This past weekend, I spent some time with two Cooperative Baptist Fellowship churches in Mississippi. Friday and Saturday I led a visioning retreat for University Baptist Church, Starkville, a church organized 12 years ago. On Sunday morning, I worshipped with Olive Branch Fellowship: A Baptist Faith Community that started eight years ago in a town just south of Memphis, Tennessee.
On the surface, these churches are very different. UBC meets in the Wesley (Methodist) Foundation building just off the campus of Mississippi State University. The church was organized when a group of Baptists felt that they were no longer welcome in a large Baptist church in Starkville and created an alternative. They are committed to ministry in the university setting. Although I did not worship with University Baptist this weekend, I know that their worship is a blend of contemporary and traditional music with a rather casual atmosphere.
On the other hand, OBF was an intentional church start designed to reach a suburban population with a moderate Baptist witness. Support was provided by three Memphis churches and state CBF organizations in Mississippi and Tennessee. The new church occupied two rented facilities before purchasing and renovating their new home. Although people dress casually at Olive Branch Fellowship, the worship is both creative and traditional; the order of service and music would be welcomed at any county seat Baptist church in the southeast.
There are some significant similarities, of course. Both churches embrace an inclusive approach to leadership, involving both men and women in significant leadership roles. Both owe much to good pastoral as well as lay leadership. UBC has had several gifted pastors with Bert Montgomery as the latest. OBF was born out the vision and passion of Chuck and Martha Strong; they have provided leadership through great personal commitment and sacrifice.
The two churches support CBF missions financially and personally. They both minister to the marginalized in their local communities as well. Of course, each does this in their own way.
What are the common factors that have caused these two new church starts to succeed?
First, in both cases there has a high level of commitment on the part of pastors and lay leaders. They often go the “second mile” to assure that things are done well in their churches.
Second, each understands and ministers within its particular context. They understand the composition of their target communities and minister accordingly.
Third, in both cases, the pastors and people have made sacrificial commitments to assure the churches’ continuity. Neither group is numerically large, but they have each accomplished a great deal due to the generosity of church members.
Although there is no single template for a new church start, success is unlikely without committed leadership, a clear vision, and significant sacrifice by both laity and clergy. We can learn a great deal from both of these young churches.