By Andy Hale
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship continues to see fresh and innovative expressions of church. This year’s church start candidates are redefining this trend with unique church models, including co-pastoring, relational, and emergent. In addition, the Fellowship is expanding its partnerships by starting churches in Washington, Maryland, Texas and North Carolina.
These church start candidates will converge on Decatur for a four-day exploratory experience with CBF staff and CBF state/regional leaders, kicking off Oct. 5.
The conference is an intentional intersection of the church starters with:
• Asset-based leadership and core group development
• Self-care strategies
• Nuts and bolts of contextual church start development
• Visioning a church start plan
“Personally, I could not be more thankful for my relationship with CBF,” explained Kyle Tubbs, who was commissioned earlier this year at the 2014 General Assembly in Atlanta. “When I first began the discernment process of planting a church, CBF was a partner to pray with me and challenge me to think outside the box, and help me to grow. Once we started meeting as a church, the wonderful people at CBF helped empower me to be the leader God called me to be.”
The discernment cohort is one of the primary outlets for individuals to explore this call to church starting. Participants engage in eight weeks of spiritual reflection, church start education, dialogue with fellow participants and staff, and also develop a church starter profile centered on ministry journey and a church start vision.
George Linney, who was commissioned with Tubbs at the 2014 Assembly, reflected on his experience with the CBF church starting process.
“Personally, I knew that running and the work of the church continued to intersect in my life and work,” Linney said. “Friends that I developed through the Fellowship were courageous, constructive and disciplining in how they helped me shape the vision.”
So far this year there have been two cohorts engaging over 20 participants. The Fall cohort will begin Oct. 12. Participants must register by Oct. 6 submitting a Church Start Discernment Process Information Form. There will be three discernment cohorts in 2015: January 11-March 7, July 12-September 5, and October 11-December 5.
CBF recognizes there are quite a few approaches to starting new congregations. None of these is the one right way to start a new church. CBF has tried several approaches in its church starting efforts and will inevitably continue to do so in the future.
The last three years of commissioned church starters have set a trend in situational, contextual, and organic ministry. Take for example the Tobacco Trail Church in Durham, N.C., a community that engages the Eucharist on running trails, or Grace Baptist Church in Round Rock, Texas, which offers a contemplative worship experience.
“One particularly freeing aspect of the CBF church start philosophy is that it is Spirit-led,” Linney noted. “That means a lot of things to a lot of people, but in this case it looked like a willingness by leadership to invest in a person and a vision rather than a program. If you are passionate about what God is calling you to that is enough to begin a conversation with CBF.”
At the same time, CBF seeks to be intentional in its church starting efforts. We are proposing the establishment of a process to incorporate intentionally-identified CBF church starters into our Fellowship through discerning, selecting, training, commissioning and resourcing them for their particular calling.
New churches and church starters will continue to engage CBF in a myriad of ways. We will continue to interact with communities who find us in various ways, but we also pledge to focus the majority of our efforts on intentional CBF church starts.
Our goal is to not let the commissioning of a church starter be the culmination of our partnership, but merely one beautiful and affirming chapter. As we journey alongside commissioned church starters a deeper partnership is woven through continued education, professional coaching, financial support and core group leadership development.
“Corporately, CBF gives our church a definite identity,” Tubbs said. “We can trust our partnership with other churches across the Fellowship. We love CBF’s missiology, and hope to continue to partner with field personnel in Texas and around the world.”
Following the exploratory conference and commissioning, selected church starters will then enter into a covenant with the Fellowship. The most successful church starters will partner with CBF, their local CBF state/regional organization, one or more encourager churches as well as invested individuals.
Many are ready for the Fellowship to turn its eyes to church starting in the West.
“It is the largest and most diverse region of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship,” explained Glen Foster, who serves as coordinator of CBF West. “A third of the U.S. population lives in our 13 states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Ethnicities and cultures are as beautiful and varied as our landscape. What is missing? CBF churches.”
As we continue to see more church start candidates and geographically-identified new church start needs, we will need to continue expand our partnerships and resources to make these discerned visions a reality. These partnerships will need to come from across the Fellowship, from state/regional organizations to churches, individuals and other partners.
“We need bi-vocational church planters to come West,” Foster said. “Pick your location. Do you like mountains, beaches, deserts? Do you prefer a major cosmopolitan city or a quiet small town? Are you up for a challenge? The West is an exciting and adventurous place to be. Will it be your place.”