CLEBURNE, Texas (BP) — At 30,000 people, Cleburne is not a big city — nor a small town — on the fringes of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
It’s a community full of young families with a large contingency of older citizens who have called it home for decades. But when church planter John Turner looks at Cleburne, he sees a city desperate for more Gospel-preaching local churches.
Turner, who is planting The Hill Church, said people were “either traveling out of town to find a church that meets the needs of the family or people who were in town but hadn’t found a church that was for them.”
In its first 12 months of life, The Hill Church has doubled in attendance from 30 to 60, and Turner believes the congregation is on the cusp of even greater growth in 2018.
But it’s only possible because of partner churches like Graceview Baptist Church in Burleson. Turner says Graceview’s partnership, and in particular his relationship with the church’s pastor, Aaron Scarbrough, has helped him have a sense of community and support during an intense first year of the church.
“Having community with other men doing ministry who are open to dialogue, open to share their experiences, open to sharing their resources, that’s a big deal when you’re starting a church,” Turner said.
Graceview is one of 25 churches that the Southern Baptists Convention of Texas honored in 2017 with its Antioch award as a partnering church to a new church plant. David Alexander, SBTC church planting director, said the award brings to the forefront the sacrifices partners make. Partners like Graceview play a key role in the convention’s efforts to start churches throughout the state.
“Partnering with a new church plant is a significant investment of time and resources,” Alexander said. “We wanted to acknowledge that…. Church planters couldn’t do it without the investment from primary sponsoring churches.”
Alexander noted that when people talk about supporting church plants they tend to think first about finances. Although it’s critical to a planter’s ability to get a new work started, he said it may be the least important kind of support that partnering churches provide for new church starts. Both prayer support and mentoring play a key role in the development of new churches. The mentoring relationship doesn’t just develop between the partnering pastor and the church planter but also extends to the lay leadership efforts of the two churches, such as the deacons and the finance teams.
“This [new church plant] is their child,” Alexander said of a sponsoring church. “The convention is not planting this church. We are facilitating this SBTC church that has decided to become the primary sponsor. We are helping them give birth to this new church. We want partnering churches to take primary ownership of this church plant.”
Graceview got involved in church planting partnerships after Scarbrough led the church through a replanting process in 2011. He said he wanted to help other church planters learn the lessons he and his team learned the hard way. Graceview became an SBTC church planting center, where prospective church planters could come and learn and then be sent out. Graceview worked with two different SBTC church plants in 2017 and is beginning the process of partnering with a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary student moving to Boston to plant a new church.
As Graceview prepares to send out new church planters, Scarbrough meets weekly with them as a group and one or two times a month. The church planters also participate in elder meetings, lead one of the church’s small groups and attend the church’s yearly planning meetings.
“It’s more of an immersion into the church than it is a program,” Scarbrough said. “That’s really the only way guys can learn the things we know. You can sit in a classroom and you can tell them all of those things, but until you have to interact with someone in a small group who might not like their teaching or get up in the pulpit and preach through a passage they had to struggle through because they are not used to that genre yet, you haven’t properly prepared them. Those are the kind of things I try to walk through with them.”
Scarbrough said the benefits of supporting a new church plant aren’t just felt by the planter or the planting church. The sending church is blessed as well.
“It’s definitely good for Graceview because [our congregation] recognizes that the Gospel isn’t just important for our church but for other churches too,” Scarbrough said.
“That’s something church planting does that no other thing really can do. When you have a foreign mission focus, you say, ‘The Gospel is good over there.’ When you have a local missions focus, you say, ‘The Gospel is good down the street.’ But very rarely do we think of the towns surrounding us, because we tend to think that other churches are taking care of that. Church planting says, ‘No, we have to be intentional everywhere.'”
Scarbrough added that his own personal ministry has been stretched through his relationship with church planters.
“It keeps me out of a rut,” he said. “When I work with these guys, I am constantly having to examine my life. I have to examine my convictions and ask myself if I have fallen into a pattern of the ‘same old, same old.'”
To learn more about the church planting ministry of the SBTC, visit sbtexas.com/churchplanting.