By Karen L. Willoughby
Most of Southern Baptists’ “low-hanging fruit” has already been picked, and it’s up to churches to find new church planters, said Jeff Christopherson, North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) vice president for the Send Network.
NAMB’s stated goal of starting “1,200 healthy church plants” a year has two limitations – people and money – that will be addressed by the “Church Planting Pipeline” which came online in August, Christopherson added.
The Church Planting Pipeline is “a systematic, experientially-based approach to discover, develop and deploy men and women to plant kingdom-focused, disciple-making, multiplying churches,” according to the namb.net/pipeline website.
“This is a resource to the local church for them to discover and develop future church planters and church planting team members,” said Chad Childress, Senior Director of Planter Discovery for NAMB. “It is a resource that’s a game-changer to multiply church planting leaders and church planters themselves.”
Historically, Southern Baptist churches have looked to the denomination to identify church planters, and to the Cooperative Program and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering to fund the plants.
But more church planters and more money to fund them are needed than is currently available. As a result, Southern Baptist churches have reached a “tipping point” in the Convention’s “engagement in the global mission of God,” said NAMB President Kevin Ezell on the namb.net/pipeline website’s introductory video.
“I believe the local church is the plan for the mission of God to move forward with power,” Ezell continued. “I believe your church – like thousands of others – has people God is calling and wanting to send out.”
Only about 5 percent of churches affiliated with the SBC are involved in church planting, Ezell noted. The local church – not NAMB or the International Mission Board – is the missions-sending agency, Ezell said.
“This falls on the church’s shoulders,” Childress said, referring to the church’s missional purpose. “Are they ready to develop people? Are they looking to plant within the next one to three years, to be committed to send out planters and team members and to be a multiplying church?
“This resource is for all the churches but not for every church, because not every church is ready to develop future church planters,” Childress continued. “There’s a strong discipleship component, but it doesn’t take the place of discipleship classes” already in place at the local church level.
The Planting Pipeline builds on NAMB’s already-proven assessment tools that gauge a potential planter’s readiness and core competencies. The one- to three-year Pipeline training starts at the individual’s level, based on an online pre-assessment.
Level 1 is foundational: personal development and theological formation. Level 2 focuses on missiology and disciple-making. Level 3: contextualization and church planting. Core competencies are addressed at each level, so that when potential church planters and church planting team members complete Level 3, they will be ready to plant or help plant a healthy, multiplying church.
Both men and women can be involved in church planting teams, Childress said. Typical support roles include worship leader, small groups leader, children’s director, finance manager, hostess and other strategic roles in the life of the plant.
First Baptist Church in Pleasant Grove, Utah, has at least eight people who might be interested in being part of a plant, though it is a church where perhaps 50 people attend Sunday morning worship, said Pastor Mike Bagley.
He would like the church to start a new work but hasn’t had the tools to equip those who might be called to such a ministry. Bagley is excited about the opportunity that the Church Planting Pipeline provides for churches like his.
“I cite Mark 5:36, where Jesus says, ‘Do not be afraid.’ We’ve got to have a Kingdom mindset.”Bagley said, “If it’s God’s will, if we want what God wants for the reasons He wants it, then we become unstoppable.”
NAMB’s new Planting Pipeline “is a discovery and training process,” Christopherson said. “It’s a tool to give churches the opportunity to not be the dead-end link on the church planting train, but to see this tool is an answer to the Great Commission.”
Churches will lead in the training by providing coaching that follows individual study, with written and video curriculum developed by NAMB’s church planting team, said Childress.
“We had a ‘farm system,’ moving individuals from role to role [as they developed skill at being a missionary] and had church planting interns as part of that,” Childress said. “For the most part, these were one-year stints, and we weren’t seeing the emergence of church planters at a pace we needed.
“We realized we needed a ‘longer runway,’” he continued. “We began a year ago to build the training around the competencies we are looking for in church planters and church planting teams.”
To learn more about NAMB’s Church Planting Pipeline visit: https://www.namb.net/pipeline.
Karen Willoughby writes for the North American Mission Board.