*FROM THE STATES will not appear in Baptist Press June 19. It will resume June 26.
Today's From the States features items from:
Biblical Recorder (North Carolina)
Western Recorder (Kentucky)
The Alabama Baptist
N.C. churches, associations ready
to partner long-term in Toronto
By Melissa Lilley
TORONTO (Biblical Recorder) -- One year after launching a partnership in Toronto, North Carolina Baptists are responding to the need to come alongside church planters and engage in long-term partnerships.
Yet, with a population less than 2.5 percent evangelical and only 40 Southern Baptist churches serving 5.5 million people, a lot more help is needed.
Through its Office of Great Commission Partnerships, the Baptist State Convention of N.C. (BSC) partnership with the Canadian National Baptist Convention (CNBC) is focused specifically on the Greater Toronto Area. The partnership encourages N.C. Baptist churches to plant a church in Toronto or to join groups of N.C. churches in partnering with a specific Toronto church plant.
Dan Collison, director of Toronto Church Planting and southern Ontario lead church planting catalyst for CNBC and the North American Mission Board, has learned that building relationships and serving the community are the best ways to create opportunities to share the gospel.
"Canada has always been secular. No one gives a second thought to what the church may say about a particular topic or issue," he said.
"This forces us to begin understanding, on a much deeper level, how to be people of faith and how we communicate the gospel. You develop a stronger, practical understanding of how the church represents the gospel to the community."
Toronto church planters need partner churches in order to serve their community and reach people for Jesus Christ.
However, Collison urged potential partners to remember that church planting in Canada can be very different than in the United States.
"In Canada, it usually takes 8-10 years for a church plant to become fairly self-sustaining," he said.
"The American statistic is 3-5 years, at most."
This reality makes long-term partnerships all the more critical. If churches pull out too soon, after a couple of years, they leave the planter just as he really begins to hit his stride.
Collison said an effective mission team moves a church plant forward three to six months down the road.
"An effective mission team is a team that comes back," he said. "When mission teams come to a location only once, they drain more energy out of the field than they contribute."
The second year a team comes they help push momentum forward, by the third year things are falling into place, and after that "it's friends helping more than a project being accomplished," Collison said.
Churches are encouraged to help the church plant until it has planted a church of its own.
Effective mission teams are also teams that serve with the right "posture." "They come and fit themselves into the strategy of the church planter," Collison said.
Jason McGibbon is a Toronto church planter ready to partner with North Carolina churches. McGibbon grew up in Hamilton, near the western end of the Niagara Peninsula and Lake Ontario, and for the past year has been working with The Hamilton Fellowship's church plant.
About a quarter of the 550,000 people in Hamilton live below the poverty line. Hamilton includes many refugees and Muslim residents. Although once a "blue collar" town centered on steel mills, Hamilton now has a growing arts community and many young families and new residents.
Before serving as church planters in Hamilton, the McGibbons attended The Sanctuary Church in Oakville, which is about 30 minutes north of Hamilton.
When The Sanctuary decided to plant a church in Milton, the McGibbons went to Milton to help with the plant. And when that congregation knew God was leading them to plant a church, McGibbon knew God was calling him to be the church planter.
"We heard God clearly say, 'Who are you waiting for? If you're going to be a church that plants churches, what are you waiting for?'"
About 12-16 people meet in McGibbon's home every Tuesday. He is praying for more house fellowships to be established and for the church to love its community and engage it with the gospel.
McGibbon knows church planting requires sacrifice. "Our sending church could have used a children's minister five years ago. They gave up paychecks to keep church planting going," he said.
Now is the time
Just as McGibbon answered God's call to go, so are churches from Rowan Association. Director of Missions Ken Clark went to Toronto last year and again this year to learn how to help involve his association in Toronto church planting.
"Our plan as an association is to become a global impact network. We want to get to the point where we will have teams come up at least quarterly, so we have a constant presence there," Clark said.
"If I can help tie smaller churches with larger churches, they can make an impact as well. The excitement will then spread."
Through the Office of Great Commission Partnerships, global impact networks are being established across N.C. A local church or association that serves as a global impact network serves as a missional center, helping connect other local churches and associations with partnering churches.
Three churches in Rowan are already committed to partnering in Toronto with Scott Rourk and Rendezvous Church. Rourk is on his third church plant in Toronto, all in very different and diverse settings.
The Rendezvous church plant in midtown, in the Forest Hill neighborhood, is an area with affluent, working professionals who are mostly unchurched. The Rendezvous plant in the Parkdale neighborhood, however, will reach mostly immigrants of various religious backgrounds.
"Our goal as a church plant is not just to plant a church, but to reach a city. Our hope is to plant 10 Rendezvous churches within the next 10-15 years in Toronto. In order for us to do that we need church planters for each and every one of those church plants," Rourk said.
Clark is praying for partnerships to also lead to revitalization among North Carolina churches. "I have a lot of churches that think they are missional because they give to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and support the Cooperative Program, and have a missions speaker. But they are not living missionally," he said.
"I'm hoping they will see the difference between talking about missions and giving to missions, and committing themselves physically to doing missions," Clark said. "And I hope that will make a difference in their own personal lives with Christ.
"We've got to get beyond waiting on someone else to do it. If God has impressed on you to do it, there's no reason to sit back."
To learn more about opportunities in Toronto, visit www.ncbaptist.org/toronto, necpcoalition.com or contact Michael Sowers: (800) 395-5102 ext. 5654, email@example.com.
Melissa Lilley is the research/communications coordinator for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
Church plants focus on military,
By Kristie Randolph
OAK GROVE, Ky. (Western Recorder) -- At first glance, rural Oak Grove with its estimated 9,000 residents would not be a likely spot to start 10 new churches.
Actually, it couldn't be better.
Todd Gray, pastor of First Baptist Church of Oak Grove, believes the Kentucky town is ideal for one important reason—it is home to Fort Campbell. With more than 30,000 soldiers, it is one of the United States Army's largest installations.
Gray is partnering with the Kentucky Baptist Convention and Christian County Baptist Association to start 10 new churches to reach the transient and largely unchurched soldiers of Fort Campbell, and their families, with the hope of the gospel.
"Ten churches trying to reach soldiers would make a big impact. There is a real need," Gray said. "We know we're supposed to do this and the Lord just has to lead."
Gray did not feel specifically called to military ministry when he became pastor of First Baptist, but he quickly understood the great spiritual need. For the past 10 years he has led the church to maintain a strong military ministry.
"First Baptist is very evangelistic. We reach a lot of people, and most of them are military," he said. With an average Sunday attendance of 375, at least half of those attending are on active duty, and many others are retired from the military.
Yet Gray knew the church could not accomplish the work alone and began pursuing partnerships among more local congregations eager to reach the Fort Campbell community. Gray sought feedback and found affirmation from ministry partners locally and at the state level.
Last December, Gray led the way in establishing the Oak Grove Church Planting Fellowship, an independent organization that is working to identify and support church planters called to the task.
Under the leadership of Larry Baker, the KBC's missions growth team leader, the convention is supporting the church planting fellowship through a formal covenant agreement that extends through 2020.
According to Baker, the KBC is providing some financial resources for the effort and is prepared to assist in the selection and training of the new planters.
"The military is a significant people group in Kentucky, and they have a very unique culture that needs to be understood," Baker said. "New churches and church planters that understand this culture are much more likely to penetrate the spiritual darkness among the military.
"This type of ministry can be a strategic avenue for trained disciples to be missionaries throughout the world," he added.
Southern Baptist Chaplain Jared Vineyard agreed that more churches are needed to reach the Fort Campbell community.
"It is a wide-open mission field. The harvest is here, but the workers are few," Vineyard said. "There are just not enough churches here. Even if all 10 churches start and do well, that still wouldn't be enough."
Vineyard described the spiritual climate at Fort Campbell as "a pretty dark environment, but pretty fertile ground as well."
While deployed with his battalion to Afghanistan from August 2010 to August 2011, Vineyard saw 28 soldiers come to Christ.
"A lot of times with deployments, you see guys start to question, 'What is the meaning of life?' For the most part, there is a fog in their minds on what life is about," he said, noting the high numbers of soldiers struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide.
Just as military chaplains are uniquely positioned to minister in these situations, Vineyard said he believes local churches play an equally critical role.
"A church has the unique capacity to help because they are putting love in action," he said. "I try to partner with local churches as much as I can. Churches off-post are going to touch people that we might not touch on-post. It's an inside-outside partnership."
One important way local churches can impact the military is by supporting families of soldiers, especially during deployments.
"Obviously Christ is their main anchor, but that local church can be such an anchor for soldiers who are gone," he said.
David Coram, pastor of Living Waters Fellowship in Oak Grove, knows what it's like to be on both sides of military ministry. A retired Army chaplain, Coram felt led to plant the Kentucky Baptist church in order to reach those stationed at Fort Campbell.
"I would drive through the community and weep because I saw such a need," he said.
Like Gray, Coram pursued local and state partnerships as his vision was forming. In addition to participating in the KBC's Basic Training Journey for Church Planting, Coram was able to apply for funding grants through the KBC.
Since it first launched in 2004, Coram estimated that Living Waters Fellowship has "directly reached somewhere around 1,000 people, and indirectly reached more than 8,000 others."
Last year alone, Coram had the privilege of baptizing more than 20 people.
"For a church running 70 people, that's pretty significant," he said. "Everything we do is related to evangelism or discipleship. We don't see ourselves as ever being a megachurch.
"The challenge we have here is that our community is a very transient community," Coram added. "We know we have a limited amount of time to get people into the church, get them involved and prepare them to be a witness when they are gone."
This article first appeared in the Western Recorder (www.westernrecorder.org), newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
Alabama Baptists minister
to race fans in Talladega
By Brian Harris
TALLADEGA, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) -- Twice a year a pilgrimage begins for many throughout the Southeast. People pack up their belongings and relocate to Talladega Superspeedway in east central Alabama. Approximately 108,500 fans of drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards live in tents, recreational vehicles or commute in over the three-day event making the area the fifth largest in the state. They proudly wear attire that proclaims their allegiance to their driver of choice and yell loudly their disdain or approval for the other drivers. To say they are passionate is an understatement.
As fans drive into Talladega they can't help but see Frank Nelson and a large group of volunteers from North Highlands Baptist Church, Hueytown, manning the tents set up along the entrance to the speedway. They hand out free coffee, water and a race schedule with information printed on the back about what it means to be a Christian.
Dawn Welliver, a race fan from Orlando, Fla., stopped by the area asking for information about the next day's race and landed in a 10-minute conversation sharing about herself, her life and her walk with Christ.
Welliver thanked the volunteers for their work as she headed on to her destination.
It was quite possible Welliver happened upon more volunteers from Alabama Baptist churches because several were present around the speedway grounds as part of Alabama Raceway Ministries (ARM) — just like North Highlands Baptist.
ARM was formed in 1982 by Frank and Betty Stark, raceway ministries pioneers from Missouri, in order to reach out to fans that gather at Talladega.
The ministry has grown to eight ministry locations around the speedway grounds. All sites are sponsored by Alabama Baptist associations and churches. Each site has a unique purpose and vision as to how they minister to the race fans, but all work to serve as the hands and feet of Christ as they do so. Each site also has a volunteer-led worship service for race fans on Sunday morning at 9 a.m.
The sites are Commuter Site, sponsored by North Highlands Baptist; Champions Corner, sponsored by churches from Southeast Alabama; Family Campground, sponsored by Columbia Baptist Association and churches; Infield, sponsored by Morgan and Russell Baptist associations and churches; West Park C, sponsored by St. Clair Association and churches; North Park, sponsored by Birmingham and Calhoun Baptist associations and churches; C & C Campground, sponsored by Coosa River Baptist Association and churches; Dove Ridge Campground, sponsored by First Baptist Church, Montgomery.
At Champions Corner Campground, Allen Singley, youth pastor at Grandview Baptist Church, Dothan, shared how Alabama Baptists have hosted a site at the unique alcohol-free campground since its opening in 2007.
"When it opened, the track actually called Alabama Raceway Ministries director Mike Jackson and asked about a group serving as campground host," he said. "We've been here since the first race this ... campground opened."
The ARM volunteers help race fans find where to park their RVs and provide meals.
"Any of the campers that want to eat with us do," he said. "A lot of the things we do from parking campers to feeding them is about building relationships.
"Race fans are like good Baptists. They find what they like. They like to sit in the same spot. They like to camp in the same campground. So some of them we talk to throughout the year," Singley said. "They send us email and Facebook messages with different things that we can pray about for them."
And over the years of this ministry, many people have come to the saving knowledge of Christ.
Jackson remembered one incident that made it all real for him.
"A few years back I met Jerry in the North Park Campground. It was one of those weeks where it rained constantly and attendance was light at our Sunday morning worship service," Jackson said. "To tell the truth, I was ready to go home. We went into our closing prayer and I bowed my head. When I raised my head standing right in front of me was Jerry.
"Despite my attitude and the rain, it was still all about God, not me," he said. "I was able to lead Jerry in the sinner's prayer right there."
As the NASCAR sprint cup drivers spend the latter part of Saturday morning qualifying for the race on Sunday, there's a buzz in the infield ministry center. Children and parents are gathered around tables with small pieces of wood, painting them and dressing them up for that evening's "Timothy Cup" races that will take place following the afternoon race.
Zach Kendrick, a volunteer with ARM ministry partner Timothy Cup Ministries, said, "We have different things like crafts and a wooden block car that is already ready to go. (In the evening) we are going to have a pine wood derby race. It's an opportunity to bring kids in to our site from inside the infield and have the opportunity to share the gospel."
With the recent Talladega race where Brad Keselowski brought home his sixth career cup victory, Kendrick is attending his 22nd Timothy Cup race in a row.
"When I first started coming, I didn't know Christ," Kendrick said. "After I gave my life up to Christ as a teenager, I can tell a difference in myself personally. ... I'm not just here for a race. I'm here to share the gospel.
"People come in, maybe with a beer in their hand, or whatever. But we don't care," he said. "We want to share the gospel and meet people where they are at, just love on them."
Over at West Park C, Bud Jackson, a member of Bethel Baptist Church, Odenville, talked about his motivation to minister to race fans. "We are in a dying and lost world, and I don't want people to spend eternity without Christ."
Many ARM volunteers said they believe if Christ was here walking on earth today, this is where He would be — at the racetrack among the fans.
This article first appeared in The Alabama Baptist (www.thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention.
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