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Church planter wondered, ‘Are we sunk?’

CINCINNATI (BP) — Michael Clary had reached the end of his rope. The 35-year-old church planter had been in Cincinnati nearly 18 months. Other than the Baptist association’s director of missions, he didn’t know anyone when he arrived. After slowly and surely putting together a core team, an admittedly poor leadership choice threatened to tear it all apart.

People were questioning his leadership; some left the church. And Clary was questioning himself.

“We had gone from zero to 30 and back down to 15 after a year and a half,” said Clary, a North American Mission Board missionary. He pondered “all this wasted time, all this wasted effort.”

“I wondered, ‘Are we sunk?'”

Clary sat in a large restaurant near the University of Cincinnati campus that had become his makeshift office and prayed, read his Bible and journaled about his sins, his doubts, his dreams and everything else he could think of. Then Clary asked himself if he should continue or if he had learned a painful ministry lesson and the church should disband.

It would end what likely was the first Southern Baptist church plant within Cincinnati’s city limits in nearly 30 years, said Dennis Holmes, Send North America: Cincinnati city coordinator with the North American Mission Board. Holmes has served as a church planting catalyst and director of missions in the city since 1984.

But God’s answer to Clary was unmistakable. Keep going.

So Clary did. To demonstrate how much he trusted God, he took it a step further. Instead of waiting to grow the core group back up before launching the church, he circled a date on the calendar for the first public worship services — Jan. 10, 2010, just five months away.

Two weeks after giving the church’s future over to God, Clary presented his vision to the core group.

“We’re going to make disciples,” he said. “We’re going to share our faith. We’re going to build community. We’re going to study Scripture. We’re going to do and be the things that a church should be. And we’re not going to stray.”

The vision had “no gimmicks, no church tricks,” and it resonated, Clary said. The number of people in the core group more than doubled by the end of the year, replacing all the people who had left during the leadership crisis several months earlier.

Yet most church-planting experts would say the core group of 35 people was too small to try a public launch. So Clary kept praying — and God showed up, along with 70 people at the inaugural worship.

Since he figured many of attendees had been well-wishers simply wanting to support the first service, Clary thought the numbers would drop. They did — to about 55. But they never dropped below that again.

More than 400 people now attend Christ the King Church most weekends and 45 adults have been baptized.

Much of the growth has come from word of mouth rather than a coordinated marketing campaign. Now the church is making plans to launch its first daughter church in southwest Cincinnati in the next few months. The new church planter is from Christ the King. Clary credits the local Baptist association as an important part of Christ the King’s launch and the new church plant.

“We’ve gone from total despair to the sky is the limit because the Lord has restored our dream of what we want to see in this city — a church that’s making disciples, building bridges racially, and reaching people from all different backgrounds,” Clary said. “We’re seeing that dream come about. It puts in my heart a great sense of gratitude that God would be gracious to us in that way.”

For a video about Clary’s and Christ the King Church, visit namb.net-video.
Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board. Christ the King Church’s website can be accessed here; the Send North America: Cincinnati website, here.

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  • Tobin Perry