Church planting efforts in North Carolina faced significant challenges in 2020. The number of new churches started by North Carolina Baptists has been in steady decline for years, according to annual reports. Then a viral pandemic prompted government officials to implement restrictions on large gatherings and other public activities, hampering the ability of fledgling congregations to launch worship services and other events.
Despite those difficulties, the state convention’s church planting team leader, Mike Pittman, is confident that current obstacles present opportunities for North Carolina Baptists to refocus their efforts and develop effective strategies for the future.
I spoke with Pittman over the phone to discuss the current status of church planting across the state and talk about how our readers can support these Great Commission efforts.
Pittman said current trends reflect an “adjustment” following a church planting boom that began in the early 2000s. He described many church plants during that era as being focused almost exclusively on the Sunday gathering as a tool for attracting new attendees.
“Now we have to get into the hard work of planting strong churches with biblical fellowship at their core,” Pittman said. “It’s not an anti-Sunday-service church, but it can’t be the focus of everything we do.” He encourages planters to focus on “building the body of Christ” more than large services.
The state convention offers training for potential church planters, which is now primarily online. Pittman said the team had begun moving toward digital training even before COVID-19 became a factor.
“God went before us,” he said, as the team transitioned a four-day “bootcamp” to a three-month digital-hybrid format that covers “bite-sized portions, one competency at a time.” The training kicks off with a weekend gathering, but then moves to evening video calls to be more accessible for bivocational ministers.
Pittman hopes to use more in-person events as COVID-19 becomes less of a problem, but he believes the online format will continue to be a preferred way of conducting church planter training.
Other goals for Pittman’s team include helping N.C. Baptists develop local networks and church planting residencies in the state’s population centers, hosting workshops and church planter assessment events.
When asked whether church planting or church revitalization should be given priority in the convention’s ministry efforts, Pittman said it’s “both-and.”
“God means for the church to reproduce,” he said, adding that strengthening existing churches and starting new ones go hand-in-hand.
The definition of success for a church revitalization should be its dedication to missions sending, Pittman said.
“Every church that needs to be revitalized was once a church plant,” said Pittman. “I want to see those churches come back to life and become reproducing churches again.”
Here are three ways you can support church planting in North Carolina: