ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) – A nationwide collection of local Send Network Gathering events on March 17 encouraged hundreds of North American Mission Board (NAMB) church planting missionaries with a singular theme: “Into the Harvest.”
“After all that we’ve gone through this last year,” said Noah Oldham, a senior director for NAMB’s Send Network, “with as disbursed as we were, separated as we were, given how hectic the last several months have been, we wanted everyone to focus on getting back to the mission and going into the harvest.”
Send Network, NAMB’s church planting arm, regularly hosts regional gatherings for church planting missionaries and their spouses designed to encourage and equip them in their mission to share the Gospel through their recently launched churches.
The coronavirus pandemic forced 2020 Send Network Gatherings to go virtual. Recognizing the need for in-person, face-to-face time with other missionaries, Send Network worked with local teams and Southern Baptist partners to host 32 gatherings across the United States on one day with content produced by local leaders and contextualized for each ministry location.
More than 2,170 church planters, their spouses and other church planting leaders attended.
“It’s exciting to see the implications for the Send Network family of churches,” said Dhati Lewis, NAMB’s vice president over Send Network. “This gathering has been a chance for us to experience the beauty of being part of the body of Christ both locally and globally.”
At least 11 more local gatherings in cities across the United States and Canada are planned for the coming weeks, with more than 500 expected to attend those events.
“We encouraged our local Send Network groups to highlight their church planting teams and leaders,” Oldham said. “It was exciting to see that, based on the average number of practitioners who participated, we had 200 local Send Network leaders all using their gifts and expertise to serve their family.”
Send Network Florida, a partnership between NAMB and the Florida Baptist Convention that seeks to plant churches across the state, took the opportunity to turn its Send Network Gathering into a two-day retreat for church planting missionaries. In total, 200 people attended the retreat.
“For us, this meeting was a great time of inspiration, encouragement and wisdom so much needed for those who serve and invest their lives in others,” said Daniel Naberezhny, lead planter of Bible Church, a Slavic congregation in Boca Raton, Fla. “Such events make a difference in how we feel, view and understand our church planting mission.”
The Florida Send Network Gathering “was a refreshing reminder of who we are, what we do and what is the mission of our church network,” Naberezhny said in written comments afterward. “It made us feel a part of a big family that understands your needs, takes care of you and is ‘right beside you’ when you need it the most.”
NAMB President Kevin Ezell spoke at the Florida Send Network Gathering and encouraged church-planting missionaries who are launching new churches across the state.
“It is always inspiring to spend time with our missionaries,” Ezell said. “I am incredibly thankful for Tommy Green (executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention) and how his leadership has encouraged a church planting movement throughout Florida. The power of partnership is on display here.”
Another gathering took place with church planting missionaries in Iowa. In a video recap of the event  produced by the Baptist Convention of Iowa, several church-planting missionaries described their ministry in Iowa and how the Send Network Gathering encouraged them.
“What we’re in this for is to reach people who don’t know Jesus,” Nick Powell, church planter of Hope City Church in Clinton, Iowa, said in the video. “So right now, being at the Send Network event, being around other leaders and pastors and planters, it’s really mutually encouraging.
“In the midst of a pandemic, there’s a lot of things that are hard about ministry, but I’ve really enjoyed the unity that I have with these brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Church-planting missionary Dave Newman, lead planter of Neighborhood Life Church in La Mirada, Calif., expressed similar gratitude.
“It was a great space for us church planters to be challenged, encouraged and reminded that even when the ground is rocky or thorny,” Newman said, “we are never alone in this field because there are other brothers and sisters toiling, supporting and praying alongside us.”