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Financial struggle segues to church planting

AUSTIN, Texas (BP) — High Pointe Baptist Church was struggling financially when Juan Sanchez arrived as pastor just over 10 years ago.

Sanchez and High Pointe members decided that if God allowed the church to grow “we would no longer build auditorium space, but instead we would plant churches.”

The Austin church committed to reaching beyond its walls to ensure they were not keeping all the money for themselves and were modeling by faith sacrificial giving, Sanchez told the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Their first church planting venture grew out of the handful of Hispanics to whom Sanchez was preaching each Sunday before the morning service. They hired someone to lead the group, and it became an independent Spanish church.

As High Pointe continued to grow, the church realized a large number of members were driving from Elgin, Cedar Park and Leander, all of which were a half-hour’s drive from the church.

“If we had people coming from those distances all the way to High Pointe, then clearly there was a need for Gospel churches there,” Sanchez said. “So in order to care for our members well and plant Gospel churches where our members felt there wasn’t one they could attend, we just started long-term deciding we need to plant churches where our people are coming from so they don’t have to drive so far.”

The leadership developed a church planting strategy that includes bringing someone on staff in a pastoral assistant role to learn who they are, what they’re about, how they’re structured, how they govern and what their philosophy of ministry is — “just getting to know our DNA,” Sanchez said.

In the second year, the church planting resident develops a core team of members who will agree to help start a new congregation. The team studies what it means to be a church, studies a statement of faith and church covenant, studies how to live together as a church, and studies how to develop a culture of evangelism and discipleship.

“It’s really just equipping them to understand what this might look like and the commitments that are going to be expected of them,” Sanchez said.

In year three, they launch. In 2011, High Pointe launched Covenant Life Fellowship in Elgin, sending 30-35 people on a core team, and that church was self-sustaining by its second year.

For the church members who were driving from northwest Austin — mainly Cedar Park and Leander — High Pointe turned to Ben Wright, who had served on staff for several years as an associate pastor.

“Ben already knew our DNA, so we jumped right to year two, which was developing the core team,” Sanchez said. “The next step was planting the church. They were planted in February (2016), had their first public meetings in early March, and the Lord has really blessed them already.”

Wright, now pastor of Cedar Pointe Baptist Church in Cedar Park, said the population in that area is growing significantly as people move from around the world to Austin’s technology sector. “Church planting hasn’t even begun to keep up with that need,” he said.

The nations are coming to northwest Austin, Wright told the TEXAN, and “there’s an opportunity to reach people with the Gospel who will have ways to spread that Gospel back to countries that are very difficult to reach.”

Wright said he is grateful for High Pointe’s leaders “taking the risk of sending out a bunch of solid, faithful people for the sake of the Gospel.” High Pointe isn’t “a rich church by any means, and I have tremendous respect for Juan leading his church to act in faith for a cause infinitely bigger than his own church’s interests.”

Sanchez compared church planting to getting married and having children. People want to wait until they’re ready, but they’ll never be ready, he said.

“If you’re waiting until you’re ready to plant a church, you’ll never plant a church,” Sanchez said. “It does require faith. It requires wisdom. You don’t want to do this foolishly. You have to count the cost.”

Part of counting the cost is financial, he said, and another part is letting go of valuable church members to start new growth.

“If we were to wait until we thought we were ready financially and leadership-wise, we would never do it,” Sanchez said. “So we have to pray about it, the church has to come to an agreement, and by faith we have to step out and do the Lord’s work.”

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  • Erin Roach