ALPHARETTA, Ga. — A record-setting 216 church planters attended the first Send Network Orientation since Vance Pitman introduced new values for the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) church planting arm in October.
The new missionaries speak 11 different languages; represent more than 30 U.S. states, three Canadian provinces, and Puerto Rico; and were sent by some 130 sending churches. They gathered Nov. 1-3 in Alpharetta.
The attendance record was previously broken by the Send Network Orientation immediately prior to this one in March of this year, with 165 new planters.
Orientation offers the first step for church planting missionaries into Send Network, missionaries who will be planting across North America. The focus is to underscore Send Network’s DNA of kingdom-centered church planting that seeks the proclamation of the gospel throughout North America and, ultimately, the world.
In the first session, Pitman, Send Network’s president, warned attendees about the seductive nature of ministry, how it can become an idol that distracts from their primary calling of seeking intimacy with God the Father.
“Here’s the call on your life, planter,” Pitman said. “You be with Him, and out of the overflow of your being with Him, He will do more through you than you ever dreamed possible.”
As missionaries gain a heart for the Lord, He gives missionaries a heart for the world, Pitman said. When they fall in love with the King, they will want others to know and love Him as well. That love, then, becomes the wind in the sails of their ministries.
“The church is not the goal. The church you are going to plant is one day going to die, but the kingdom of God is alive and well,” said Pitman. “The church is the gathering place to introduce people to Jesus, disciple them in kingdom living and sending them out” into all the world.
Send Network’s Orientation was comprised of six worship sessions, which were led by the diverse members of the recently announced Lead Team of Planters and Send Network’s executive leadership team, and various breakout meetings and a pair of sessions on the SBC and family health. There was also a track designated for Spanish-speaking participants as well.
During his address, NAMB President Kevin Ezell explained the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program, discussed the value of the SBC family and the importance of church planting to the mission of seeing people come to know Christ throughout North America.
“At NAMB, it’s all about the gospel. Everything we do is about evangelism,” Ezell said. “The reason we plant churches is we feel it is the best way to reach people.”
He also informed planters about NAMB’s support for them and their efforts.
“We are committed to you for the long haul. We do this together,” said Ezell. “We care for each other. You are absolutely never alone. The Lord has placed us here to walk with you on your journey.”
During a question-and-answer session, Pitman shared the vision for Send Network’s next decade concentrating on reversing the decline of Christian faith in North America.
“North America and Europe are the only two continents where Christianity is declining,” said Pitman. “What would it take for us to put together a strategy to expand the kingdom of God by one percent in North America over the next decade?”
As Southern Baptists continue to fuel the work of church planting, Pitman’s prayer and goal is to see enough new churches planted to reverse that decline and see Christianity make a one percent gain in North America over the next ten years. That will be the focus of church planting missionaries who engage their communities, make disciples and start new churches.
The success of that mission depends on churches planting churches that center on the kingdom-centered mission.
“The size of the church does not determine the significance of the church,” said Pitman. “The size of the mission is what determines the significance of the church.”
Send Network’s director of spouse development, Kathy Litton, spoke with the planters about her six years serving the wives of church planters and offered perspective based on her decades of experience ministering to pastors’ spouses — emphasizing how planters’ families are looking to them for spiritual leadership, love and presence in their lives.
“You don’t want your wife or your kids to ever say, ‘He loved the church more than me,’” said Litton.
Breakout sessions included messages from experienced pastors and practitioners on Send Network’s values: deepen devotion, think multiplication, stick together, engage the city and seek first the kingdom.
Pitman concluded Send Network’s Orientation with the call to obey Jesus’s command to seek the kingdom of God above all else in Matthew 6:33.
“King Jesus is on mission in this world today building a kingdom,” Pitman said. “He is redeeming to Himself—through his death, burial, and resurrection—a people of every tribe, tongue, nation and language.”
As sending churches and church planting missionaries obey Jesus’s Great Commission, Send Network comes alongside and equips them with resources and training to fuel their mission to make disciples of all nations.
Published November 8, 2022