When pastor Robin Fisher visited Boston and met a local church planter he learned that his church back home in rural northeast North Carolina may have more in common with the big city than he thought.
Fisher, who pastors Sunset Avenue Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, met Stephen McDonald in the Boston suburb of Lowell during a vision tour sponsored by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) Office of Great Commission Partnerships, in partnership with the North American Mission Board.
Lowell is located about 25 miles northwest of Boston along the Merrimack River and is a former mill town and major textile-manufacturing center that grew rapidly during the Industrial Revolution. When the textile plants eventually closed in Lowell, the community was forced to reinvest and revitalize.
Fisher said when he was in Lowell he was reminded of Rocky Mount, which also has a suburban feel and was once a popular industrial area.
McDonald shared with Fisher about how he and his wife moved to Lowell about a year and half ago to plant Mill City Church. The church is primarily reaching native New Englanders since Lowell is not a transient area. Lowell, like the rest of New England, has very few believers.
Stephen McDonald, an elder of Mill City Church in Lowell, Mass., receives help through the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina Office of Great Commission Partnerships. Part of that help may come through churches like Sunset Avenue Baptist Church in Rocky Mount teaming with Mill City to help reach the lost.
Among 14.3 million New Englanders, less than three percent attend an evangelical church on any given weekend. About 97 out of every 100 New Englanders do not know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.
The BSC partnership with the Baptist Convention of New England includes a specific focus on Boston and the interior of the I-495 loop around Boston. This area is home to 4.5 million people, about 100 Southern Baptist churches and cities as large as 100,000 that have no gospel-preaching church. “We don’t usually think there is a church planting need in the United States that would be comparable to international missions, but there is a great need here,” Fisher said.
After the vision tour Fisher knew he wanted Sunset Avenue to be involved in Boston, specifically through beginning a partnership with McDonald and Mill City Church. “He has a vision,” Fisher said. “He has a strategy and a process, and it is obvious God is blessing it.”
Fisher is working to develop a missions strategy for Sunset Avenue that will help them partner internationally as well as nationally and locally.
“We want our strategy to be about evangelism and church plants that will plant other churches,” he said. “Instead of hit and miss, we’d like to be more intentional in focusing on planters and church planting.”
Fisher said some church members may be hesitant about serving in a more urban context, since they are coming from a rural setting – but those concerns won’t last long.
“When you get there and meet the people doing the work, those concerns will be taken care of,” he said. “It’s much more about people and relationships than it is about place.”
Although the partnership is still in its earliest stages, and the concept of long-term partnership is new for Sunset Avenue, Fisher is excited about working with Mill City Church and learning from McDonald along the way.
“We want this to be a two-way partnership,” Fisher said. “We realize how much need there is in Rocky Mount, in our own region. Stephen can help us cast the vision for how we can reach our area.”
Fisher also expects to soon bring McDonald to North Carolina. “We want our people to meet him and hear his heart and vision,” Fisher said. “He will personalize the partnership for us and it will be easier to call people to pray specific prayers.”
Fisher recommends a vision tour to any North Carolina Baptist pastor.
“This was the best investment of a day and a half I can remember in a long, long time,” he said. “It truly did give us a flavor of the city. I would be surprised if anyone came away from a vision tour without some kind of burden to pursue partnership.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – To learn more about Mill City Church visit www.millcitychurch.net. To get involved in Boston or participate in an upcoming vision tour visit www.ncbaptist.org/gcp. Boston is just one area in North America in great need of the gospel. Come to the North American Mission Board commissioning service Tuesday, Nov. 13, during the BSC annual meeting in Greensboro to learn more about church planters and missionaries serving in some of the nation’s most unreached areas. Visit www.ncannualmeeting.org.)