Faced with more 14 million lost people across its region, the Baptist Resource Network (BRN) of Pennsylvania/South Jersey has partnered with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) for the past several years to plant churches in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Now, the Send Network partnership is extending to the entire Pennsylvania/South Jersey region, supporting church planting across its sprawling rural farmlands, mountains, coastland, urban centers and small towns.
“This new initiative is going to assist us in strengthening our strategy in seeing more new churches started within our two-state area that we ultimately expect will become healthy multiplying churches,” said Barry Whitworth, BRN executive director and former lead church-planting catalyst for Pennsylvania/South Jersey and BRN/NAMB Send City missionary for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, two of NAMB’s 32 Send Cities.
Whitworth’s long-time vision has been to see every church “become a healthy, multiplying church,” focused on the healthy behaviors of missional engagement, intentional discipleship and leadership development.
“We’ve already been partnered with NAMB as it relates to the Church Planting Pathway in our two Send Cities,” he said. “It just makes sense now to initiate this partnership all across our 16 million population.”
Joe Velarde, lead pastor of Riverbend Community Church in Allentown, Penn., is leading the Send Network Pennsylvania/South Jersey (PA/SJ) efforts, which began March 1, under the direction of Whitworth and Cliff Jenkins, BRN’s director of multiplying churches.
Velarde started Riverbend in 2009. Along with his team, he has helped start and walked alongside six new churches in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York City, and Denmark through the Riverbend Church multiplying church center that was established in 2011.
“We have a goal of being a multiplication movement; in order to do this, we need Kingdom collaboration,” said Velarde, who in 2019 launched the “Vision for the Valley” podcast to help leaders in Lehigh Valley and beyond. “That’s why I am so excited to see us take this step with the Send Network PA/SJ. I am grateful for the foundation that had been laid over the years and look forward to continuing to build upon it.”
A graduate from Clarks Summit (Pa.) University with a bachelor’s degree in Bible and communications, with an emphasis in writing, Velarde has been married to his wife Amy for 15 years. They have a son, Ray, three.
“We’re so blessed that NAMB would consider and partner with our convention in this matter,” Whitworth said. “I am hopeful and optimistic that this strategy will allow our current church planting team to spend more time developing relationships for church planting and a much-needed pipeline to do church planting in the future.”
Those looking to start a church plant will find multiple areas to start churches, while others may transform communities through replanting existing churches. Church planters may have vocational, bi-vocational or co-vocational opportunities.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and editor of the Network’s weekly newsletter, BRN United.)