Church Planters Need to Gather a Team of Missionaries

170215church-planting-newEver since I have been involved in church planting, I have heard you need to develop a core group, or in these days a launch team. These people come alongside you, help get your church plant going and help with various ministries in the church. Hundreds of church planters, myself included, had gathered a core group or team and used them to help start a church.

Well, today, I say, “Stop!”

If you think I have flipped, hear me out. When it comes to a core group or launch team, most church planters instantly start gathering Christian friends or acquaintances to be part of their group. They begin talking about the vision and the values of the new church. Continue reading “Church Planters Need to Gather a Team of Missionaries”

Will We Rally People to the Cross?

Okay, show of hands. How many of you have ever heard of Knowles Shaw (without searching for him on Google). Raise those hands high. Tennessee is a long state. Nobody? Honestly, before this column I didn’t know who was either. But he’s worth knowing about.

Knowles Shaw_Fotor
Knowles Shaw October 31, 1834 – June 7, 1878

Shaw was an American composer, author and evangelist from Ohio. Thousands across our state grew up singing his most notable song: Bringing in the Sheaves. You remember: “Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness//Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve//Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping//We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.”

That song is based on Psalm 126:6. “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” I’ve always loved that hymn because it so vividly describes who we should be as disciples of Christ. But my perspective has changed regarding the “bringing in” part.

I grew up in an era when the success of the church was measured by how many people were coming to the church. We’d teach our kids to fold their hands and recite, “Here is the church, here is the steeple; open the doors and see all the people.” There are certainly still people coming to church these days, but not nearly as many as there were. The number of sheaves being brought in is down.

As I’ve grown in ministry, I’ve learned a more successful New Testament-modeled church is measured by how many people are going. I believe we’ve lost sight of what Shaw was teaching in the first part of his hymn’s verse. “Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness; Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve.” You can’t reap what you don’t go sow, and there is no harvest to be had sitting in a church. Knowles was advocating sowing – planting – morning, noon and evening in some field somewhere.

FiveObjectivesDisplay_27.5x78And that is really the heart the first three of the Five Objectives we as a Tennessee Baptist Convention network of churches have affirmed. By 2024, we’d like to see at least 50,000 people a year saved and baptized, and we’d like to see at least 500 churches revitalized and 1,000 churches added to our number. Are we willing to do whatever it takes to see the Kingdom grow? I believe we’re off to an encouraging start with hundreds of 1-5-1 Harvest Plant groups that have started across our state in recent months.

These may seem like lofty goals – and they are. However, they are goals that basically keep pace with the population growth in our state and the percentage of spiritually lost people that increases with the growth. It simply isn’t good enough to have the mentality that, “If we build it they will come.” The church’s steeple is no longer a beacon of light to the people of a community looking for peace while bobbing helplessly in life’s stormy waters. We Christians must see ourselves as the Coast Guard, people passionately doing whatever it takes to navigate into the storm to rescue people. That obviously means getting beyond the walls of our church and starting Bible studies out where people are, and preaching points, and connecting with people cross culturally, and being ministers in every way to our neighbors.

We need more people, gathered in more churches, who can reach more people with the Good News of Jesus Christ. The ultimate objective isn’t reaching the numbers reflected in the Five Objectives. The numbers are there to help measure if we are making a difference. The ultimate objective is to see God’s people moving beyond church walls and into their communities. I firmly believe our usefulness to God in reaching our state for Jesus is directly proportionate to the effort we make to move out from our pews and into our towns.

That was the pressing passion of Knowles Shaw. He went wherever needed and did whatever it took to make sure people heard the gospel. It is said that he was so prolific in his pursuit of souls that he baptized more than 20,000 people. He was just 44 when he died in a train accident near Dallas in 1878. May his dying words be the defining characteristic of Tennessee Baptists.

“It is a grand thing to rally people to the Cross of Christ.”

It is a joy to be on this journey with you.

Do We Really Need More Churches?

There are churches everywhere in Nashville.

Let’s take a ride. For instance, nine large churches sit adjacent to Franklin Road in a two-mile stretch if you drive north from Old Hickory in Brentwood. If you drive south another two or three miles through Brentwood you can add another five large churches, bringing the total to 13 just in that one short stretch. Travel that distance east to west and you can add probably a dozen more. Expand the circle to the greater Nashville area and word is there is easily more than 1,000 churches. It begs the question: Do we really need any more churches?

The short and emphatic answer is…yes!

In my previous two columns I began sharing the Five Objectives that are shaping your TBC Executive Board ministries. Our Board of Directors affirmed these at our spring board meeting and I’ll bring them to The Summit in November for messengers to our annual state convention to affirm. The first two objectives are, “Seeing at least 50,000 Tennesseans annually saved, baptized and set on the road to discipleship by 2024,” and, “Having at least 500 Tennessee Baptist churches revitalized by 2024.” The third objective is: Planting and strategically engaging at least 1,000 new churches by 2024.

Our TBC staff is focusing with laser precision on these three objectives (and the other two which I’ll share over the next few weeks) because we want to see God move in a mighty way across Tennessee for the glory of Christ as a result of a renewed passion for reaching 3.65 million spiritually lost Tennesseans. I’m hopeful Tennessee Baptists will share that vision.

But with thousands of churches scattered from the delta farmlands of the west to the mountains and hollows of the east, don’t we already have enough churches?

Maybe…if our population holds steady to what it was in 1960.

Maybe…if all of our churches were healthy, unified, people-reaching, disciple-making, Gospel lighthouses in this spiritually darkening culture.

Maybe…if our current network of churches was keeping up with the population boom of 50,000 to 60,000 new Tennesseans each year.

Maybe…if we are content with losing a generation by seeing one third fewer people saved, baptized and set on the road to discipleship in this current generation compared to the previous one.

I simply can’t reconcile those thoughts with my Great Commission calling, can you?

Here is our statistically reality. Over the next decade, 450 to 550 of our Tennessee Baptist churches – one in four – will die if the decline they’ve been on for the last 10-to-20 years continues. At the same time our population is rapidly escalating and changing, so much so that missiologists have determined our state will more closely resemble the demographic and spiritual makeup of Colorado in five years and California in 10 years.

To call Tennessee the Buckle of the Bible Belt is to affix to us an antiquated label while peering through nostalgic lenses. We are not the buckle. We are a state that is spiritually rotting. We are a state comprised of more than 120 global people groups who desperately need to hear about Jesus.

We are a mission field.

I confess, planting and strategically engaging 1,000 new churches in the TBC in the next 10 years looks impossible, especially when you consider that our largest church growth period happened between 1940 and 1960. During that 20 years – not 10 – we grew by 700-plus churches, a period when Tennessee Baptists had their greatest impact on spiritual lostness. The task ahead is enormous, which is why we seek God with humble hearts in pursuit of personal purity. We’re asking for His plans and His blessing because we know there is a direct correlation between the number of people sharing the Gospel, the number of people coming to Christ and the number of new churches being planted.

We also know the healthiest churches are planted by a local church body that is strategically, passionately, and sacrificially pouring itself into the new work for the sake of souls. It’s always been the church that begins a new church and the TBC’s desire is to serve along side you to help you succeed.

So do we really need 1,000 new churches over the next decade in our state? Yes, and probably 1,000 more beyond that. Throughout history nothing has indicated a great move of God that has resulted in multitudes of spiritually lost people coming to Christ like a church planting movement. Would it be to God that if hundreds of TBC churches re-captured our pioneering Baptist forefathers’ passion of evangelizing the spiritually lost and beginning new churches that He will allow us to enjoy the fruit of a great number of precious Tennessee people coming to Christ.

And that’s a ride worth taking.