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His job: Planting ‘churches that stretch us’

EDITORS’ NOTE: In conjunction with the March 4-11 Week of Prayer for North American missions, this is the sixth of eight stories in Baptist Press featuring North American Mission Board missionaries and their ministries supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.

IRVING, Texas (BP)–”If there is anything being done in the world today to change the world, it is planting churches,” says Leroy Fountain, church planter associate for the North American Mission Board and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Fountain’s mission field is as big and vast as the state of Texas. It includes African American, coffeehouse, language, suburban, storefront and college churches in Austin, Dallas and Houston, and western heritage cowboy churches from east to west Texas, over 770 miles apart.

How do Fountain and wife Carolyn serve such a variety of Texas churches with different memberships, dynamics, histories and cultures?

“Well, they are all different but there are, at the heart of every church, things that are the same,” Fountain said. “We want them to be churches that concentrate on the basics of the development of a group of people who know Jesus Christ is Lord and who are following Him as disciples.”

Fountain is among the 5,300-plus missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. He was one of eight Southern Baptist missionaries highlighted as part of the annual Week of Prayer, March 4-11. The 2007 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering’s goal is $57 million, 100 percent of which is used for missionaries like Fountain.

“By planting new churches, we want to develop an evangelism program that will cause people to be missionaries in their own communities, reaching out and becoming transformation agents in those neighborhoods where they live,” Fountain said. “Then they can begin to lead people to Christ and help the church become a beacon of light in neighborhoods where there is often darkness.

“We often think that all the darkness is in the urban inner cities,” Fountain said. “But there’s so much darkness in our suburbs, in our young people and in our senior citizens. Even though the world is more crowded than ever, people are lonelier than ever. The church can be a refuge, an oasis, in the middle of this dark and desolate world.”

Fountain realizes that some may say the state of Texas is 161 years old, located in the nation’s Bible Belt, has plenty of churches already and doesn’t need any more.

“All you have to do is drive around the Dallas-Fort Worth area to see all the homes being built,” Fountain said. “There are a lot of communities in Texas -– Collin County, for example -– that are among the fastest-growing areas in the U.S. If everybody in these new neighborhoods were to show up for church Sunday morning, there wouldn’t be enough seats. So we need new churches.”

Fountain’s role in this process is to first identify, assess and train church planters. Next, he works with local Baptist association offices across Texas to identify sponsoring churches, helping the pastors and congregations see the value of starting a new church.

But Fountain is quick to say he’s not trying to plant the same kind of churches Southern Baptists have started in the past. The churches Fountain and other Southern Baptist church planters are starting today take on new forms. Not only are they “niche” churches, some churches are designed even to be non-lasting or temporary churches.

“We need new churches that stretch us -– churches that look like the new generation. Many of the new-style churches are actually more demanding, more discipleship-oriented and have stricter accountability than traditional churches.”

Young people, he said, are looking for a church that presents the Gospel in a package they can readily understand.

“We want to instill a missionary mindset in the hearts and minds of young people in Texas that if and when they move to another state or city, they don’t have to look for a church, they can start a new one,” Fountain said.

Fountain said the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is important as “the primary funding agent for our North American missionaries. It also allows me and other missionaries to concentrate on the work rather than on worrying about how we’re going to take care of the daily necessities of our families.”

Carolyn Fountain –- married to Leroy for 27 years, with two children -– described her role as the stabilizer in the family.

“My primary role is to take care of Leroy and our girls,” she said. “His work involves a lot of travel and being away from home a lot. I have to keep everybody on track.

“My greatest satisfaction is knowing that God is using Leroy just where He wants him. He’s touching the lives of pastors, young people and new families. I know he’s helping them,” Carolyn said.

Fountain believes that “this is what I was shaped to do –- it’s what I am gifted to do. It’s the place where I’m most comfortable in ministry.

“This gives me an opportunity to invest my life with a group of people in one community and then move on to do the same in another community. Church planting has brought a joy to my life. It’s something I still get a thrill in doing.”
Editors’ Note: Following the writing of this article, the Fountains moved to Alpharetta, Ga., where Fountain joined the staff of the North American Mission Board. He serves in church planting and continues to assist churches and new church planters as they seek God’s will in starting new works throughout the United States, Canada and their territories.

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