By Andy Hale
If I told you that some of the most significant work to advance the Kingdom and strengthen the Fellowship would take place at a Hy-Vee grocery store food court in the heart of Missouri, would it be worth your time? That’s the question I asked myself as I walked into my sixth meeting in 24 hours.
For three days I ventured across the state of Missouri with Harold Phillips, coordinator of CBF Heartland, meeting with established church pastors to discuss partnering with church start initiatives, divinity school students and others who are discerning a call, encouraging established church starters and dreaming of the ways we can train future church starters alongside the staff of Central Theological Seminary.
That’s a lot in three days. So what are the take aways?
Take Away 1: There is great work being done by churches in Missouri. As I engaged in conversations with church leaders, I was impressed by the day-to-day discipleship and ministry taking place.
Missouri churches are facing what all churches are facing—shrinking budgets, aging buildings and the busyness of parishioners—yet these churches are at the forefront of the social justice work being done across the state. In addition, they are asking the question, “How can we support new church starts?” These churches are demonstrating that healthy churches really do birth new churches.
Take Away 2: Beginning in Kansas City and making your way to Columbia, Jefferson City and St. Louis, it is plain to see that these growing communities are prime locations for new church starts. Harold said, “If you want to talk about strategic planning, I could point you to 10 strategic places in Kansas City alone. On the Kansas side of the city, in Johnston County alone, resides a seventh of the state’s population.”
When considering that Kansas City is a 15-county metro area, home to roughly 2.7 million people, and there are only 15 CBF churches serving this area, Harold smiled and remarked, “Absolutely, I think it is time that we help start new churches in Kansas City!”
Take Away 3: The Fellowship’s Church Starts Initiative is working. As I engaged in conversations with those grappling with a call to start churches, namely seasoned ministers and divinity school students, the space we have created with our online discernment cohorts was welcomed with encouraging nods. What has been created with this digital space is an opportunity for people to safely work through a calling, gain clarification of vision and receive encouragement from those who are on a similar journey.
I think Harold Phillips described it best when he said:
“CBF’s Church Starts Initiative is giving people an opportunity to come to the pool of an exciting adventure. People are waiting with anticipation and reservation on the edge of the pool, truly wanting to at least dip their toe in the water or jump in. By giving people a safe space to explore a call to church starting, and surrounding them with others who have already jumped into the waters we can, with great anticipation, reassure others that the water is safe and fulfilling.”
Take Away 4: With three large and ready cities, candidates ready to engage the cohort and unidentified core group members to join them, we’ve got work to do.
Taking a similar idea being implemented by Terri Byrd and CBF Alabama, CBF Heartland is beginning to consider establishing community groups around the state and in some strategic areas in hopes to begin gauging interest and establish potential church start nucleus groups. The challenge, however, is how to identify moderate Baptists who are not already committed to a church community that would be willing to engage in this type of ministry.
So it is a time to get to work, but it is also a time to be in prayer. So join me as we pray for Missouri. Pray for those who have yet to encounter the love of God and for those who have yet to find a place of belonging through a church community. Pray for church starters and core group members to arise. Pray for the work of CBF Heartland staff and churches.
One final take away: If you have not spent any time with Harold Phillips it is worth the cost of plane ticket to Kansas City just to sit down for five minutes with this joy of a man. The Heartland is blessed to have not only Harold, but also the brilliance of Jeff Langford, associate aoordinator of CBF Heartland.
Andy Hale is is a CBF church starter who serves as pastor of Mosaic of Clayton in Clayton, N.C., and is the overseer of the Fellowship’s Church Starts Initiative. For those who wish to learn more about CBF’s Church Starts Initiative or want to contribute to the initiative to help fund new church starts and coaches for church starters, visit http://www.thefellowship.info/churchstarts/ and contact Andy Hale at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn about the church starting discernment process visit http://www.thefellowship.info/missions/ministries/churchstarts/church-start-discernment-overview/. To find out more about the work being done in the Heartland, visit http://www.cbfheartland.org/.