Stories from Sending Churches: Michael O’Neal

In March and April 2017, we interviewed three practitioners serving on the field as church planters, or serving in a church that sends and supports church planters. These are their stories.

A decade ago, when Michael O’Neal began church planting after several years of pastoral ministry and seminary education, he really didn’t see himself as a church planter. The truth is, until recently, very few Southern Baptists have gone into ministry with the express purpose of becoming a church planter. When Michael did plant his first church through an internship with the North American Mission Board (NAMB), he had a breakthrough: “The experience of being out there on our own made us realize the importance of church planting support and partners so church planters don’t feel alone. I started to view other church planters and churches as family, not just partners.”

A decade later, during his first week on the job as Missions Pastor of First Baptist Cumming, Georgia, he attended a workshop on what a Sending Church was. He quickly learned that many church planters have felt isolated or unsupported, sent forth to make their way and “sink or swim.” But the job of a Sending Church is to support healthy, growing church plants which in turn can become Sending Churches, too. Michael describes three levels of church planting activity: (1) becoming a Sending Church, (2) becoming secondary Supporting Church to support a local church plant since the Sending Churches may be out of state, (3) and becoming a supporting church to give financial support.

Michael’s church—First Baptist, Cumming, Georgia—decided to take responsibility for three church planting apprentices in north Georgia: one from Iran planting a Farsi-speaking church in Alpharetta, an Egyptian planting an Arabic-speaking church in Dacula and a native Georgian planting missional communities in Cumming. Each planter apprentice spent time with the staff and took leadership and learned for a year. Then they launched with the church’s blessing. Together, they created developmental plans for a year before launching the churches and drew up strategic partnership agreements with the churches for a three-years duration covering four areas: prayer (every small group adopts a local church and a global church to pray for them), participation (serving the church, helping them, establish relationships, etc.), provision (financial commitment to the plant) and “partying” (celebrating the stories and successes of life change due to the planting).

This approach led to amazing things happening in these communities, but one of the most powerful testimonies came at the highest cost. Two years ago, an Iranian woman and her husband became Christians at the Persian congregation at First Baptist, Alpharetta. When she returned to Iran to share her faith, her own brother murdered her because she had become a Christian. The church watched the video of her baptism and learned of her death on the same night. “They learned the true cost of discipleship that day,” Michael added.

While American Christians may never face life-threatening consequences for living out their faith, they must still consider the cost of their calling each day, and never more so when they embrace their duty to be a part of a Sending Church.

Beyond the three church plants mentioned above, FBC Cumming is reaching out to the Hindu community in Forsyth County and is helping to start a predominately African-American church in downtown Atlanta. They have established a goal of ten new church plants by 2020.

Michael O’Neal ([email protected]) is Minister of Evangelism and Missions for First Baptist Church, Cumming, Georgia, a community north of Atlanta.

For more information about FBC Cumming or the three church plants mentioned in this article, visit

Published October 10, 2017