Church plants ministering to large unreached sector of Alabama

Church plants ministering to large unreached sector of Alabama

By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist

Last year Lamar Duke was asked to pull together some numbers for a report.

He did — and when he finished he sat at his desk and wept.

“Since 2013 we’ve planted 85 churches,” said Duke, church planting strategist for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM). “And when we did that study last year those 85 church plants had baptized 785 people and given $754,000 through the Cooperative Program.”

Those numbers are a sign of the amazing things God is doing through church planters around the state, Duke said. Their ministry is reaching into a segment of the population that nothing else is reaching.

‘Skill and resilience’

“The system we’ve had (of established churches) is effectively reaching 40 percent of the population,” he said. “We need to lay another system beside it that reaches into that other 3 million people who are unchurched or dechurched.”

Church plants, Duke said, are like the SEAL teams going into that unchurched 60 percent of the state’s population and trying to find a way to reach them.

“To start a new church from scratch requires a lot of different skill sets and resilience,” Duke said.

So the SBOM works hard to train and coach those new church planters. 

Some church plants have been operating for several years now. Others are embryonic, he said.

“But they are reaching the unchurched,” Duke said. “I tell people all over Alabama that if we have one church that can baptize 30 a year for the next five years, that’s significant. 

“But if that church can also plant churches that do the same thing, how many more people will come to know Jesus that way?”

His prayer for Alabama is that churches will plant churches that plant churches — and he prays that will never stop until Jesus comes back. 

Rick Lance, executive director of the SBOM, said each church plant is a cause for celebration.

Like a new baby it “creates a sense of anticipation as to what our Lord will do in the future,” he said. “All across our state, God is at work birthing new churches and reaching people for Christ. We are grateful for this blessing and we look forward to seeing more of it in the future.”

Duke said he has seen the fruit in the numbers, and he’s seen it personally too. 

A while back he preached at a church plant in Enterprise — the Church on Boll Weevil Circle (see story below). After the service a woman came up to him and said, “You don’t remember me, do you?”

Duke told her he was sorry, but he didn’t.

“She told me, ‘You baptized me in that church you planted years ago in Savannah, Georgia, and you and your wife got me through a very hard time in my life,’” Duke said. “Now she’s in Enterprise and an active part of the church there. That just blew me away. God is at work.” 

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They started with two, and now they’re a church

A few decades ago Coffee Baptist Association conducted a community study and discovered there was a big need for a church on Boll Weevil Circle, the “main artery” that wraps around the middle of Enterprise.

Every assessment they did after that showed the same thing. And a few years ago they decided it was time to make a move.

“Somebody suggested that we just pull together a nucleus of people and start meeting with them while being careful not to pull people from other churches,” said John Granger, current associational mission strategist.

Thriving church

So that’s what Granger did. The first week the Church on Boll Weevil Circle met, it wasn’t at Boll Weevil Circle — it was in his office in New Brockton and it was just him and one other person. The next week that person’s wife came too. And over the weeks that followed they slowly picked up a few more.

The church kept growing. It moved to some portable buildings and its small membership gave generously to buy property with frontage on Boll Weevil Circle. And now they’re getting ready to start construction on a new building that will house their growing congregation — a congregation with a thriving men’s ministry, music ministry, young adult group and children’s ministry.

‘Be a light’

“It’s a challenge when you start with nothing, but it’s been a blessing,” he said. “God has done so much through this loving and devoted congregation. We have great hope that we’ll be able to continue being a light to the community.”

Lamar Duke, church planting strategist for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said he loves seeing the way God has worked in what started as a church plant meeting in an office.

“John is doing a great job,” he said. “He’s on the front lines, and he’s got a vision for seeing even more happen down there.” (Grace Thornton)