Editor’s note: October is Cooperative Program Emphasis Month in the Southern Baptist Convention.
PORT AUSTIN, Mich. (BP) – It’s the only Baptist church in town. Church planter Michael Goforth considers it purely a work of the Lord that Mercy Hill Church is thriving where three previous congregations shut down.
When he and his bride Shannon sought a network to undergird their work in rural Michigan, the North American Mission Board’s Send Network caught their eye.
“We’re kind of up in the middle of nowhere, and so it just seems like we’re on an island sometimes and we can be forgotten,” Goforth told Baptist Press. “But through connecting with Send Network and Cooperative Program-supported churches, it has just been a blessing to really have a network that’s behind us, encourages us and helps us, specifically financially.”
Will Browning’s path to Send Network was born of a calling away from his life’s work as a pastor and prolific church planter in the greater Charleston, N.C., area. There, he planted Journey Church in 2007 and birthed nine others from the mother church by 2021. That’s when he was called to the greater Los Angeles, Calif., area to serve as the Send Network’s local chief strategist.
“What caused us to come out here was this constant confirmation from the Lord that He wanted us to lay down what probably was our ‘Isaac,’” Browning said, a reference to the biblical call of Abraham to sacrifice his son. “We really only wanted to be the leaders of the church. And I had actually given my elders a 25-year vision, basically saying, ‘I’m going to give you my life. I have no desire to do anything else.’
“Unfortunately when we put Isaac on the altar, we didn’t get a ram. (God) said, ‘No, I really want you to go.’”
Browning has served one-and-a-half years as the Send City missionary for a multi-county greater Los Angeles area of nearly 18 million residents. In 2022, he shepherded church planters to plant 19 new churches and has assessed 30 church planters to start new works in 2023.
In the territory including Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and a small portion of Ventura counties, 73 church planters are currently enrolled in Send Network’s church-planting system that provides varying levels of financial support over a five-year period.
The wide range of the Cooperative Program’s impact has become clear to Browning since he joined Send Network.
“As a pastor, I feel like I didn’t quite understand how far the Cooperative Program was going,” he said, “when it came to helping church planters, doing overseas missions. I think I had a good view of what it did for seminarians, because I benefitted from that, attending two of our Southern Baptist schools.
“Now that I’ve been doing this, I’m very impressed with what is happening. And here’s the statistic that I don’t think most people know. We perceive that by 2030, one third of the Southern Baptist Convention’s churches will be church plants that have been planted since 2011.”