Soon after it launched in 2005, Boston’s Grace Church had a realization: nonbelievers would drive an hour for work or Little League, but they wouldn’t travel for church. So Grace began plotting where its members lived on a map. Whenever they saw a cluster of 25-30 members in an area, they prayed for a leader to plant a church there.
Sixteen years later, Grace has used that method to launch nine new congregations (five church plants and four new Grace locations) that reach thousands across the Boston metro area each week.
“We don’t have time to waste,” Grace pastor Sean Sears said. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to start churches.”
Such urgency will be needed across the Southern Baptist Church (SBC) if it is to fulfill the second goal as currently proposed in Vision 2025: add 5,000 new congregations to the Southern Baptist family by 2025, bringing the total to 50,000.
That goal, which will be recommended to SBC messengers by the Executive Committee, aims annually for 600 church plants, 200 replants of declining congregations, 100 new campuses of existing churches and 350 new church affiliations with the SBC – for a total of 1,250 new congregations each year.
The goal is a tall order. The convention has not topped 1,250 new congregations in a single year since 2009, according to SBC annuals. Climbing back to the needed annual total would mark a 38% increase from 2019, the last year for which data is available.
Leaders at Baptist state conventions and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) are asking whether enough churches can be mobilized to achieve that level of church starting.
“I am confident these are reachable goals, but they are goals that will require more churches to step forward and become actively involved in planting,” NAMB President Kevin Ezell said. “The challenge is also for more churches to call out the called. Our biggest need today is more qualified church planters. As I have often said, we could increase our church plant count by 100 this year if we had more planters for the mission.”
The Florida Baptist Convention is doing its part to help churches achieve the goal. The convention’s statewide goal aims for at least 75 new church plants each year. Since 2015, Florida Baptists have planted 284 churches and seen a 92% survival rate among those congregations.
In a partnership between NAMB and the Florida Baptist Convention, Florida churches planting new congregations can receive four years of funding toward the plants, with NAMB providing half and the state convention the other half.
“Every state convention has an opportunity to have a partnership with NAMB,” said Tommy Green, executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention. “The North American Mission Board wants to be an active and viable partner with state conventions in planting churches.”
Green said the partnerships “might look different in every state” depending on local needs.
No church is too small to plant another church, Green added. Three or four smaller churches may opt to plant together. Just “pray for God to raise up those church planters,” and contact NAMB or your state convention for assistance.
Among the highlights of planting a church in partnership with NAMB, Sears said, is the post-launch support it provides. NAMB “crushes coaching and mentoring” for planters and their sponsoring churches, he said. Grace Church has partnered with NAMB since 2009.
State conventions, NAMB and the Executive Committee also are prepared to help with the new affiliations portion of the Vision 2025 goal, Ezell said. However, “all Southern Baptists own this goal because a new church affiliate is stepping into our family and immediately benefits from the partnership and the opportunities.”
Over the past five years, the SBC has averaged 251 new affiliations annually, with a high of 297 in 2019.
One church in the process of joining the Southern Baptist family is Redeemer Fellowship in Saraland, Ala. Its pastor, Joe Stevens, grew up in another denomination but read the Baptist Faith and Message and became convinced it was biblical. He planted Redeemer in July 2020 “with Baptist ideals” and soon led the congregation to cooperate with Southern Baptists.
Redeemer has affiliated with the local Mobile Baptist Association and is in process of cooperating with the SBC and the Alabama Baptist Convention.
One facet of the SBC “that really resonated with me was the focus on missions,” Stevens said. “Where I come from, you hear that term being thrown out there, but it’s not really being executed. With the SBC, missions is a big deal, whether it’s on domestic soil or foreign soil.”
Redeemer Fellowship also was drawn to the church planting help available through NAMB and its state convention, as well as the college and seminary tuition discounts available to equip Southern Baptist church members. As an African American, Stevens wondered initially whether he and his church would be embraced in the SBC. But in “talking with African American pastors who are currently in the SBC, they had nothing but good things to say.”
Stevens urges other churches considering SBC cooperation to “get information from people within the SBC and hear what they have to say.” By joining the Southern Baptist family, “you would be instrumental in missions and promoting the Kingdom of God,” he said.
Sears acknowledged that pastors of existing Southern Baptist churches may feel uneasy about supporting church plants, new campuses or new SBC affiliations, worrying such ventures may siphon attendance away from the mother church. But he urged churches to push through that reticence with faith.
“If you send out those 50 people, it’s my opinion that God will backfill them within a year,” Sears said. “Every time we’ve ever started a church, we had the exact same attendance [at our mother church] six months later and our offerings were higher. … The proof of your [church’s] spiritual maturity is your ability to reproduce.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is a writer in Mobile, Ala.)