Chad Ferrell, pastor of King’s Cross Charlotte and directional leader of the City Residency Project, remembers how isolating it could feel to plant a church. Although he later began connecting with other pastors, he wondered what it would have been like if he had those relationships when King’s Cross launched.
Bob Lowman, Metrolina Baptist Association’s executive director, has seen many churches planted in his 16 years with the association, but as he looked at the 1.2 million people in Mecklenburg County, he thought of the more than 800,000 not connected to a church. The 158 Metrolina churches weren’t enough to reach them. He thought of members sitting in churches with insufficient tools to send them out.
Carmel Baptist pastor Alex Kennedy had a heart for planting churches and supporting planters. He wondered what it would look like to create a space for pastors to be developed together. So he contacted N.C. Baptist Great Commission catalyst Eric Mullis and began a conversation about creating a residency that could go beyond the walls of one church and instead bring churches and pastors together.
A group came together, and the City Residency Project was born. Twelve leaders formed a directional team.
“The goal was for it to be a seamless project between local churches, the local association and the state convention, “ said Lowman, a member of the team. “It’s a unified effort to identify, train, encourage and mentor young ministry leaders as they move toward pastoral ministry and church planting.”
They were creating “a better framework together,” said Mullis. “A framework for the city to see the gospel move forward and the next generation of leaders raised up.”
“We put our heads together on how we could do this together as Baptists in our city,” said Ferrell. “So we started building infrastructure and started asking, ‘What is the need in our city?’
“A lot of times in church planting, even if you have a sending church, there is a lack of connection in the city,” Ferrell said. “You hit a new area or city, and you’re immediately trying to plant or pastor a church, and you have no network, no guide that you can go to.”
“It’s the need here, and that’s what everyone sees across the board,” Mullis said. “Young leaders are launching out, and they just don’t know the right leaders to turn to when they need help, so they end up working by themselves, becoming silos.”
The directional team immediately saw the need to combat the isolation among pastors, planters and revitalizers. The best way that they saw fit was through a practical training program and network that could provide support, connection and coaching to rising church leaders as they were “mobilized to reach the city, region and nations with the gospel.”
Over two years, rising ministry leaders will rotate between churches for monthly cohort meetings led by seasoned ministry leaders and pastors who are skilled in different aspects of pastoral ministry.
Each gathering will center around a topic relevant to new pastors and church planters and feature speakers, panels and resources. Participants will also get to sit down together, share a meal and connect with other pastors in the city they might otherwise never meet.
“There is not one church that has cornered the market on everything,” Mullis said.
The team wants to foster relationships throughout the city, so when new pastors hit the ground, they have a network of wisdom and support they can always return to.
Residents will also be connected with a seasoned pastor once a month to see how they are applying their learning and provide support as they begin their journey.
These pastoral coaches will be “speaking into these developing leaders’ lives and experiences through this two-year process,” said Lowman.
The team believes these connections will “reach into the future” where hopefully they will continue to see “networking across the region, association and beyond.”
The final piece of the program is connection to a local church where leaders are mentored, developed and equipped.
“We don’t want to see this stripped from the local church,” said Ferrell. “As we get to celebrate sending people out, it does something in our churches.”
The hope is that as they come alongside these churches, offering tools and support for developing rising pastors, revitalizers and planters, more and more churches will grab hold of this vision and develop deep sending cultures.
Ferrell hopes that “relational capital” that comes out of this will “bring synergy to the city,” leading to more churches planted and pastors sent out.
“Charlotte is constantly growing,” Ferrell said. “We’re having an influx of people every week into this city. There’s a hundred plus nations represented in our city. There are a lot of churches here, but there are over a million people, and we need more churches to reach them.”
On top of that, he notes that “the local association is connected to churches in our area that are dying, churches that need help in strategic areas, where we can send church planters to help revive these legacy churches.”
Mullis agreed and said, “You can’t fill these needs if you don’t have leaders, and now we’re going to know who they are.”
Lowman believes the City Residency Project is “a way for us to have boots on the ground, people ready to go do ministry in the places it needs to be done.”
One of the significant strengths of the City Residency Project is its roots in partnership. With the support, influence and collaboration of local churches, Metrolina Baptist Association and N.C. Baptists, “we can see pockets of lostness in our city reached because we are able to mobilize church planters to reach these areas of our city,” said Ferrell.
“We’re better together,” said Lowman. “The more we can come together and do this kind of effort, the more I believe we’ll see multiplication happen instead of addition. That’s where broader kingdom impact will begin to happen.”
City Residency Project launched a few weeks ago, and its first cohort of young leaders meets on Oct. 18. Fifteen residents have already signed up, but there is room for more. The residency will continue to receive applications on a rolling basis.
Rising pastors and church planters in the greater Charlotte area can learn more at residencyproject.org.
by Kari Wilson, N.C. Baptist Contributing Writer