People, place and plan
October 5 2001 by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor

People, place and plan | Friday, Oct. 5, 2001

Friday, Oct. 5, 2001

People, place and plan

By Steve DeVane BR Managing Editor Nelson Tilton has a simple way to deal with churches that don't want to grow: leave them alone. Tilton, head of the Baptist State Convention's (BSC) church planting team, said problems often arise in churches with people who want to stay the same and a pastor who has a church growth vision.

If the pastor gets some of the members to rally behind him, the church can split, Tilton said. That's how many churches in North Carolina are started, he said.

Steve Hardy, who is working with about a dozen new churches and has helped about 30 others in the last five years, said a split church caused by a frustrated pastor leads to an "extremely limited vision."

"The problem is he is trying to create a church in his own image, rather than meeting needs in the community," Hardy said.

Tilton said that in such situations a church planting strategy can be better than a church growth strategy.

"We've got a number of churches that are happy where they are and we ought to leave them alone," Tilton said. "Fifty percent of churches don't want us bothering them. It would take far more energy and money to change that than to go in with a church planting strategy. We could attack it, but it'd take a lot more energy and money."

The avenue church consultants prefer is for local churches to sponsor a mission church in their area along with help from the association and state Convention. In those cases, a church starting strategy includes the right people in the right place with a plan.

Cindy Buffaloe, consultant for church start strategy for Raleigh Baptist Association, said there are "all kinds of models" for starting a church. There are, however, some necessities to successfully starting a church, she said.

One of those is a "core group" of people.

Tilton said some church planters prefer for the core group to include only people from the "target" area. Others use a core group of people from existing churches that are supporting the new work.

"It's not uncommon to tell a person from (an existing) church, 'You don't fit our core group. We love you, but you're in the way,'" Tilton said.

Hardy said that everyone in the core group must have the same vision for the church.

"There has to be one core vision that the thing is built around," he said. "That's a really big hurdle."

Some people who come to a new church from an existing church have the same vision for the new church as they had for their former church. Multiple visions for a new church create havoc, Hardy said.

Hardy sees vision as a critical element to starting a church.

Don Brown, pastor of The Village Church at Holly Springs, and Randy Shepley, who leads North Wilmington Community Church, stress the importance of having a vision.

Brown said the vision at his church is easy to remember - "Connecting people, changing lives and communicating Christ."

The words are central to bookmarks the church gives out and the church's Web page.

Shepley said a church member is designing a large board with the church's logo. Song lyrics and other information will be projected on the board during worship services, he said.

Hardy, on staff at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, said finding the right church planter with the right skills is crucial to the success of a new church.

"Not everyone is suited" for starting a church, he said.

Buffaloe said the person must be "very relational" and have passion and drive.

"It's hard work," she said. "Any church planter will say it's the hardest work they've ever done."

Hardy said the church planter must "creatively develop relationships in the community."

The church planter needs to know the group of people that the new church is trying to reach, Tilton said. A new church may be traditional, contemporary or futuristic, depending on the target group, he said.

Tilton said getting the right person to lead the effort is only part of the strategy.

"Some think 'If we just get a church planter, we'll make it work,'" he said.

Those thoughts lead people to think they only need funding to pay the church starter's salary. Money also may be needed for rent and marketing efforts.

The BSC will pay up to one third of the first-year costs if local groups will pay the other two thirds. For example, the BSC would put in $36,000 if local forces agreed to put in at least $72,000.

"It puts the ownership of the new work in the hands of those out there," Tilton said. "That should give us a healthy church start."

Tilton said BSC officials haven't yet put a ceiling on the amount.

Hardy said he believes a new church needs at least $100,000 in the first year. Churches can't be started on a "shoestring" budget, he said.

Buffaloe said money is needed to help new churches meet one of their big challenges - a place to meet. Schools, which have become home to many new churches, are "pricing themselves out" of the market, she said.

Brown said location has been one obstacle The Village Church has faced. Holly Springs has had tremendous residential growth but not much commercial growth, making it difficult to find a suitable meeting place.

The church started meeting in a community center when it launched on Easter of last year. Last month, they moved to an elementary school less than a mile away.

Brown said the church turned the move into a parade. Kids wore roller blades and rode scooters and church members carried banners as they marched from the community center to the school.

The local newspaper ran a front-page article about the parade, he said.

Brown said the church is now averaging about 75 people in worship each week.

North Wilmington Community Church, which also meets at an elementary school, has an average attendance of about 80 people. Shepley started the church about three years ago with a vision to reach people who aren't attending another church.

The church uses music provided by a band with a bass guitar, a guitar, a digital piano, drums and several singers.

Tilton said some new churches prefer guitars to organs.

"It's very seldom you see a pipe organ on MTV," he said. "We're probably going to have to deliver an electronic Jesus to get them to respond to us. Some older, more traditional folks are going to have a tough time dealing with that."

Starting new churches is not easy in North Carolina where there is much church tradition, Tilton said.

"There's good tradition here, but it may not be palatable to the people moving in here," he said. "In the meantime, in order to get them to look at this Jesus we believe in, we may have to package our religion differently."

The new church must have "good, solid theology," but after that Tilton said he is willing to give church planters freedom.

"I tell new church planters in training 'Use any wrapping you want as long as it doesn't compromise Jesus,'" he said. "You have to have the gospels in your heart. You have to know who Jesus is and not compromise His teaching."

About 75 new churches are started in the Baptist State Convention (BSC) each year. Tilton said BSC officials are shifting their concentration from the quantity to the quality of the fledgling congregations.

"The biggest thing we've heard is 'Don't start any of those scraggly little churches that are going to fail,'" Tilton said.

Tilton wouldn't say how many new BSC churches fail each year. "Far too many," he said.

Tilton has been with the BSC for about a year.

"I think we've got the opportunity to plant churches well ... and creatively," he said. "We're determined to carry out the Great Commission."

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10/5/2001 12:00:00 AM by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments
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