Judging by the dollars, planting churches is No. 1 on the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s to-do list.
It’s the largest line item in the SBTC’s annual in-state budget—that portion of Cooperative Program giving kept for Texas ministry. In 2011, that amount is $1.4 million, plus an additional $400,000 from the Reach Texas Offering to supplement CP funding.
Yet the convention’s church planting philosophy is only partly about being a funding source, crucial as it is. More significant, says Terry Coy, the SBTC’s director of missions, is its partnership—monetarily and otherwise—with local churches, associations and networks in developing sustainable, healthy, doctrinally sound and evangelistically growing congregations.
Texas continues to attract international immigrants and transplants from other states, creating a diverse and missiologically challenging landscape, Coy explained. Church planting remains the optimal strategy for advancing the gospel, he said.
CHURCHES PLANT CHURCHES
In a collaboration of church planting partners, a sponsoring church is the essential piece and the leading partner, Coy said.
“We believe, biblically, that churches plant other churches. That is primary in our church planting philosophy. The stronger the involvement of a local church and association, generally speaking, the stronger the church plant. We want the local church to be the first line of doctrinal, moral and ethical accountability.”
Last year, the state convention had its hand in 25 new church starts; the number will approach 40 in 2011. Meanwhile, about 70 prospective planters have submitted applications with the SBTC; the convention will likely end up working with about 25 of those.
Coy said his team struggles with the tension of how much to fund a given planter, and with balancing the temptation to plant more churches at the expense of quality.
“By 2020, our goal is 100 church plants a year,” Coy said. “But we want 100 healthy, growing church plants a year.”
In years past, the five-year success rate for SBTC plants was more than 70 percent, which was above the national average. In the last few years, with a honing of the process, the rate has increased to around 85 percent, Coy said.
“The reason the percentage has gone up is better coaching and better assessment of prospective planters,” Coy added.
On average, the SBTC provides church plants about $1,500 monthly over a three-year cycle, with the amount decreasing each year. A few churches receive a little more, some less. Coy said it is a “prayerful, strategic, case-by-case” process with multiple considerations, including how many other planting partners are involved.
“The idea is we build a budget alongside all of the other partners—churches, associations, etc. We want a budget the church will be able to grow into and sustain down the road,” Coy explained.
Provide too little or too much funding and “you are setting that planter up for failure.”
About 14 percent of SBTC congregations have been involved in any recent church planting. Coy said he wants to see more churches catch the vision for reproducing.
Church planting involves much more than dollars, and some churches participate through prayer, mentoring, and doctrinal or methodological accountability, Coy said.
“Bottom line, we may be putting in the most money in a given situation, but the boss is the local church.”
“You need not be a megachurch to be a church planting church. Even if a congregation is giving $50 a month, they are the planter’s best friend.”
WHAT KIND OF CHURCH?
Whenever someone asks Coy what kind of churches the SBTC plants, his answer is often “All kinds” or “Whatever kind it takes,” provided it is sufficiently biblical and baptistic. Besides some basic ecclesiological standards, Coy said, matters of taste and method are up to the sponsoring local church.
“What we are going to say is, ‘Local church, you determine those questions.’ Of course, we stand ready to say ‘no’ on something that is unhealthy or unbiblical.”
“We want the right church planter doing the right thing in the right place at the right time,” Coy explained.
Barry Calhoun, SBTC church planting team leader, said the types of churches the SBTC has helped plant range from cowboy churches to traditional to contemporary to multihousing. They reach groups indicative of the cultural diversity of Texas, among them Russian, Burmese, Asian-Indian, Egyptian and African in addition to more traditional Anglo, African-American and Hispanic congregations.
The vetting process for prospective SBTC planters includes doctrinal and lifestyle questions, personality and skills assessments, an interview and assessment with the planter’s wife, reference and background checks, and a willingness to be coached through the planting process.
For example, “If the wife is not on board, the process doesn’t go forward,” Coy said.
The SBTC isn’t seeking perfect candidates, Coy insisted, but rather God-called candidates who have the maturity, gifts, and vision to plant a viable New Testament church.
Once a prospective planter is identified and he agrees to the process, an orientation is required to ensure he understands the place of the local church in the cooperative endeavors that form the basis of the SBTC. He also agrees to be coached and mentored through the three-year process.
The orientation includes a good dose of history explaining the convention’s core values and the shared missions funding strategy of Southern Baptists—the Cooperative Program.
“Barry (Calhoun) and David (Alexander) on our staff have worked very hard to develop an awareness of who the SBTC is and why it’s important and healthy to stay connected once their funding process ends,” Coy said.
“The heart of our strategy is we want to do the right thing and we want to work hard at doing it the right way. It’s not perfect. But it has to be done prayerfully. It has to be in partnership. And it has to be purposeful.”