'Southern girl' gains a heart for Cleveland
CONCORD, Tenn. (BP) -- Raking leaves, painting, cleaning carpets and toilets -- it's rarely glamorous work. Yet Karen Claypool knows she's serving Jesus by serving Cleveland church planters.
"We've done all kinds of things," Claypool said of the tasks she and other volunteers have tackled that are crucial to reaching the city.
"I won't see the people coming into the building [for a worship service], but I know that by the building being ready that we're having an impact."
Claypool has been helping to organize trips to Cleveland from First Baptist Concord in Knoxville for two years. At least two dozen people from the Tennessee church have made the trek to Cleveland to help local church planters.
"Partnerships are huge," said Alex Ennes, a local church planter and part of the Send North America: Cleveland local strategy group. "We don't have people. That's a resource we don't have. It's why we've worked so hard on partnership development.... I hate to use the word can't, because there is always a way. But we can't plant churches in this kind of environment without outside help."
First Baptist Concord has been a key partner for Ennes' church, Gateway Downtown, and for other church plants in metropolitan Cleveland.
The Send North America: Cleveland strategy group, made up of Southern Baptists in Cleveland, hopes to see many more partners like First Baptist Concord come alongside local church planters. Send North America: Cleveland has a goal to start 100 churches in the next five years and 256 by 2020. Since Southern Baptists currently have only 42 churches in the three neighboring counties around the city, reaching those goals will require considerable help from outside churches.
Send North America is the North American Mission Board's strategy to mobilize and assist churches and individuals in hands-on church planting in 29 major cities and other areas throughout the U.S. and Canada. Through Send North America, NAMB will come alongside Southern Baptist churches that are not directly involved in church planting and help connect them to a church plant. And NAMB will partner with Southern Baptist churches already planting churches to help them increase their efforts.
First Baptist Concord is involved in church planting throughout North America. In addition to Cleveland, they send teams to Seattle, Denver and Palm Springs, Calif., among other locations in 2012, aiming to help start 25 new churches in the next few years.
"We at FBC Concord strongly believe in Acts 1:8 missions, which means we begin where we are and move ever outward -- even to the ends of the earth," said Bill Morgan, the church's associate pastor of missions. "We are delighted with the way NAMB is moving toward greatly increasing church planting movements here in the U.S. And we look forward to working hand in hand with them and other church-planting churches. It is an exciting and rewarding investment we can make in Kingdom witness all across the land."
For First Baptist Concord, partnerships mean at least three things -- prayer support, financial support and the sending of missions teams. All three are vital to the work of church planting in Cleveland and other key cities across North America. It's not just adults getting involved either. The church has sent youth teams to Cleveland and Denver to help with church plants. Because the church planters were so excited about the youths' help, the teams are returning this summer.
For Claypool, her Cleveland trips have provided her first interactions with church plants.
"I'm a southern girl, so I had never thought of going to a place like Cleveland and being a part of something like this," Claypool said. "When I first went to Cleveland, it was kind of by mistake. But I've kind of become attached. I've become the 'Cleveland girl' in our church."
Claypool said it was eye-opening to see how minimally populated the churches were, realizing in her initial trip that reaching people in Cleveland is much different from reaching people in Tennessee.
"They just don't grow up going to church there like I did -- like a lot of other southerners did," Claypool said. "You've got to realize that they don't know the Bible stories that I grew up on. You have to reach them on a little different level."
Claypool encourages other churches to consider getting involved in starting churches in Cleveland.
"Just connect with a planter and see how you can pray for them," Claypool said. "That's the first step. Then, if you can get a team together to go, then go. They'll find you something to do."
Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board. To view videos about Send North America: Cleveland, visit namb.net/cleveland. Churches that want to partner through Send North America: Cleveland can visit namb.net/cleveland and click on the "Mobilize Me" button.