BELLEVUE, Wash. (BP) -- Many recent mornings, Warren Mainard has awakened in the Pacific Northwest asking himself: "What was I thinking?"
His family -- wife Leah, daughter Krista and son Micah -- were 2,900 miles away in Florence, S.C., although they have reunited as a family in time for the new school year.
Mainard gave up his larger house in Florence for a smaller, more expensive one near Bellevue, Wash., where the real estate market is much pricier. He left the well established Cornerstone Church in Florence to plant a new congregation in Bellevue, Essential Church, set to launch in March 2013. But the 36-year-old is still excited because after 20 years, he's returning home.
Home is Seattle, one of the United States' most unchurched cities, where only 4 percent of locals attend any evangelical church on a given Sunday.
Welcome to Warren's world.
When his dad made a career change 20 years ago, Mainard left Seattle for Clearwater, Fla. There, at age 16, he found purpose in Christ in a Southern Baptist church. He heard God's call to ministry at 17, finished undergraduate school and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and married his college sweetheart.
"I understood God had a plan in moving me from my home near Seattle across the country to Clearwater to a different culture," Mainard said. "Fast-forward 20 years, after finding my wife and starting a family and serving in the ministry for 17 years. God is calling me and my family back to Seattle. He has given me a vision for reaching the younger generation with the Gospel."
Greater Seattle is one of 15 major American metropolitan areas with populations exceeding 4 million. Just five minutes outside the city is Bellevue, with 126,000 people and only one English-speaking Southern Baptist church.
"One unique thing about Seattle among NAMB's 'Send Cities' is that Seattle has never had a Christian foundation," Mainard said. "As a result, it's not that most people in Seattle have any animosity toward Christ or the church, they just don't consider Him essential to their lives. He's not on their radar screen."
Seattle is a trendy American city of considerable influence. It's an epicenter for technology companies like Amazon, Expedia, Microsoft, T-Mobile and Nintendo, and the birthplace of Starbucks. Seattle is considered the cradle of the post-modern thought movement. But despite its high technology and trendiness, it's a largely "lost" city spiritually.
"Why Seattle? It's my hometown, and I was blessed to be part of that 4 percent who attended church," Mainard said. "What would have happened had I not moved away and discovered God's call on my life? What about the 96 percent who have not been exposed to the Gospel? Today, there are millions of people in the area without Christ."
Essential Church is much more than a dream in Mainard's head. Over many months, he has drafted a detailed, phased-in approach to planting the church. Showing his marketing savvy as a communications major, Mainard has launched a website, created media and marketing materials, and utilized social media in promoting the new church plant.
Mainard is committed to serving the community.
"In this culture, if you don't have a cause or aren't doing something tangible for the community, you're not regarded as relevant," he said.
"However, making a difference in the community is not just a cause for Essential Church, it is a biblical principle and something Jesus commanded us to do. It's more critical to be actively engaged here, serving in a community like Bellevue, than in a heavily churched environment like in the South."
A new Southern Baptist church has not been planted in Bellevue in many years, which Mainard partly attributes to the area's high cost of living.
"When we were doing our early research on planting a church in the area, we originally dismissed Bellevue as a potential site," Mainard recalled. "It just seemed too expensive. But as we continued to study the area, it just seemed that the need is so vital here, and that Bellevue is a great fit for the kind of church we want to plant."
Essential Church's first preview service will be the last Sunday in October. Mainard hopes to have 60-80 in attendance by next year.
"We want Essential Church to be an exciting church, simple in its approach and reproducible. We want to reproduce disciples, then small groups, then ministries and then churches," Mainard said. "To reach Seattle, it's going to take much, much more than planting one more church. We need exponential, multiplication growth. We want multiplication to be in the DNA of all we do."
New church plants need initial support from established churches. For Essential and Mainard, a significant portion of that support will come from senior pastor Bill Curtis and Cornerstone Baptist Church in Florence, S.C., where Mainard served eight years as student pastor.
Said Curtis, "Warren has all the tools to a successful lead planter." Cornerstone, itself a 10-year-old church plant, is also sponsoring churches in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Boston.
"He is young, energetic, passionate about the Gospel, and a great leader and communicator," Curtis said of Mainard. "We are excited about embracing Essential Church as our next plant."
Cornerstone has made a "sizable financial commitment" for the next four years to help stabilize Essential Church and will provide ongoing ministry support, encouragement, mission teams and prayers, Curtis said.
"Church planting has its own unique set of challenges, regardless of the locale," Curtis said, including transportation, parking and costs of such necessities as housing for the church planting team, facility rental, promotional materials, printing and supplies.
"All of these issues make the cost of launching a plant in an urban center like Seattle very challenging," Curtis said.
Also supporting Essential Church are First Baptist Church, Georgetown, S.C., Rolling Hills Baptist Church, Buford, Ga., and Hope Church, Madison, Ga., Mainard said.
"If there are any other churches out there interested in church planting in the Pacific Northwest, we'd love them to consider us as partners," Mainard said. "Regardless of their size or history, every church should seek to partner with North American church plants for the sake of the Gospel and our nation."
For more information about Essential Church, visit its website or email Mainard here.
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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