Mark Gray tries unorthodox recruiting technique
    December 15 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

    Mark Gray’s style for recruiting church planters is a little unorthodox.

    “If I can talk you out of planting a church, then you probably shouldn’t plant one,” says Gray, a member of the Baptist State Convention’s church planting team since 2005 and its leader since 2006. 

    He tells prospective planters the job is lonely, threatens some people and often requires significant personal sacrifice. He wants any church planter to go into the job with eyes wide open.

    But the truth is, Gray doesn’t recruit much. Instead, he fields calls from all over the country from men who indicate that God is calling them to plant a church in North Carolina. Just as a diverse population is migrating to North Carolina, Gray sees God drawing men to start churches to reach that population.

    Church planting is one of the seven pillars guiding Baptist State Convention ministry. In the past five years 719 new churches have been added to the Convention through planting or affiliation.

    BR photo by Norman Jameson

    Mark Gray, leader of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s church planting team, considers starting a church and priming tobacco the two hardest things he’s ever done.

    Gray, 55, describes himself as a “called servant of the Lord who is passionate about doing whatever it takes to reach people for Jesus and to disciple them.”

    Raised in Mayodan, he was baptized in the Mayo River following his response to God during Vacation Bible School commencement at Beaver Island Baptist Church.

    Always a hard worker like his father who worked in a mill and directed Sunday School and VBS at Beaver Island, Gray says the two hardest things he’s ever done are to prime tobacco and to start a church.

    Analytical about people groups, assessments of potential planters, training and procedures, Gray said that North Carolina Baptists are beginning to see the fruits of their support for church planting. “Boot camp” training for church planters is continually refined to be more effective. Recent changes added emphasis on evangelism and discipleship.

    No church planting prospect is funded or trained without undergoing an assessment that will give leadership a sense of the man’s potential effectiveness.

    “Our goal is to help them be where God has called them to be,” Gray says. Even if the result shows church planting is not the best place for an individual, “everybody wins in an assessment.”

    Assessors are looking for 13 characteristics. Among them: visioning capacity, ability to relate to the lost, spousal approval, resilience and adaptability.  

    Measuring effectiveness
    Gray tracks “effectiveness” of church planters “to make sure we’re not just leading a conference … we don’t want to teach material, we want to teach people.” Effectiveness measures such tangibles as evangelistic visits, baptisms, attendance and giving.

    Gray is most interested in helping to start churches that reach lost and unchurched people, not in creating new destinations for disgruntled members of other churches.

    Through October 2010 church plants in the current funding cycle — which includes about 120 churches in a number that fluctuates each month as new starts begin and others mature out of the cycle — have recorded 2,400 professions of faith and are averaging almost 8,000 in attendance.

    Evangelistic contacts are up 29,000 over last year, to more than 90,000 “because we’ve been emphasizing that,” Gray said. “What we resource is guys who are passionate about reaching the lost and unchurched.”

    In 2010 Gray projects 140 new churches will be added to the Convention, including 18 affiliates, which were started outside the Convention’s network, but chose to affiliate with the Convention.

    While a study of 10 denominations detailed in the book Viral Churches says 68 percent of new churches are still around after four years, the North Carolina “success rate” over four years is 82 percent, Gray said. It is 91 percent after two years, and “we’re pleased about that.”

    With 234 heart languages spoken in the state a diversity of new plants is required to meet the spiritual needs of those people groups. Sixty-four of the new churches North Carolina Baptists started this year were Hispanic, multi-ethnic or Asian, Gray said.

    He is also pleased that church planting by Protestant churches in the United States is up to 4,000 per year, surpassing by 500 the number of churches that close.

    Still, to reach the need, Gray says Christians must focus on multiplication, not just church addition. “We are looking for someone who will plant a church that will plant churches that will plant churches,” he said.

    Gray calls himself a blue collar guy, a significant identity when you learn that a church planter relates most effectively to “the people with whom you related at age 13.” He started a church in a country club area of Greensboro, but it was hard work because connecting with that population did not come naturally.  

    Donor churches grow

    Addressing one of the fears that established churches have over sending out families to be the core group for a new church, Gray said that on average, a “mother” church’s attendance grows 22 percent over five years after starting a new church.

    The sponsoring church is energized by the vision recast by its efforts to plant another.

    Gray is a 1978 graduate of Mars Hill College. He graduated in 1984 from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary after attending Asbury Seminary in Kentucky for two years.

    He is restarting his DMin process at Southeastern this year.

    His wife Esther teaches at the Newcomers School in Greensboro where refugees and immigrants first attend to become oriented to the U.S. and to learn English. She teaches high school math and says, “I’m a missionary and the world has come to me.”

    They have two children and five acres on which Gray gardens. He fishes “a little” on the family farm of his in-laws near Thomasville.

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    12/15/2010 2:37:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

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