When speaking of lostness, Jesus said, “The fields are white unto harvest.” In North Texas today very few are farmers, so this analogy loses some of its effectiveness unless we happen to be driving past one of the few remaining cotton fields at harvest time in the fall. However, the point Jesus was making is that there are more lost people than there are workers to reach and gather them. Today, this is no truer than in Collin County.
Despite the seeming overwhelming number of churches in our area, more than 700,000 of the county’s nearly million people do not consider themselves to be an evangelical Christian, recent studies indicate. “The simple answer is that we need to start more churches,” said CBA Church Network Executive Director Vince Smith. “It’s just a simple matter of math at this point. We have to keep growing churches and growing numbers of people who know Christ.”
To combat this “numbers problem,” the CBA Church Network has partnered with the Denton Baptist Association and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) to create Send North Texas – an independent coalition with the singular focus of finding, training, and equipping church planters and others who will engage this region with a Gospel message.
Smith said the numbers are staggering. “With our county growing at its current rate, even if our existing churches continue to grow each year, we are still behind because we are growing slower than the population around us. That creates a net loss,” he said. Smith added that in order to keep up with local growth trends, we need to plant 17 new churches each year. “We’re lucky if we start five a year right now.”
Though Smith admits there is no “silver bullet” answer for the problem, he and others believe the solution can be found through leadership. “We have to go make leaders. We need to disciple disciple-makers and disciple church starters,” Smith said. “This is going to be a long-term effort.”
Smith believes we do not need to look to outside resources for reaching the lost of Collin County and North Texas. “God’s already given us thousands of people in our churches. Among those thousands of people, I know there are some who God is calling to do this work,” said Smith. “We need to locate them, help them develop, train them, help them discern their call, and gain some skills. Then we can reach this region with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We can see this dream come true.” Smith said Send North Texas is the church planter training and assessment system to develop the leaders we need and to place them in churches to develop the skills they need to start new churches.
Using resources developed by NAMB for evaluating and training church planters, Send North Texas walks potential church planters through a detailed process designed to help the potential planner, and his family, see if they have what it takes to start new churches. And, if not, help provide training to help them prepare for the task. “Church planting is not for the faint of heart,” said Smith. “There’s got to be intentionality.”
To begin the process, a candidate visits the website (www.sendntx.org.) This triggers the application process which includes a background and reference checks. The next step in the process is a church planter assessment that looks at personality and asks six people who are invited to make comments about your life and your potential as a church planter.
Smith said there is also a component that looks at the marriage of candidates. “It is a family event, and your family needs to understand that,” Smith said. “It really is a 360 look at you as a candidate.”
The next step in the process is the two-day retreat with church planters, preachers, and other coaches who will work with the candidates. The first of these workshops is scheduled for November 5-6. Smith said he understands the process can seem daunting to a church planting candidate. “This is a ministry. This is not a test to see if we can knock you out of planting,” he said. “This is to help you develop as a leader.”
Smith said following the workshop, church planters and their families will receive specialized training to help them make decisions about what is next. Following the assessment, there is a personal development plan, live coaching, and work in the churches within the network.
“What’s unique about this approach is that it is taking our people, and training them how to start churches, traditional and non-traditional, within our context here in North Texas,” said Smith. “This isn’t you going off to Boston or Chicago and watching how they start churches there and wondering why that doesn’t work in our affluent North Texas suburbs.”
Smith added, “When we are saying we don’t have the leaders we need, and we are looking outside, we are looking in the wrong direction. God has already given us the people we need to lead in our churches and to serve in our churches.”
“We just need to be good stewards,” he said. “We need to take what God has given us and watch it increase the five, 10, and 100 times. We want to hear, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.”
In addition to partnering with Denton Baptist Association, several key Collin County churches are investing in this project. Both Cottonwood Creek Church in Allen, and First Baptist Wylie have contributed to Send North Texas.
First Baptist Wylie’s Missions Pastor Jon Bailey said he believes the big challenge for each church is going to be to have a clear, mature, healthy leadership pipeline, and a way of being able to give opportunity and create different options for people who have a calling to ministry.
“We’ve actually had quite a few people show interest in looking beyond their current vocation and are now asking the Lord these bigger questions,” Bailey said. “I really see that the Gospel is going to infiltrate so many more places if we can encourage this process to be easily multiplied, grass-roots, and relationally and community based.”
Surrounded by maps and charts filled with statistics about the lostness in Collin County, Smith reflects, “There are about 700,000 men and women, girls and boy who don’t know Jesus. God does not have a Plan B for reaching them. We are the ones who are supposed to be witnesses to them,” he said.
“Before you go overseas, even before you go to the next state, you better be going to your neighbor,” said Smith. “Mobilizing people to go to their neighbors requires leaders that serve these folks and help these folks. That is what this is all about.”