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Potential church planters get enhanced screening

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) — Church planter Bryan Bair became involved in Southern Baptist life as a youth when he accepted the invitation to join a friend at church. God called Bair into ministry at a Southern Baptist church and he had served in Southern Baptist churches for nearly two decades.

But the 38-year-old, who was in the beginning stages of planting South Point Church in Tallahassee, Fla., was thinking long and hard about whether the new outreach should be part of a denomination.

While he appreciated the theology of Southern Baptists, he wondered about the convention’s commitment to engage the culture and plant churches.

Then he attended the North American Mission Board’s reconstituted Send Network Church Planter Assessment last October.

After that, he no longer doubted.

“The assessment rejuvenated my faith in SBC life and its leadership,” said Bair, now a church planter partnering with the Florida Baptist Convention. “First, I saw there was a plan there. Second, I could see they were serious about the Gospel and wanted to engage the culture and reach the lost.”

Bair appreciated the intensity of NAMB’s assessment; he even went back to the assessors for a second round of critique after sharing his vision with them. It helped him develop a more concise explanation of that vision — one of his key takeaways from the experience.

About half of church planter prospects like Bair pass the assessment, receiving either a “green” or a “yellow” light to move forward.

The two-day church planting assessment retreats — which include both the church planter and his wife — begin before candidates ever arrive on site with a series of online pre-assessments. Once the couple arrives, a team of eight trained evaluators conducts a series of large-group experiences and one-on-one interviews with the candidates focused around nine different traits. To best serve the sending church, the pastor — or someone from the staff — also attends the retreat to observe the evaluation process. Each assessment usually has about six couples.

As part of the evaluation of a planter’s communication skills, candidates preach in front of the rest of the group and the assessors. They also set forth the vision for their church plant in a large group format where the assessors hear the vision and ask questions afterward.

The Launch Network, birthed in the metro Atlanta area in 2011, created the outline and much of the content for the new assessment process. From 2011 to 2014, just under 200 planters went through the assessment before the process and resources expanded to NAMB in 2015.

At the end of the two days, prospective planters receive one of four outcomes. Planters given a “Ready” (green light) are invited to join a collaborative training cohort to further prepare to launch a church in the next six to 18 months. Planters given a “Ready with Conditions” (yellow light) are generally strong candidates but with an area they need to work on as they move forward. The assessors give these planters a plan for their development, and they too are invited to join a training cohort to prepare to plant in the next six to 18 months. So far, about half of the planters assessed fall into the first two categories.

A prospective planter could also receive “Further Development Needed” (orange light) in which he is encouraged to slow down and work through areas where he needs more time and growth before moving forward. These planters are given a development plan and a time frame in which they could go through a reassessment interview in the future. The last recommendation is “Cautioned” (red light). Candidates receiving this recommendation are encouraged to take church planting off their radar for an extended period of time, work through their development plans and consider other areas of ministry.

Jeff Christopherson, vice president of NAMB’s Send Network for church planting across North America, said the tougher assessment allows NAMB to be better stewards of Southern Baptist funds — and people.

“We really want to put the resources in the hands of leaders who are probably going to have the best chance of succeeding,” Christopherson said.

But, he added, it’s also about helping the 50 percent of planters who won’t pass the assessment.

“I have a list of leaders I know who have started to plant churches, haven’t succeeded and aren’t in ministry anymore,” Christopherson said. “That’s a long, long list. I know a man who has a list of three pages on a legal pad of people he can account for who aren’t in ministry and started out as church planters.

“You need to be called to a life of a church planter. Just because God doesn’t call you to be a lead church planter doesn’t mean that He doesn’t have a wonderful plan for you in ministry,” Christopherson said.

Scott Kearney, who participated in an assessment in Boston last October, expects to plant a church in Nashua, N.H., later this year. He said the assessment helped him and his wife, noting that church planters’ wives often miss out on training and input as they prepare for a new stage of ministry.

“Charity and I have conversations about things we were not talking about before, whether it was leadership issues or expectations in ministry,” Kearney said. “How does she feel called into church planting? Her sense of calling was different than mine. And what were my expectations of her that I didn’t know I had? That was huge for us.”

After the assessment, Kearney received a recommendation to be a part of training with several other planters who meet every other week to discuss areas of growth and further reading.

“It’s awesome that NAMB wants to invest in planters and not just send them out shotgun approach,” Kearney said. “It builds into us in a pretty big way and ultimately helps those we’ll be serving.”

To learn how to be more involved in church planting in North America, visit www.sendme.namb.net.