“Planting churches … helps us to reach people who are at a point of crisis; they're at a point of change. They're at a point of newness, that they're willing to be open to a relationship with Jesus, or at least a relationship with some of His followers.”

While Shane visited his pregnant girlfriend working inside a Knightdale strip mall, he noticed a church located a few doors down.

The overwhelmed dad-to-be stepped into the newly opened BridgePoint Church, a church plant of Wendell’s Hephzibah Baptist Church. 

Arriving thirty minutes before a Sunday morning service, Shane was immediately welcomed into the converted event space by church leaders. As he watched them set up communion, he heard about what it means to follow Jesus. 

Shane grew up in eastern North Carolina and had a working knowledge of God, but he hadn’t surrendered his life to Him. He asked two staff members to walk him through the gospel and accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior.

In the following months, Shane continued to attend BridgePoint and was baptized. Ahead of his daughter’s birth, church members bought gifts for Shane’s family and invited him to community groups. 

“I’ve seen him working to become more like Jesus and have the desire to press through some sins of a past life and conviction surrounding them,” lead pastor Josh Howard said. “Through thick and thin, we’re trying to walk with him and help him.”

Even as BridgePoint plans to relocate to a nearby school, Knightdale Elementary — a three-minute drive from their current location — it will remain in the heart of the community to reach people like Shane.

“Seeing that God had us at that location for that reason, for that point in time, the sovereignty of God was so apparent to us,” Howard said. 

For church plants, accessibility and consistency is key.

“Men and women like [Shane] are in all of our communities,” Howard said. “According to Tim Keller’s article ‘Why Plant Churches,’ 60 to 80% of people that attend a new church are people that have not currently been in church. So, new churches reach new people.” 

The statistical concept has biblical roots.

“My mind goes back to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Everything starts there,” Howard said. “When you think about what Jesus is telling His disciples, He tells them to ‘go,’ right? So, it’s go — not come. 

“So, we’re going into our community, we’re going to the world with the gospel; we can’t just expect people to show up.” 

Howard offered the example of the apostle Paul, who repeatedly started new churches where the gospel was not otherwise available. That strategy is one for churches to live out today, as well. 

As churches dot street corners, more people notice them. But sometimes it takes repeated opportunities of seeing a church’s signs or meeting its members before someone visits. Churches have the task of engaging and loving their community around them, so people will feel welcome to enter their doors.

“Yesterday, we had a man who walked in, and he shared with us that he was living in a tent behind AutoZone, which is a quarter mile away from us,” Howard said. 

The homeless man had interacted with some church members in the parking lot over the course of several weeks before he finally showed up to BridgePoint. 

The problem

Howard noted if everyone in his community wanted to go to church on a Sunday morning, there wouldn’t be enough space for all the people. 

The same is true for many communities: There’s a shortage of churches to population. 

“The more that we have churches, the more we’re able to meet physical needs and felt needs, which opens the door to meet spiritual needs,” Howard said.

“Planting churches … helps us to reach people who are at a point of crisis; they’re at a point of change. They’re at a point of newness, that they’re willing to be open to a relationship with Jesus, or at least a relationship with some of His followers.”

This openness was recently witnessed through generational change in a family at BridgePoint. 

Six weeks ago, a woman was baptized at the church. Her daughter and son-in-law watched the baptism. Afterward, her son-in-law asked a pastor, “Hey, can we meet?”

“That week, he gave his life to Jesus,” Howard recalled. “So, week one, his mother-in-law gets baptized; week two, he gets baptized. And this coming Sunday, we’re going to baptize his wife as well.”

Moments like this are a highlight for Howard, who moved his family from Texas to be a North Carolina church planter. Upon the move, his family was informed of multiple failed church plants in the area. 

Howard’s response: Challenge accepted. 

“In all seriousness, it showed us how hard of a community it is, how hard the soil is in many ways,” Howard said. Even with the dismal track record of church plants in Knightdale, Howard has looked at the opportunity with fresh eyes to expand the kingdom of God. 

“When we’re at a church for a while, we can be more focused on the people that we’re trying to keep rather than the people we’re trying to reach,” Howard said. 

“[But being a church planter brings] almost this renewed sense of urgency. For those part of the church plant, we see our faith grow. As we watch God do the impossible — raise people up to new life, marriages be saved, kids give their life to Jesus — there’s joy that comes from that and realizing that God has placed us there with a really unique opportunity to be actively involved front and center in what He’s doing.”

by Lizzy Haseltine, NC Baptist contributing writer