Coastal church example of state planting effortscomment (0)
February 8, 2001
By Anthony Wade
Alabama Baptists are anchoring themselves in God’s Word to climb mountains and hills to plant congregations all across the state, looking toward a goal of 270 new churches by the close of 2005. Even those in coastal Alabama have climbed a hill to reach a summit.
Baldwin Baptist Association has long recognized that as population pockets, particularly prevalent in more recent years along the Eastern Shore area of the county, surge, so must the number of churches to present Jesus Christ and encourage spiritual growth.
It was in 1994 that the roots of East Pointe Baptist Church were set. It is a new church about 5 miles north of Spanish Fort.
The first service was July 31, 1994, at a catfish restaurant. After two years of searching for land, the Lord led church members to the present site.
They had their first service there Easter 1997, and their first service in the building was Oct. 1, 2000. Their pastor, Paul O. Lee, said the church had more than 50 visitors Jan. 28.
“We were just so (joyfully) overwhelmed with the guests Sunday that we’re already behind. We’ve had people moving into their homes and we’re trying to keep up with reaching them,” he said.
The people of East Pointe Baptist have a vision for growth that extends farther than the view atop their summit across from the entrance to Blakely State Park, from which they can see 12 miles out across unspoiled treetops, dotting the valley below.
Two entire walls of the six-sided sanctuary are purposely windows, so that worshipers can enjoy God’s vistas.
“In the last several years there’s been tremendous (residential population) growth out here,” said East Pointe building committee chairman, Wylie Drayton, referring to several new subdivisions, some complete, others under construction, still others on architects’ papers.
These are mostly along Highway 225 where the church is located.
By the year 2005 an additional 5,000 families are expected to reside within a few miles of the church, Drayton said.
“God has really blessed us and now, we are looking forward to Him growing us according to His will,” Drayton said. “He’s given us this tool, which is the church building.
Using this tool and through the church body, which of course is the people, we are reaching out to this community,” he added.
Though initiated and organized locally, East Pointe worked through the office of associational and cooperative missions of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM) and local gifts from individuals to realize its dream, first of 21.75 acres and by October 2000 a 11,356-square-foot church facility.
Lee, who has been the pastor for the last five years, said that today, the church, with its 150 members is a long way from its initial meetings in a catfish restaurant in 1994–96 with only 14 people.
This is just one of many examples of how the office of associational and cooperative missions stands ready to assist churches and associations who have a vision to start new congregations, according to Ron Madison, director of the office.
“We helped identify the need for the church through a probe, helped to resource the purchase of the property, provide mobile units for their early meetings, until buildings were built, and assisted their pastor financially. This church is a perfect example of partnership,” Madison said.
As the view widens from this brightly shining summit-set church, the broader perspective is for Alabama Baptists to establish 270 new Baptist churches during 2001–2005.
The new work committee of the executive committee of the SBOM, under the direction of Rick Lance, executive director, has challenged churches and associations throughout Alabama to start these new congregations.
“A vital part of Great Commission ministry among Alabama Baptists is starting new churches,” Lance said. “During the next five years, Alabama Baptists have set a goal of 270 new church starts.
“This is the most aggressive approach to the birthing of new congregations by Alabama Baptists in decades,” Lance noted. He added that the effort “will call for the best from the local churches, the associations and the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
“If we succeed, it will be because of a tremendous commitment by Alabama Baptists to be Great Commission Christians,” Lance said.
Currently, there are about 3,200 Southern Baptist churches in Alabama, serving the approximately 1.5 million Baptists among the state’s 4,219,000 total population.
Madison said Alabama Baptists have been starting approximately 30–35 new churches a year for the last several years.
“We typically lose several churches a year, and in 1999 we probably broke even when we added about 39 new churches, and had about that many that we lost,” he said.
Madison said churches close for a variety of reasons, and the new churches are targeted for new work areas, and not intended to cause the closing of any church.
The state convention goal of 270 new churches is broken down, year by year.
Of the 270 churches hoped for, 42 are expected to burgeon in 2001, and two of these have begun. They are Hope Community Church, Montgomery Baptist Association, and The Church at Shelby Crossings, who is working toward membership in Shelby Association.
Madison describes Hope Community as a new “cell-type” church focusing on multi-housing units. Shelby Crossings held its first public meeting in January in a school building, with about 500 people in attendance.
“We would hope to celebrate (the 42) sometime late in the year,” Madison said.
In 2002, 48 new churches is the goal.
“We are responding to the vision that is out there, and we help create a climate to start new churches. We are hopeful that emphasis through The Alabama Baptist will help make people aware of the opportunities to start new churches,” Madison said.
“We believe every person should have the opportunity to hear the gospel and be offered the opportunity to be a part of a New Testament church where they can worship, be discipled, and learn to share that same gospel with others,” he noted.
Madison emphasized that the SBOM does not start new congregations, and does not determine where congregations are needed.
“In response to the vision of pastors, directors of missions and the laity in local churches, the State Board offers resources for determining populations where new churches are needed across the state.”
“As church organizers look for ways to get help, the State Board of Missions can offer grants for the purchase of property, low interest loans for new church buildings, consultation for locations and limited resources to new churches to assist with a pastor salary,” Madison said.
“Our focus is on all kinds of new churches, all races and ethnic groups, suburban, inner city, open country, wherever there are places where the population is growing, and where there are people not being touched by existing congregations,” Madison said.
“Increasingly, as our international population grows, there is a need to provide international congregational life for them in what you might say is the language of their hearts,” he said.
“Though we serve all ethnic groups, the Hispanic population is the fastest growing immigrant group in the U.S. and in Alabama, so we would anticipate having more of our language communities coming from Hispanic populations than others,” Madison said.
He said new churches will be in every population group in the state including Anglo, African-American and the various language and ethnic groups. Madison noted that new churches are needed to reach into suburban areas, multi-housing communities, transitional rural areas and pockets of new immigrant populations.