Gospel vacuum tugs church planter to Ohio
BEXLEY, Ohio (BP) -- Five minutes east of downtown Columbus lies Bexley, one of central Ohio's most influential suburbs and home to the governor's mansion, the Ohio State University president, a highly ranked school district and one of the area's largest Jewish populations.
And from North American Mission Board church planter Rush Witt's perspective, it is home to far too few evangelical churches.
"One of the reasons we came to Bexley was because we continued to hear an echo of a plea for church planting here," Witt said. "In terms of what we would humbly consider a Gospel-centered church to be, there didn't seem to be any strong Gospel-centered work going on here, and there was a real need for it."
The unique combination of the suburb's influence in central Ohio, its need for evangelical churches and the opportunity to start a multi-cultural work all played a role in the decision of Witt and his family to move to Bexley in the spring of 2012, planting Paramount Church after two years of research and planning. Two other team members joined him in the following months; another family and a student intern also are slated to join the work.
One of NAMB's 32 Send North America cities, metro Columbus -- which includes Bexley -- has a population of nearly 2.1 million and not only is the state capital but also the largest metro area in Ohio. Working in partnership with Ohio Baptists, NAMB and the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio have seen 51 new Southern Baptist churches planted in metro Columbus since 2004. Even with this aggressive church planting pace, metro Columbus has only one Southern Baptist church for every 17,890 people.
Before his move to Bexley, Witt served on the staffs of Open Door Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., and First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla. Both churches played a part in demonstrating the importance of church planting in reaching North America, Witt said.
"When we saw church planting take a more practical role in our lives, we started seeing it as a way where we could serve the Lord and advance the Gospel," he said. "Open Door and First Baptist Jacksonville helped us come to that conclusion. The local church was instrumental in giving us a vision for local churches planting local churches."
Open Door serves as Paramount's sending church and First Baptist Jacksonville as one of its key partners.
In Bexley, Witt and the other team members looked for ways to engage people in the community with the Gospel through conversations. As Columbus-area families joined the effort, the team organized small group studies of the Gospel.
When near the end of 2012, the groups grew too large for a living room, the team found a local school to hold meetings and began weekly worship services. Paramount has reached out to the community through volunteering, free biblical counseling and a block party, with the help of one of its partners in Kentucky. The counseling serves as a discipleship tool to grow believers and share Christ with non-believers.
Making the Gospel understood clearly within the community's unique cultural and religious context, he noted, takes time and a repeated Gospel witness.
Paramount's partners have been key providers of resources, people and prayer, Witt said, and will continue to be crucial to the plant's long-term plans to reach the community.
"Local church partnerships help to extend our runway -- just as our partnerships with NAMB, the state convention and our local association do," Witt said. "That's especially important for a church plant in a tough-to-reach place like ours."
Paramount Church plans to start other autonomous local churches in the coming years. Witt believes the proximity of Columbus to other major U.S. cities will make it an ideal launching pad to impact key urban areas.
To help in these future church planting endeavors, Paramount has established a church planting/pastoral ministry internship through Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Paramount currently has two interns. Both will begin receiving SBTS credit for the internship in January.
Witt requests prayer for the protection and strength of the families involved in Paramount, for added partners to aid the plant's long-term viability and for wisdom to embrace new opportunities for outreach and growth.
Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).