COLUMBUS, Ohio – The State Convention of Baptists in Ohio (SCBO) and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) recently announced a new agreement to form Send Network Ohio, a collaborative effort to fuel church planting in the state.
“One of the first things I wanted to do was take our partnership with NAMB to the next level,” said Jeremy Westbrook, executive director of the SCBO who began in the role Aug. 1. “Send Network Ohio was what I believed would set us up to really mobilize churches to multiply.”
Westbrook returned to Ohio after serving as senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, Fla., and as the lead missional strategist for the Suncoast Baptist Association. Before serving in Florida, Westbrook had planted Living Hope Church in Ohio and served as president of the SCBO in 2016.
“We have incredible churches with incredible pastors,” Westbrook said. “As the state convention, we just want to come alongside and bring value to the pastor and the churches to help set them up for success, to give them the opportunity to start churches from within their church.”
The state of Ohio has the seventh-largest population in the United States, and three of NAMB’s Send Cities are in the Buckeye state: Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland.
“All three of those cities are more than 90 percent lost,” said Dean Fulks, a regional director with NAMB. “So, obviously, the need in Ohio is and has always been to reach more people, and we believe the most effective way to reach more people is to plant more churches.”
Coming together will allow churches in Ohio to plant churches through the NAMB’s Send Network, which has developed some of the best methods and resources for conducting assessments, caring for church planters and developing a multiplication pipeline within existing churches.
“We are grateful for Jeremy and every pastor in Ohio,” said NAMB president Kevin Ezell. “God has already been doing great things through the churches there and through new church plants. This agreement is going to help us take things to an entirely new level, and I am incredibly excited to see it.”
Fulks said the Send Network Ohio agreement is an opportunity to raise up more churches and more church planters “for the harvest, from the harvest” in Ohio.
“We will always need outside partners, but we want to be raising up more leaders out of our own pews,” Fulks said. “We are mobilizing people to be on mission from the harvest.”
Fulks pointed to Lakota Hills Baptist Church in West Chester, Ohio, as an example. Travis Smalley, lead pastor of Lakota Hills and NAMB’s Send City Missionary for Cincinnati, has led his own church to plant several ethnic congregations.
“God has really shown us a lot of favor with the international community through English as Second Language (ESL) classes and through partnerships in the local schools,” Smalley said.
The ESL classes have been a great opportunity for Lakota Hills to connect with people from all over the world. As they build relationships with those in the international community, some have come to faith in Christ.
“We‘ve had the opportunity to plant six ethnic churches,” Smalley said. “Currently, we have three ethnic churches planting on our campus in different languages – a Nepali congregation, an Arabic congregation and a Korean-speaking congregation.”
Smalley shared a miraculous story of an elderly Nepali woman who came to Christ from Hinduism after waking up from a coma. As she was the respected matriarch of the family, several of her family members also confessed faith in Christ.
Lakota Hills and the Korean congregation helped plant a Korean-speaking church in Seattle. The Nepali congregation planted a Christian church in Nepal and built a building for them.
“I was born and raised in Cincinnati,” Smalley said, “and I’ve never seen the city as diverse as it is today. It’s just incredible to see what God is doing and how He is just bringing people to us.”
Along with the multiplication efforts of his own church, Smalley recounted stories about several active church plants that had launched in the last five years as well as some church-planting missionaries who were preparing to launch.
With the increased partnership through Send Network Ohio, Westbrook believes examples like Lakota Hills will multiply greatly in the years ahead.
“At the end of the day, we truly are stronger together,” Westbrook said. “This partnership will take our communication and collaborative efforts to a level that we have never seen as we seek to help plant churches everywhere in Ohio for everyone in Ohio.”