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Church planting ‘class of 2023’ bearing fruit, baptizing believers throughout North America

Jason Lankford moved to Syracuse, New York with his wife Caroline and their three boys to start Radiant Church as part of the Salt Network, a family of churches working with Send Network to plant churches in major university centers. Photo submitted by Jason Lankford

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (BP) – Before starting Port City Church in 2023, church planting missionary Jeremy Dager and his core team worked hard to engage their community leading up to their launch.

Most people they met — if they had any church background at all — understood church from more “high church” denominations like Anglicanism or Catholicism, but at Port City Church, residents were encouraged by the fact that they could better understand the message.

Jeremy Dager and his core team launched Port City Church in 2023 as part of Send Network, the church planting arm of the North American Mission Board (NAMB). In their first year, they’ve baptized 19 people and have seen attendance rise to about 200 weekly. They represent one church among hundreds started by Southern Baptists in Canada, the U.S. and its territories in 2023. Photo submitted by Jeremy Dager

In their first year, they’ve baptized 19 people and have seen attendance rise to about 200 weekly, Dager said. Young adults and college students are exploring faith, having seen other pursuits fail them.

“There’s still a real hunger,” Dager said. “The realities they’ve been living in, they realize, aren’t working. These ideologies they’re encountering, they’re just not working. Even on the university level with college students, they’re thinking, ‘Well, maybe there’s something else.’”

The fruit Port City Church has seen represents a microcosm of what God has been doing in Canada in recent years.

Canadian Baptists saw a record high 38 new plants in 2023, and according to Canadian National Baptist Convention (CNBC) executive director Jeff Christopherson, they have another 50 in the pipeline to be planted in 2024. After 250 churches were planted in 56 years from 1954 to 2010, Canadian Baptists have planted 203 churches in Canada in the last 13 years.

“Our partnership with the North American Mission Board (NAMB)’s Send Network is a key factor in how the CNBC has become the fastest growing denomination in Canada,” Christopherson said.

Daniel Lamar baptizes a believer during a Radiant Church baptism service held at a local swimming pool. Radiant Church is located in Syracuse, New York and has a special emphasis in reaching college students as well as the wider Syracuse community. Radiant Church is one of hundreds of churches planted in 2023. Radiant Church photo

Send Network announced Tuesday (May 7) that in 2023, Southern Baptist churches planted 652 new churches across Canada, the U.S. and its territories. Of the church plants, 61 percent identified as non-Anglo (or majority-minority ethnic/multiethnic).

These 652 plants are in addition to 122 existing, previously unaffiliated churches that joined the Convention, as well as another 66 new church campuses started by Southern Baptist churches — for a total of 840 congregations added to the SBC in 2023.

“We thank God for the churches planted in 2023. We have a big vision to see God’s kingdom expand in North America over the course of the next decade,” said Send Network President Vance Pitman. “In order for our family of churches to play a part in accomplishing this goal, we must see a movement of churches embracing multiplication, raising up the next generation of church planters and sending them into the field to engage their city with the Gospel, make disciples and plant churches.”

Collegiate church highlights 2023 plants in New York

Jason Lankford moved to Syracuse, N.Y., with his wife Caroline and their three boys to start Radiant Church as part of the Salt Network, a family of churches within Send Network planting churches in major university centers.

“The nickname for Syracuse is the ‘Salt City’” because it was a top producer of salt during the 1900s, Lankford said. “What would it be like if the Salt City was known, not for its production of salt, but for its production of ‘salt and light’ people in the world?”

As Lankford and his planting team moved to the city, they were welcomed by other churches in the area and encouraged as they began establishing roots. That camaraderie has helped Radiant Church get off to a healthy start as it has engaged the community in and around Syracuse University.

“Spiritual conversations are not as difficult as we thought they would be,” Lankford said. “It has reminded us of the men and women who have labored in this soil long before we got here. We are standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before and ministered in the city.”

Radiant Church launched in January 2023 and baptized 12 new believers in that year.

“Send Network, for us, has been just an absolute joy,” Lankford said. “With all of the assessments, coaching and training — Send Network has been a valuable component to our fruitfulness and our longevity in Syracuse.”

New churches in urban and rural Ohio

Salt and Light Church, another 2023 church plant, meets in downtown Columbus, Ohio, where lead planter Josh Ashwill met an individual who visited one Sunday after spending much of his life struggling with addiction. While he had put much of that struggle in his past by the time he visited, he had not heard and believed the Gospel until he started attending Ashwill’s church.

Joshua Ashwill and Salt and Light Church in Columbus, Ohio hosted a special Christmas service that served as an outreach to their community. They witnessed dozens of people attend above and beyond their usual Sunday morning attendance. Photo submitted by Joshua Ashwill

Two days before he was to be baptized, though, the man unexpectedly died, but not before he had started inviting a friend of his to come who was reluctant to get involved with a church.

“She had a lot of the similar struggles as the gentleman who passed away,” Ashwill said, “but now she’s immersing herself in the Word of God, and she will be baptized on the first Sunday in June, Lord willing.”

In small town Waynesville, Ohio, Todd Cyphers has been leading a replant with Waynesville Community Church. In his time there, the congregation has gone from 40 people to 200 and has celebrated 20 baptisms, which Cyphers attributes to God answering the prayers of those who continued gathering in the church and praying for revival in their community.

Cyphers also credited the efforts of Ryan Jones, Send Network’s team leader in the region; James Risner, the local associational missionary; and State Baptist Convention of Ohio Executive Director Jeremy Westbrook; and the rest of the convention staff.

“The Lord is using these Gospel partnerships to create a strong disciple-making church,” Cyphers said. “We are grateful to be part of the SBC. And grateful for the focus on starting and revitalizing churches that will start more churches to reach our neighbors and the nations.”