow what happened from
a financial perspective to keep us from accomplishing a mission. We figured out
a way. We made some budget adjustments because we were not going to stop being
At NorthWoods, the congregation goes through LIFE,
leadership development classes, on Wednesday evenings. These might include Old
or New Testament survey or relational studies such as deepening roots in God’s
family. They also have Sunday evening or midweek discipleship-based Connect
groups that are more relational.
“We believe discipleship is both something you learn and
something you walk together with someone,” Pell said. “It’s a head issue as
well as a feet issue.”
Some of the ways the congregation puts feet to their
learning is by participating in one or more of the special events the church
puts on for the community, such as a classic car show that includes a block
party atmosphere; a booth at two county fairs; and a children’s fishing rally
on the church’s four-acre pond – biggest catch last year was an 11-year-old
girl with a 6-pound fish.
At the fairs, passers-by have a chance to win a 4-wheel ATV
at no cost except for three minutes of their time, during which they receive a
personalized Gospel witness. It’s the “Sturgis model” of intentional evangelism
used in recent years by the Dakota Baptist Convention’s intentional evangelism
ministry during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
“What makes Bobby a good church planter? Bobby knows who he
is, what God wants him to do and how God wants him to do it,” said Jim
Hamilton, executive director of the Dakota Baptist Convention who has known
Pell for several years. “Bobby engages people where they are and positions them
to hear from God and move toward a shared vision. He is a gifted gatherer of
people. He places a high value on relationships.”
Another church plant that NorthWoods had a part in is Hills
of Grace in Rapid City, S.D.
This summer, with Hills of Grace now well-established, NorthWoods plans to
participate in a church plant in Middletown, Ohio,
with a family mission trip from NorthWoods.
“We encourage whole families to go,” NorthWoods executive
pastor Ed Collins said.
They do prayerwalks, pass out flyers, host basketball and
baseball clinics and backyard Bible clubs, or whatever works best in the local
situation to gain entry to people in the community, Collins said.
NorthWoods doesn’t make long- or even mid-range plans for
new church plants.
“We have determined as the leadership of our church that we
want this to be Spirit-led,” Pell said. “As God continues to bless our body, two
things we are watching: growth in our own body to allow us to send people out,
and funding. We are watching to start another church or another campus.
“Starting another church or campus is in our mind the best
way to reach lost people for Jesus. We believe it’s the best way because we
have seen a congregation grow from four families to more than 500 in nine
years. We have seen the campus go from 50 in December to 100 in mid-April. We
are seeing lost people come to Christ, and we are seeing growth,” Pell said of
growth not just locally but also in the Kingdom
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of
the Louisiana Baptist Message, Dakota Baptist Connections and The Montana