By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
SALISBURY, Md.—The laid back Eastern Shore of Maryland is bursting with new life–new church life. Anglo and language church planters are seeing tremendous growth.
“The only way to describe it is reformation. The Lord is doing a new work here. We’re glad to be a part of that. It’s certainly exciting,” Reid Sterrett, Eastern Association director of missions and pastor of Soul Discovery Church, Salisbury, said.
Each plant uses various methods and they’re drawing diverse groups. “Churches are like people, they’re all unique,” Sterrett said.
One of the biggest new plants causing quite a buzz is Bayside Community Church in Pocomoke, near the Maryland/Virginia state line. The church officially launched in November and nearly 150 people attended and they had one profession of faith. At Easter, 480 people made the auditorium almost standing room only.
John Woods, pastor of Bayside Community Church, said on Easter morning he and several leaders went in the back to pray a half hour before the service.
“It was just amazing. At 9:30, there was a handful of people. When I came out, it was almost full,” Woods said.
Bayside began with ten couples in a small group. They partnered with a local YWCA and other local businesses to offer Upward Basketball and cheerleading and used those activities to launch the church.
Bayside’s mission is simple: “Share life, love and liberty found in Jesus.”
Woods said the church doesn’t compromise on the mission. “If someone comes up with a program and it does not fit our purpose, we don’t waste time looking at it. We’d rather do four or five things really good rather than 10 or 12 halfway. We’re staying focused on our mission and our plan. Of course, God has been behind it all. We can’t do it without Him.”
North of Pocomoke, Ryan Weaver, pastor of Remedy Church, Salisbury, said his church intentionally used a slower growth model focusing on community, serving and a holistic ministry approach. They had their public launch in January 2010 with 82 in attendance. Since then they’ve maintained around 80 and small groups average about 60.
The church meets at a movie theater and focuses on young families. They attract visitors through “relational marketing.”
Weaver said Remedy was “missional from the beginning.” The church focuses on sustainable ministry. Remedy recently worked with partners in Haiti to fund the digging of a well. Weaver and his Senior Pastor, Wayne Witzke, recently travelled with a team to Haiti to monitor the progress of the project and to meet with Haitian leaders to begin learning how Remedy might better engage the problem of orphan and chid trafficking in the country.
Locally, they’re working to assess and meet the needs of those in living in poverty in Salisbury’s urban areas.
Weaver is especially interested in partnering with local nonprofits and other churches in the area. He is currently seeking a nonprofit organization that may be willing to partner with the church to plant a community garden in a nearby urban neighborhood.
“Remedy Church’s approach to ministry is relational and missional. We believe that the Gospel is best expressed by ordinary Christ-followers living in relationship to God, and their neighbors. Our vision is ‘Go. Be. Do.’ from Matthew 28:19,” Weaver said.
Hispanic Church planter Jose Nater’s church, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana de Cambridge, is preparing for a third Hispanic church plant within the last five years.
Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana de Cambridge will celebrate their fifth anniversary in October and they’re in the process of gathering information to possibly buy their own property by that time. Currently, their facility is small, holding just 70. With about 50 regular attenders, the church is quickly outgrowing its facility.
Nater and the Cambridge congregation launched a new plant in Easton last year, Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana de Easton, and the church is now averaging about 80 each week.
Nater hopes to start another plant in Seaford, Del., by the end of this year. “Church planting is what’s in my heart. It’s my passion,” Nater said. The excited planter trusts God to provide the right leadership for the plants at the right time. More people have already been stepping up to help.
Nater’s passion is shared by other Eastern shore planters. They’ve got boundless enthusiasm and seemingly endless energy.
“There’s a fire starting…by people who are really passionate about lost people. Something has to be done. We need to partner with God and get it done. That’s what I’m seeing happen with church planters young and old,” John Woods said.
Woods said established churches are taking notice of the new plants and some are encouraged and are examining themselves to see how they can be more relevant.Reid Sterrett, who planted Soul Discovery nine years ago, is thrilled with how God is blessing the new works and bringing a wave of revival.
“The soil is fertile on the shore right now,” said Sterrett. Plants include Anglo, Hispanic, Haitian and Brazilian. There are discussions about a new Chinese plant in Salisbury.
Sterrett said the new plants are vibrant, exciting and culturally relevant. Church planters are boldly proclaiming the Gospel, The Eastern Shore has evolved and has become more diverse over the past decade.
“The poultry industry brings a lot of immigrants,” Sterrett said. “It used to be seasonal, but now it’s less transient and there is more permanency with the immigrants.“ In addition, Sterrett explained, people of all nationalities are discovering that the shore is a great place to raise a family.
“What you’re seeing is the culture as a melting pot of diversity. The twenty-first century church must adapt and be effective in reaching this culture pocket,” Sterrett said.
Sterrett’s church, Soul Discovery, began meeting in a minor league Baltimore Orioles affiliate stadium. They now meet in a banquet facility in Salisbury. The church is multi-ethnic with Koreans, Hispanics, African Americans and Anglos.
Sterrett said it’s like a model from Revelation 7:9, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb…”
Soul Discovery is geographically right between Allen, Oak Ridge and Remedy Churches, but Sterrett said each is unique.
Sterrett said church planting can sometimes cause jealousy and fear of “sheep stealing.” It’s unfounded, he said. “There are enough unchurched people for every evangelical church on the map to fill the churches and still not reach people for Christ.“
Ryan Weaver acknowledges that today’s planters are indebted to those who went before them.
“I stand on the shoulders of older planters and pastors, especially in this area. They are my heroes,” Weaver said, mentioning Andy Ehlers, pastor of HighTide Church, parent church of Remedy; Daryl McCready, pastor of SonRise Church, Reid Sterrett and William Warren, pastor of Allen Memorial Church.
AMPLIFY YOUR IMPACT
The BCM/D’s vision is to facilitate a church multiplication movement of healthy, harvest-focused and reproducing churches. To learn more about how to plant a church or to become a church-planting partner, contact David Jackson, firstname.lastname@example.org, (410) 977-9867; Rolando Castro, email@example.com, (443) 285-2012; or Robert Kim, firstname.lastname@example.org, (410) 977-3816.