By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
JONESBORO (LBM) – Paul Wilkerson was enjoying high times from his worldly living until early 2016 when he lost nearly everything he valued.
Burdened with heartache, he began seeking hope, which he found in Jesus Christ shortly after.
Wilkerson celebrated his transformed heart and life a year later by being baptized by Michael Brakefield, pastor of the Hope Chapel in Jonesboro.
Brakefield spent the year teaching Wilkerson, but Wilkerson’s delay in being baptized wasn’t a factor of discipleship, but to wait until the church became an official member of the Louisiana Baptist Convention in early 2017.
“I grew up in the presence of the Lord as a kid in church but I had never received it,” Wilkerson said. “I had heard the calling from the time I was little but ran from it. I was trying to fill this big massive void. I was the success story, thinking I was better than I was.
“Over a matter of six months I lost everything,” he said. “I was homeless and in a position where I had no other place to turn. I was in the desert. Because I had nowhere else to turn I found the truth.”
Wilkerson is one of 13 new believers baptized in 2017 at Hope Chapel.
The church has grown rapidly from just the two persons who got together in January 2016 for a Bible study in Brakefield’s home to an average of 20-30 for Sunday morning services, and another 30-40 for Tuesday evening prayer meetings.
“Growth is a result of the Holy Spirit using spirit-filled, devoted followers of Jesus,” Brakefield said. “Faithfulness to Jesus produces fruit in ministry and creates excitement and an expectation for more to come.”
Hope Chapel is among the 210 Louisiana Baptist church plants that collectively celebrated a record 512 baptisms in 2017. These new congregations are poised to experience another year of healthy growth, Louisiana Baptist church planting strategists contend.
“I am encouraged in our task, because each day I get to work with two of the best church planting strategist in America – Lane Corley and Carlos Schmidt,” said James Jenkins, director of church planting for Louisiana Baptists. “Our church plants are an amazing preview of the book of Revelation.
“Louisiana Baptists are starting churches to reach every nation, tribe, people and language,” Jenkins explained. “LBC church plants enable Louisiana Baptists to proclaim the Gospel every week among 14 people groups and 12 languages. It is exciting to live in a time when the ends of the earth are coming to America and Louisiana.”
According to the latest report by the Louisiana Baptists’ missions and ministry team, the 512 baptisms performed by church plants in 2017 were an increase of 152 from the previous year. They also recorded 34,465 evangelistic contacts and 1,419 decisions to follow Christ.
With 27 churches planted in 2017, Louisiana Baptists are now just 90 away from reaching the 300th church planted since 2010. If that number is reached, it would meet a goal of planting 300 churches by 2020 as part of one of the 10 action steps identified in the President’s 2020 Commission Final Report.
PLANTS, RE-PLANTS, REVITALIZATIONS
Planting healthy, biblically sound, multiplying churches is identified in that document as a key component to a strategy which seeks to engage two audiences – the next generation and every people group – in reaching Louisiana with the Gospel.
Corley is confident Louisiana Baptists can plant their 300th church by the end of 2020, but says continued support from existing congregations is critical.
“We’re seeing the product of healthy partnerships that have created a great culture for multiplication across Louisiana,” Corley said. “Starting with the strategy laid out by the President’s 2020 Commission, associations have set local goals for new churches.
“We also have seen growth in multi-site churches and revitalization strategies have led to churches being re-planted,” he continued. “More existing churches are saying yes to sponsorship and partnership with church plants in various ways. In New Orleans, the partnership with the North American Mission Board has brought needed focus to the needs of New Orleans as well as partners from across the country to help plant churches in our largest population center.”
The strategy places a special emphasis on planting churches where most Louisianans live, concentrating on the I-10 corridor and southward where 3 million Louisianans reside.
So far, 160 of the 210 new church plants are located in southern Louisiana. There also is a mix of ethnic identities among these church plants: 83 are predominately Anglo, 62 African-American, 28 Hispanic, nine Asian and 17 of various other ethnicities (a stark contrast to 2010, when eight churches were started — seven Anglo and one Asian, with no African-American or Hispanic congregations in the mix).