Planter: Cooperative Program is ‘crucial’
Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press
June 02, 2011

Planter: Cooperative Program is ‘crucial’

Planter: Cooperative Program is ‘crucial’
Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press
June 02, 2011


— “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.”

NorthWoods Church

illustrates the symbiotic relationship between the Cooperative Program and a

church planter.

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.”

A classic car show with a block party atmosphere is one of the annual events NorthWoods Church in Evansville, Ind., hosts for the community as an outreach tool.

Vincennes was

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

in Indiana.

“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

of God.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of

the Louisiana Baptist Message, Dakota Baptist Connections and The Montana


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