BOCA RATON, Fla. – Cliff McCray was playing football at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in 2007 when one of his teammates tragically passed away. Through the tragedy, God led McCray to faith and kickstarted a journey that led to full-time ministry and church planting.
“I got saved in a college ministry on UCF’s campus,” McCray said of his 2008 transformation. “I didn’t look back.”
More than a decade later, McCray launched Radiant City Church in Boca Raton, Fla., after leaving a successful career in the corporate world to begin exploring church planting at the suggestion of his church’s elders. Radiant City baptized 13 people before its first birthday. In just over a year, that number climbed to 24.
“Our mission is to multiply disciples and churches,” McCray said. “We want to love our neighbors, go and multiply disciples. We just said if God has commissioned us to do that, we want to make our mission simple.”
Radiant City Church has also set up an internship and welcomed two residents who are preparing for ministry as a congregation that has reached people across generations and cultures.
McCray’s church is part of the Class of 2021 church plants launched by Southern Baptist churches. In total, Southern Baptists added 1,018 new congregations – 735 church plants, 201 affiliations and 82 new campuses. This represents a 25 percent increase in church plants and a 19 percent increase in congregations overall. Of the 735 church plants, 135 were replants, which NAMB has traditionally counted as church plants.
“We celebrate every new church that’s planted, but we also understand that the mission is not simply starting new churches,” said Vance Pitman, president of Send Network. “Our mission is to join in God’s activity of expanding His kingdom in cities and nations all over the world. His kingdom expands as cities are engaged with the Gospel, disciples are made, and churches are born. So, we rejoice whenever new believers are welcomed into the kingdom and churches are born by the power of the Gospel.”
Another new church is Engage City Church in Huber Heights, Ohio, north of Dayton. The church officially joined the Send Network family in 2021 after beginning their church planting journey a few years earlier.
“I was initially wary about planting through any network or organization,” said lead planter Doug Wampler. “But, we recognized the value of the relationships, the coaching and support that goes beyond their generosity and helps you realize that you’re not alone. This is a family that we love being a part of.”
Engage City Church has focused its outreach on their community by both hosting events, such as a blacklight Easter egg hunt, and meeting tangible needs as they arise among their neighbors. They have helped pay for funerals for those in their communities and provided meals for kids in their local school system.
That engagement within their city has led to a number of Gospel conversations, people coming to faith in Christ and baptisms. In 2021, the church recorded 184 people coming to Christ, baptized 75 and averaged more than 470 in attendance.
The church has also started a residency designed to discover, develop and deploy future church-planting missionaries. Several residents have entered Send Network’s assessment process as they begin their own church-planting journies.
Brad Ormonde, Jr., began his church-planting journey east of Los Angeles in Beaumont, Calif., after serving as youth pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship for seven years.
“I was at a mega-church in a pretty comfortable pastoral position,” Ormonde said. “I was able to exercise my gifts and do what we were wanting to do pastorally, but I wasn’t walking by faith. We had to walk by faith in planting this church.”
Launched in February 2021, Garden City Church baptized 12 believers in its first 18 months, and Ormonde has already begun discussions with members about training and sending out a church planter of their own.
A major emphasis of Send Network’s efforts centers on reaching the nations who are coming to North America, and as NAMB seeks to engage diverse cities and communities with the Gospel, there has been a concerted effort to equip and send an increasingly diverse group of missionaries.
Airenakhue (Airen) Aimievbo grew up in Nigeria in a Christian family before moving to Canada for mission work. He attended the Canadian Baptist Theological Seminary in Alberta, and while pandemic-related restrictions slowed the church-planting progress, he and others have already begun reaching different people groups through The Impact Baptist Church in Calgary, Alberta.
With team members from Uganda and the Philippines, Aimievbo said, “My vision was to reach African immigrants, but the ministry is now multicultural and multinational.”
As Aimievbo has made connections in his community, he has continued to encounter people of different national and religious backgrounds.
“When God is involved in anything, He is going to do His work. He is going to touch lives through us,” Aimievbo said. “Pray for a spirit of boldness to go out and share.”
Beginning with the 2021 new congregations count, NAMB is adding additional detail to show how many church plants are replants. In an average year, Southern Baptists lose more than 900 congregations, many of them dying. Because of this, NAMB started a church replanting emphasis led by Mark Clifton. Clifton says 900 association leaders and others have been trained and certified in church replanting since 2018.
NAMB President Kevin Ezell said the uptick in church plants is a good example of what Southern Baptists can achieve through partnership.
“We should be encouraged to see our plant count and overall congregation count going up,” Ezell said. “Southern Baptists are blessed with an incredible family of churches and when we unite to plant new churches and increase our gospel reach, we are at our best.”