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‘Light Up Arkansas’ initiates new interest in church planting


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–A challenge to “Light Up Arkansas” with new churches has struck a chord with associations of the Arkansas Baptist Convention, resulting in a near-doubling last year of the number of new congregations and a new interest statewide in intentional church planting.

The emphasis is part of a national “Light Up the Nation” emphasis sponsored by the North American Mission Board. In Arkansas, convention leaders rolled out the strategy in 2001 with a simple goal: to encourage each association in the state to start one new congregation during the coming year. By the 2002 annual meeting last fall, 42 new churches were in some stage of being formed — up from about 23 or 24 formed annually prior to that point.

“It’s wonderful to have an all-encompassing theme that not only builds awareness, but it focuses on the power of prayer,” said Phill Hall of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention’s church planting group. “It was incredible last year at our annual meeting to stand on our convention floor with new-work pastors representing eight language groups. That climatized us to being aware that something’s up here.”

In West Memphis, that “something” was a new African American congregation. The need existed previously, but it wasn’t until Tri-County Baptist Association leaders caught the vision for Light Up Arkansas that they formed a committee to prioritize the needs in their community and find a way to make it happen.

Auto mechanic David Nix is one of those who has seen his family transformed. Church planter Les Sanders needed work done to his car, and through a developing relationship led Nix to faith in Christ. Now, Nix and most of his children have committed their lives to Christ and have become involved in a Bible study Sanders leads as a mission pastor sponsored by First Baptist Church of West Memphis.

Sanders’ arrival in West Memphis last year also was providential. He had called the Arkansas convention about starting a church in the state about the same time they were seeking someone for the need. His wife, Tonya, had a particular interest in West Memphis.

Sanders now has about 30 people meeting in two Bible studies weekly, with a goal of training the group of new Christians for leadership positions when the new church officially launches later this year.

“Of all the places I’ve ever traveled, this is the place where I think God wants me to be,” Sanders said. “… There’s just a need here that has to be filled, and if somebody doesn’t fill it the opportunity is going to dissolve.”

Associations across the state have been finding those opportunities, Hall said.

The beauty behind the Light Up the Nation emphasis, he said, is that it is simple enough and flexible enough for state leaders to use in a way that best fits their setting. In Arkansas a video was produced to help local churches and associations catch the same vision for church planting — showing how new churches were already reaching people across the state.

“Light Up Arkansas became a central theme that was more field-based than convention-driven,” he said. “We dreamed the dream, but we gave it away. Not every association started a new church, but the majority did. And in some cases there were multiple new works.”

The North American Mission Board also offers a “Light Up the Nation” videotape, bulletin inserts, brochures, advertising and other resources designed to help state conventions promote the effort, said Eric Ramsey, a church enlistment manager for NAMB.

“If a church says, ‘We want to commit to sponsor a new church start or partner to start a new church,’ we’ll offer that association or church all kinds of resources and church planting guides,” he said.

More than 680 associations have committed to participating in the “Light Up the Nation” effort nationally, he said. The emphasis also is tied to the “On Mission to Start a Church Sunday” emphasis in local churches.

NAMB consequently has seen a growth in participation in church planting. While about 25 percent of associations had congregations sponsoring new churches during the 1980s and ’90s, more than one-third of associations are involved today. Ramsey said he hopes that Light Up America, along with the coming “What Now” emphasis for 2005, will be among the catalysts for a church planting movement across the country.

“One of the first initiatives associated with Light Up the Nation is to get people praying about how God might lead them to evangelize their community,” Ramsey said. “Even though it’s a church planting emphasis, Light Up the Nation is all about evangelism. We believe the best way to evangelize a community is to provide a church in a context they can understand.”
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For more on NAMB church planting resources, visit www.namb.net/cp. (BP) logo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Logo title: LIGHT UP THE NATION.

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  • James Dotson