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Church cuts debt to aid church planting

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
WEST CHESTER, Ohio (BP) -- Debt can limit a person's generosity -- and a church's.

Travis Smalley arrived at the Cincinnati-area Lakota Hills Baptist Church six years ago with a vision to plant churches locally, nationally and internationally. But just in Ohio, with just one Southern Baptist church for every 17,868 people, Smalley knew Lakota Hills couldn't reach everyone.


Yet Smalley's passion to start churches ran up against a major roadblock -- lack of funds.

The church, founded in 1967, had a debt of more than $1.3 million, rendering its members unable to put as much money into church planting as they would have liked. Over the past five years, however, the church has paid off more than 65 percent of that debt -- even in the midst of the nation's economic downturn.

Now, thanks to a loan from the Church Finance Ministry of the North American Mission Board, Lakota Hills will be able to save an additional $45,000 a year on its debt -- which Smalley said will go into church planting.

"We're in this together," said Smalley, a former president of the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio. "The North American Mission Board's strategy is to plant churches, and they're enabling a body of believers to engage in church planting through church-financing opportunities that I imagine most Southern Baptists don't know about."

Karl Dietz, national director of NAMB's Church Finance Ministry, said 100 percent of the interest earned from loans like the one by Lakota Hills in West Chester, Ohio, supports North American missions, providing approximately $8 million most years.


As Lakota Hills has lowered its debt, it has been able to give more to church planting. Last year, the church began partnering with The Red Door Church, a Southern Baptist church plant in nearby Cincinnati. Lakota Hills not only has provided financial support for the young church, but it also has provided volunteers to help with Red Door outreach events.

NAMB church planter Josh Lenon, Red Door's pastor, says the partnership has been crucial to his young church. Red Door, which is about a year and a half old, averages about 100 on most Sunday mornings.

" it was like being an orphan," said Lenon, who is a featured missionary for the 2012 Week of Prayer for North American Missions and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering emphasis. "You feel very, very alone without a strong partner church. With Lakota Hills coming alongside of us, it's like finding parents. All of a sudden you find out that someone cares for you and loves you. They help take care of needs that you don't even know exist and aren't planning for."

Once Lakota Hills' debt is eliminated, Smalley said the church plans to give about $100,000 toward church planting -- beyond what they give through the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. Those funds will be split between church plants nearby, church plants elsewhere in North America and church plants overseas.


"In our area there are 2 million people, and there aren't enough evangelistic churches to accommodate them," Smalley said. "There are all different kinds of people. Our church isn't going to be able to reach every single person, but we can launch other bodies of believers who will be able to reach people that we may not be able to reach."

For more information on the North American Mission Board's Church Finance Ministry, visit

Tobin Perry is the communications consultant for the Midwest region at the North American Mission Board.

Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press

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