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Grassroots movement of lay church planting called critical for reaching North America

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP)–What did pioneers of the Old West and Southern Baptist migrants to the North earlier in this century have in common? Both groups included lay people used by God to plant churches in without paid clergy.

Missions efforts have grown exponentially since those times, but a similar grassroots movement could be necessary today if the nation is to be evangelized, according to a former lay church planter who now works to promote such efforts nationally with the North American Mission Board.

“My heart’s conviction is that we will never see North America reached for Jesus until we see God unleash a church planting movement,” said Van Kicklighter, a church-planting associate with NAMB. “There is not enough money in the North American Mission Board and the whole Southern Baptist Convention for us to plant all the churches that need to be planted if we rely on money to get it done”

Kicklighter led a workshop during the Oct. 2-4 Legacy 2000 conference on “God’s Army: Recruited and Equipped for Battle — A Lay Church Planting Movement. Formerly employed in the forest products industry, he was called to vocational ministry after being starting a church as a layman in the Portland, Ore., area.

Kicklighter noted that God throughout the Bible did not rely on priestly leadership to accomplish his tasks, from Moses and David in the Old Testament to Luke and the church planting team of Aquilla and Priscilla in the New Testament.

“All through Scripture God uses people that we would call today ordinary believers in doing some pretty significant things in leading his people forward,” he said.

Also, Kicklighter noted, the first churches bore a remarkable resemblance to today’s churches birthed out of living room Bible studies.

Opportunities for lay church planters include a variety of roles. Some might start new congregations and leave after the congregations become more established, while others will stay longer term. Other individuals might not be gifted as pastoral leaders, but can serve as part of a church-planting team.

One state convention, he said, is working to establish a team of lay individuals in each association that will help new churches get started.

“They will go from place to place, never staying in any place very long,” Kicklighter said. “They’re going to be training people and moving on.”

The best church planters have evangelistic passion and are good at attracting people. “People just gather around them naturally,” Kicklighter said. They also are people who are resilient, of proven character, and who know the importance of developing leadership skills in others. “This is not a lone-ranger business,” he said.

Today, some of the best prospects for lay church planting include apartment communities, urban neighborhoods and senior living communities. It historically has been difficult to convince people in such homogenous communities to attend a traditional church, he said.

“If we’ve got mission fields like that where we have significant numbers of people, then how do you reach them? The answer is instead of asking them to come to church, you bring the church to them,” Kicklighter said.

Other opportunities for lay church planting movements to flourish are in small communities and sparsely populated areas that would be unable to support a pastor, even a bivocational one.

“There are models of those that are very effective, small but led by lay people,” he said. “It’s the folks they are dealing with Monday through Saturday … . It can be pretty exciting.”

For churches and associations interested in fostering lay church planting movements, Kicklighter stressed the importance of developing a system that is reproducible — in which new congregations birth other congregations.

He also noted that a vibrant lay church planting movement is also the logical outgrowth in the rise of volunteerism. Already, he said, God has created a “restlessness” in the hearts of Christian leaders who have discovered the joy of missions service on short-term projects. The next step is to funnel those same energies into extended commitments to lay church planting.

“My heart’s belief is that God is saying to a significant number of those people that he wants them to not only be involved in a week or two of that, but for their whole lives to be involved in that.”

For more information on promoting and becoming involved in lay church planting, contact Kicklighter at [email protected] or 770-410-6241.

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  • James Dotson