By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
ALEXANDRIA – Celebrating the 200th church started in the state since 2010, Louisiana Baptists Executive Director David Hankins challenged and thanked church planters, urging them to not flag in their zeal and encouraging them with appreciation for the souls that have been saved because of their work to share the Gospel.
Hankins made his remarks July 12 at a reception at the state convention’s ministry center in Alexandria.
“I want to encourage you to institutionalize your churches,” Hankins exhorted.
“Sometimes the word ‘institution’ gets a bad rap – interpreted to mean ‘staid, lifeless, cold, dead and unmoving,’” he said. “But I think ‘institution’ is a good word. It says something about strength, substance, dependability, safety, character and longevity.
“That’s the kind of church I want you to plant,” Hankins continued, speaking to the group of church planters in attendance. “I want you, by God’s grace, to build a church that’s an institution, that people would look at that place where you gather for ministry and say, ‘That Baptist church is an institution of this town. We can count on it. It’s going to be there.’”
“In 10 years, if the Lord hasn’t returned, and we look at the 300 churches we planted, I want them to be institutions all over this state that God can depend on and the community can depend on,” Hankins added. “And all the guys God has called to seminary will be driving around through your town and will say, ‘Boy, I hope the Lord lets me pastor a church like this someday.’”
PRESSING TOWARD THE GOAL
The reception – which began with a prayer led by Louisiana Baptists Language Strategist Carlos Schmidt – marked the two-thirds point of planting 300 churches by 2020 as part of one of the 10 action steps identified in the President’s 2020 Commission Final Report, which was affirmed by messengers during the 2013 LBC Annual Meeting.
Planting healthy, biblically sound, multiplying churches is identified in that document as a key component to the seven-year-strategy which seeks to engage two audiences – the next generation and every people group – in reaching Louisiana with the Gospel.
“We’re here today to celebrate a milestone,” said John Hebert, director of missions and ministry for Louisiana Baptists. “But we didn’t do it. It’s the work of the Lord. It’s amazing how when brothers walk together the Lord’s work is done.”
Through July 12, 16 churches have been planted in 2017. The goal is 35 new works by the end of the year.
The strategy is to plant churches where most Louisianans live, so the geographical emphasis is along the I-10 corridor and southward where 3 million Louisianans reside, about 67 percent of the state’s population.
So far, 151 of the new church plants are located in southern Louisiana.
There also has been a focus on ethnic diversity. Among the 200 church plants: 57 are African-American, 27 Hispanic, nine Asian and 17 have a largely multi-ethnic makeup.
Importantly, the 200 church plants, since 2010, have witnessed a harvest of more than 11,000 new believers, said Lane Corley, one of three church planting strategists for Louisiana Baptists. He also emphasized the broad cooperation among Louisiana Baptists, noting that churches have been planted in 91 communities, and 25 out of 32 associations, so far.
“We’re not done yet,” he said. “We still have at least 100 to go. Thank you for all of you who are involved, and we still have more to do.”
James Jenkins, Louisiana Baptists director of church planting, complimented Schmidt and Corley, saying, “Every day I get to work with two of the best church planting strategists in the nation.”
Although Jenkins credited Schmidt and Corley for the success, Hebert stressed that Jenkins has been the key leader for implementing the statewide initiative.
EXCEPTIONAL IS THE RULE
Checkerz Williams, pastor of the 200th new church plant, overall, in the state, and Jonathan Sayles, pastor of the 50th church planted in New Orleans, were given special recognition.
Williams is pastor of Renew Church in Baton Rouge while Sayles is pastor of Mission Community Church in New Orleans East — both congregations serve multi-ethnic communities.
Although months from official launches, both men are busy planning and organizing.
Williams is building his launch team, holding Bible studies and training in evangelism, with a planned preview service in January and February before having a soft launch in March and a grand opening Easter Sunday.
“We will use evangelism and marketplace missions to reach people and grow,” Williams said. “One of our core values will also be to focus on breaking down racial barriers that, too often, separate believers.”
Meanwhile, Sayles will launch Mission Community Church Aug. 6, already working with a core group of eight to nine people.
He said, using biblical principles of discipleship he hopes to see the church grow to 100 the first year and 250 within four years.
“Disciples making disciples is the best way for a church to expand numerically and spiritually,” Sayles said. “It’s exciting to be a part of this in my hometown city of New Orleans as we have 75,000 people we can reach in a five-mile radius who do not attend church on a regular basis.”