By David Jackson, BCM/D missionary for church multiplication
“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the LORD has helped us’” (I Samuel 7:12).
The past 15 years have seen a renewed interest and commitment to church planting within the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. Our leadership has championed it, our local churches have supported it and our planters have pioneered it. As a result, it has been a decade unlike any in the history of our convention.
With almost two months yet to go, we have seen already over three hundred new works started since the first day of 2001. To put this in perspective, in 1990 we had only 323 churches in the entire Convention! These new works have taken the shape of church plants primarily, but occasionally also they have happened through restarts and a growing number of multi-sites (once called satellite locations).
These church multiplication efforts have largely survived, succeeded and have now started to reproduce themselves in our region. Young leaders with a Kingdom perspective have looked beyond their own local church to the greater impact church multiplication can make. Some pastors and churches in existing churches have braved the risk involved to step out in faith as “church planting centers” for the future, too. As a result, it’s time to raise our own “Ebenezer.”
Few, if any, networks of churches anywhere in America—Southern Baptist or otherwise—have been as successful in church planting and multiplication as we have been over the past decade. For this, we give thanks to God. We would all acknowledge His sovereignty over these efforts and the fact that all praise and credit for what we’ve seen in our midst belong to Him. Still, I believe there are some lessons we’ve learned—and must not forget—in the future, for us to build on God’s expanded work in our midst.
It starts with “loud” leadership. Leaders who have been captured by the heart of God have to create a climate and culture for church planting. They have to trumpet its value and priority whenever and wherever they can. These leaders must step out in courage to vocalize its significance for individual churches, but also for the Kingdom of God. In Maryland/Delaware our executive director, associational directors of missions and even our BaptistLIFE newsjournal have been “loud” and persistent advocates, who have told the stories of transformation brought about through church planting. These leaders have also championed church planters, their families and these fledgling congregations with their own commitment and presence, not just with their words.
It continues with risk-takers. Church planters by nature are out-of-the-box, adventurous pioneers, who are fearless in their willingness to sacrifice and risk, so that the lost can know the Good News of Jesus Christ. What others see as “taking chances,” planters see as “stepping out in faith.” Their determination and unconditional surrender to the call of God in their church planting ventures enables them to take leaps of faith many others would never even consider. This abandonment to God and their passion for those without Jesus cause them to try radical ways to get past the filters and facades that cause many unchurched people to reject the claims of Christ. The hundreds of planters who have embraced this challenge here in our Mid-Atlantic region are the real “heroes” in the movement.
It grows with champions. As the ministry has grown and expanded across the region, church planting churches have begun to emerge. These churches, who have intentionally prepared and partnered with church planters here in Maryland/Delaware, have become the real champions of this effort. They have experienced first-hand the difference their involvement has made for the church planter and his family. They have seen the renewed vitality it has brought to their own congregation. They have watched as “the darkness” has been pushed back through the ministry of church planting. As a result, they have become advocates and encouragers to planters, to other sister churches and to our convention for the difference church multiplication is making in our area.
It lasts with cooperation. Why has this effort been successful, you ask? My own opinion is that you—individuals and churches—within the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware have continued to give your unyielding and prayerful support to this endeavor. Along with the valuable partnership of the North American Mission Board and other partner churches throughout the nation, you have been steadfast in this Kingdom-advancing effort. The banner of cooperation has draped our convention over this past decade and we have not lost sight of the mission—to bring lost people into an encounter with the living Christ and see them grow to be fully devoted followers of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, thank you, Maryland/Delaware Baptists. Your priority, your commitment, your determination, your cooperation—these are the things God has used to bring thousands more into His Kingdom. “Thus far the LORD has helped us” indeed! May He continue to use us mightily until Jesus returns.
David Jackson is BCM/D’s Team Strategist for Church Multiplication. He can be reached by phone or text at (410) 977-9867 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.