FIRST-PERSON: Champion a church plant

PENSACOLA, Fla. (BP) -- Each Sunday, we'd haul baby beds, sound equipment and chairs to our temporary meeting place. We were church planters, and though it was hard work, the results were awesome.

Flash forward to present day. Our son-in-law and daughter serve as church planting pastor and worship leader for a new church. Every Sunday, they load a trailer to haul all kinds of equipment to their downtown Indianapolis meeting site. America is still a great mission field.

You are already involved in church planting -- a portion of your tithe to your Southern Baptist church helps plant churches through the Cooperative Program, as does your annual gift for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.

But did you know that you -- as an individual, small group or church -- can personally encourage a church planter? If your church is planting a church, cheer for that planter, or go to sendme.namb.net to find a planter with whom to partner. Your encouragement can make a big difference, and it's simpler than you might imagine. Try some of these fresh ideas:

-- Pay attention. Show interest and joy in what God's doing. Put a photo of the planter's family in your meeting room as a prayer reminder. Study their website, blog, Facebook or newsletters. Celebrate victories and milestones. Visit the church if possible.

-- Share your own talents, contacts, professional abilities, time and spiritual gifts. What unique help could you or your group provide? Could you create their website or help with online surveys? Help find a building site? Staff their Vacation Bible School or sports outreach? Do neighborhood events, building projects, marketing? Offer your expertise.

-- Encourage the planter and his wife. For example, your women's Bible class could send encouragement notes to the planter's wife, signed by your group. Pray for her. Mail her a great book, with personal notes inside the cover. Surprise her with a well-planned online birthday party, complete with balloons on your side, and a delivered gift.

-- Share monetarily. Set a class goal to give for this year's Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. God may prompt you individually to give additional gifts for specific needs of your church plant.

-- Be a friend. Planters often carry the huge weight -- and privilege -- of a church loaded with new Christians. Your class, meanwhile, is probably rich in longtime Christians. If the planter likes the idea, challenge every class member to intentionally connect with one individual member of the church plant for encouragement. If you go there on a mission trip or follow the church's Facebook page, a connection may develop. The pastor may assign a new Christian or someone who serves in a similar ministry as you.

-- Discover a need. Work with the planter to host a shower to meet such needs as audio equipment, portable signs, Bibles, landscape. If they're across the country from you, plan an online shower using FaceTime or Skype. When we were church planters, our sponsor church planned a nursery shower, providing needed toys and furniture. It was a turning point for reaching young families.

Decades later, that church we helped plant still stands as an evangelistic, missional, multiplying church. And that recent church plant in Indy? They have baptized 40 adults, and once again, God is building a great church. Many more Southern Baptist church plants are desperately needed in America's most unreached cities. Our North American Mission Board's goal is to plant 1,200 new churches in the U.S. and Canada this year.

You can make a difference. Pray for the Lord of the harvest to use you to encourage church planters.

Diana Davis, on the Web at www.dianadavis.org, is an author, columnist and ministry wife in Pensacola, Fla. She is the author of "Fresh Ideas for Women's Ministry" (B&H Publishing) and "SixSimple Steps -- Finding Contentment and Joy as a Ministry Wife" (New Hope Publishers). Her newest book, "Across the Street and Around the World," coauthored with her daughter Autumn Wall will be released by New Hope this fall.
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