WEEK OF PRAYER: Church planter seeks to inspire, serve
EDITOR'S NOTE: The annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 2-9, and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering provide support for missionaries who serve on behalf of Southern Baptists across North America. With a goal of $70 million, this year's offering theme is "Firmly Planted." For more information, visit AnnieArmstrong.com.
MACOMB, Mich. (BP) -- Scott Blanchard is familiar with all of the public perceptions of Detroit and its surrounding area –- the Motor City is dying, no one wants to live there, the area church can't survive.
But the Detroit-area native and Southern Baptist church planter refuses to believe those perceptions.During the past three years as he has planted Lakepointe Church in Macomb, Mich., just outside Detroit, he has seen a different story take root.
In its brief lifetime, Lakepointe Church has grown to more than 200 in attendance on most weekends. The church has seen 52 people baptized -- and they have even begun the process of planting another church.
Not only has Blanchard successfully planted and grown a church in one of the toughest-to-reach metro areas in North America, he has done so despite being 80 percent deaf. Even though his hearing loss has led to a speech impediment, Blanchard thinks it actually helps him when communicating the Gospel. Church attendees have to listen carefully to get everything he says.It has also provided a variety of outreach connections with families impacted by disability.
"I think God uses me to inspire people to serve Him," Blanchard says. "If God can use me, He can use anyone."
Blanchard is one of six missionaries featured this year by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) as part of its 2014 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering promotion. Detroit is one of 32 Send North America cities NAMB is bringing special emphasis and resources to in its effort to help Southern Baptists start 15,000 new churches in 10 years. Half of NAMB's financial support comes from the Annie Armstrong offering.
Blanchard moved back to metro Detroit from Florida in 2008, just months after the economic meltdown devastated the nation as a whole -- but also Detroit and its auto industry in particular. Over the next year an entire team of people from Florida sold their homes and came to help Blanchard in the planting process.
"For me, I looked at it as the perfect opportunity for us to come up here and be a fresh breath of air," Blanchard said. "We're trying to be very community focused. We want the community to know that we're here for them. We want to help."
The new church has leaned upon large events to attract people to hear and respond to the Gospel. In the past three years Lakepointe's strategy for connecting with the community has involved college athletes, famous actresses, war heroes and Easter egg drops. Vacation Bible School has also been a key outreach for the church.
Last fall the church had its largest worship service yet when 376 people came to hear 1980s sitcom -- and recent "Survivor" -- star Lisa Whelchel share her testimony. Eight people made professions of faith during the worship service.
Lakepointe focuses on reaching people who wouldn't normally attend church -- people who've either never attended church regularly or have been disconnected for some time.
Brian Pannebecker attended a worship service for the first time when a state senator he worked for had been invited to the church. The legislator couldn't attend so Pannebecker took his place. The service impacted him so much that he kept coming back.
"God has become more central in my life since coming to Lakepointe," Pannebecker said. "I have become closer to God through understanding the Bible. He has worked in my life to make me more focused on what He wants me to do with my life for Him, and I have become aware that I need to serve God, not myself."
Blanchard credits the generosity of Southern Baptists through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and the Cooperative Program for helping his young church thrive.
"I truly believe that really helped us to be where we're at today because I was able to put everything that I have -- all my time and energy -- into Lakepointe Church," Blanchard said. "Annie Armstrong was a huge part of that, the faithful support from NAMB. I really believe that impacted our community, impacted our church. It's encouraging to know that people are giving and that people believe in church planting and believe we can still grow and reach people."
Blanchard says that partnerships -- whether it has been with Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong offering or partnerships with individual churches -- have been crucial to his work. In the early days his monthly rent for the school where the church meets was three to four times the amount of money given through church members.
Blanchard doesn't just appreciate the gifts of Southern Baptists. He is training his church to be generous as well. In an attempt to train his congregation to demonstrate a similar passion for missions, he asks his church to give to an annual "Greater Things" offering. A portion of that springtime offering goes to local church planting, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, international missions and other ministries. Blanchard encourages church members to store up their change throughout the year and pour it into a large bucket at the church during a special "Greater Things" worship service.
"It's teaching our people generosity," Blanchard said. "It's teaching our people to help other people and other organizations in our city and outside of our city. We've been privileged to be a part of other churches through that offering."
For more information about Blanchard and his ministry, including a video, visit www.anniearmstrong.com.
Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.