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Church planting called vital because many in U.S. lack ‘Christian memory’

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–“The reason we plant churches is because of the people who are yet to come,” David Putman, a church-planting leader with Southern Baptists’ North American Mission Board, said Sept. 8 at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Putman, a Midwestern graduate, was at the Kansas City, Mo., campus to promote a church-planting partnership between the seminary and NAMB. Putman has worked with the board’s church-planting group since 1997, having previously served with the then-HMB since 1988.
During his message, Putman noted the tremendous need for new churches in the United States and Canada. Citing recent Gallup polling, Putman described how the combined membership of all Protestant churches has declined by 4.5 million in the last decade, while the nation’s population has grown by 24 million. Currently, there are an estimated 195 million unchurched people in the United States, making it the third-largest unchurched nation on earth.
“North America is the only continent where Christianity is not growing,” said Putman, again citing Gallup polling. Putman went on to agree with Open Door Bible Fellowship’s Tom Clegg’s statement that we have become a society which 50 years ago every mission agency would have felt compelled to missionize.
Putman said for him, however, the greatest impetus for planting new churches is not statistics but individuals who come to Christ because of church-planting efforts. Putman spoke of one young girl whom he led to Christ during a Bible camp in an oceanside travel park in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Describing her case as not untypical, Putman told of her enthusiastic response to the gospel, despite the fact that she had never heard of Jesus before.
“Today for the first time we have in many parts of our country an entire generation that has absolutely no Christian memory,” Putman said.
Such conditions prompted Putman and other Southern Baptist leaders to meet last February in an effort to envision what God would desire North America to look like by the year 2020. The three-day session led to a comprehensive strategy for training and mobilizing church planters across the United States and Canada. Putman said efforts are being implemented on the basis of six core beliefs:
— a belief in the uniqueness, calling, giftedness and temperament of each individual.
— a belief in practical equipping that combines the latest thinking and technologies in church planting with hands-on experience.
— a belief in the penetration of new mission settings in all church-planting efforts.
— a belief in the role of mentoring in developing healthy leaders.
— a belief in the value of the opportunity to partner with others in church planting.
— a belief in the value of planting churches that plant churches that plant churches.
Putman said the clearest conviction reached by those involved, however, was the need for repentance on the part of Christians in North America.
“As we gathered together to talk about the future, we began to become aware that if anything significant was going to happen, it must begin as God’s people fall on their faces in repentance to him,” Putman said. “What we realized was that one moment with the King of Kings can do far more than all the strategies, resources and leadership combined. Southern Baptists, and Christians all over North America, must return to Jesus Christ if we are to see his glory.”

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  • Clinton Wolf