In 2009, my wife Jen and I, along with some friends, came together to start a church from scratch. We were passionate about the Gospel reaching people who had long-since given up hope in its transforming power. Thankfully, not long into our journey of church planting, a local NAB church introduced us to the NAB regional minister. Soon after that, a partnership was solidified, and since that time we have partnered to help start multiple NAB churches together.
All that to say I have some firsthand knowledge of what makes a church planter effective, even successful.
Let me paint a picture for you of the image of a typical church planter: A young guy, very stylish clothing, working part time at Starbucks but leaving early each day to evangelize at CrossFit every afternoon before coaching youth sports. On Sundays, he is full of wise one-liners and hilarious stories about, well, himself, of course. Around him is gathered a Who’s Who of high-energy social marketing wizards and a worship leader with three guitars on stage and a perfect haircut.
This is maybe slightly exaggerated but nonetheless a somewhat accurate portrait of what you may have come to expect when describing a church planter.
In the early years of our personal church planting story, I am embarrassed to say we took the same bait. We quickly lost our focus on collaborating together to bring the Gospel to unreached people and instead shocked our city with ad campaigns to stir up interest and attract people to our church. We leased the biggest and most-visible building we could afford. We had awesome fliers in every mailbox.
But just a few years in, we began to ask ourselves the question, “What’s the point of gaining the world if we lose our souls?”
Truth be told, in many circles the multiplication of Christ’s church – often through church planting – has been reduced down to a game of marketing and image.
He with the coolest handouts at the local farmer’s market wins the new neighbors in town, and by winning the new neighbors, the ends somehow justify the means.
But just as Jesus said to his disciples about leadership in Mark 10, I say to us about church multiplication now, “Not so among you.”
Packing out a room full of hungry consumers hoping to feed on hopeful words of a heartfelt church planter is simply not enough.
At some point it was no longer enough for me, and it was never enough for the NAB. This scandalous way of Jesus that renounces personal pride in pursuit of communal humility is too beautiful and counter-cultural to sacrifice on the altar of being the next big thing in town.
At the heart of our church multiplication movement is two-hundred years of Kingdom collaboration for the purpose of spreading the Gospel to unreached people. It all started in Philadelphia, and we have taken that simple focus from Bamenda to Bismarck, from High Prairie, Alberta, to Boldog, Hungary.
When I was called upon to lead Church Multiplication for our conference of churches, I wanted to find out how this Jesus value of Kingdom collaboration and Gospel expansion works itself out in our NAB history, and I was so inspired at what I found.
In March of 1839, Konrad Fleischmann, a Swiss Separatist, arrived in New York with a call from God to reach German immigrants. Armed only with support of some mentors back in England, he became the pastor of a small German church in Newark. When he refused to baptize the infants, a sharp dispute occurred, and he was sent packing.
But a few people rallied around Fleischmann – God was surrounding him with Kingdom collaborators – and when he left Newark, three new converts were baptized. It would take ten years before a new church, Clinton Hill Baptist, was organized with thirteen members.
Imagine if we were to bring someone on stage at Triennial and introduce them as a church planter whose strategy was to collaborate with other NAB churches to spread the Gospel to unreached peoples, adding that we expected it would take ten years for them to reach a critical mass of thirteen.
But Fleischmann persevered and also began his work in Philadelphia, baptizing the first of the German converts there in 1843, which served as what we now know as the very genesis of the North American Baptists. He would be instrumental in organizing the other German churches in the area and doing together what they could not do alone.
And then there’s the story of Kingdom collaboration for Gospel expansion in South Dakota.
In 1876, a church was started to reach German speakers, who were traveling thirty miles or more to hear the Gospel.
Over the next twenty-two years, fifteen churches were started, including an additional thirty-five preaching stations – remote outposts that lay preachers traveled to on horseback on Sunday afternoons so farmers could gather locally on Sunday nights to hear about Jesus.
And then there’s the more recent story of church planting in Northern California. It’s a story that former NorCal regional minister Rick Weber told often: By the early 1970s, there were five churches in the Sacramento area. These five came together with a passion to collaborate to spread the Gospel through planting churches. They were so committed to planting new congregations in Northern California that these five churches raised $250,000 in 1973. One sacrificed building their own building; another even took out a bank loan to contribute. As a result, a new church was planted in 1974.
By 1982, seven more were established.
There were nineteen NorCal churches in 1996; ten years later, we were up to thirty-eight.
As of June 2018, that number is now forty-three.
I am so proud to say that amidst all our flaws and mistakes, the church Jen and I started has had a small but committed part in planting the last five NorCal churches.
And it was not because we had the best marketing or image. I am convinced it is because God convicted us to stop trying to do great things for him – where ends justify means – and start doing his things with him.
Our perception that the best planters look a certain way, gather big crowds quickly, or lead mistake-free ministries is just not how it always works.
It’s no coincidence to me that Fleischmann saw failure and slow fruit when he was all alone, but when he came together with those other churches in Philly, the Gospel and the German Baptist movement grew quickly.
It’s no surprise to me that the equipping of many preachers who were sent out to remote areas with the Gospel resulted in many NAB churches being planted in the Midwest.
And while it is phenomenally inspiring, it is no surprise that when a few churches got together in Northern California and pooled their resources, sacrificially risking greatly, a huge harvest of new believers, missionaries, and ministries resulted in the subsequent forty years as a result of planting forty new churches.
Jen and I could have never imagined all those years ago when we set out, all alone, to start a church in Folsom, California, that ten years later it would lead us to this point in history.
But as humbled as I am by the journey God has had us on, I stand before you with unmatched energy and excitement for the work ahead as we collaborate together to spread the Gospel through church multiplication, resulting in new disciples being sent into their communities and fields all around the world.