Late in September four pastors from our network traveled to Providence, Rhode Island and surrounding areas to meet with church planters. Our relationship with the state convention in the region, the Baptist Churches of New England and the North American Mission Board opened the door for this trip and potential partnerships with planters in the region.
Not unlike our ongoing relationship with churches in the greater Toronto area of Ontario, our desire is to help legacy churches and church plants in our network make significant connections with planters in an area not much larger than Duval County yet with a vastly smaller population of evangelical churches.
Some of our churches are partnering with plants throughout the nation and some already have relationships with churches in the Send Boston network, but there are a good many planters south of Boston in smaller areas of Massachusetts as well as Rhode Island who do not have the privilege of a large network and thus, have fewer partners and relationships with out-of-state churches and pastors, much less others in their region.
On our quick vision trip (cut short due to the uncertainty of the impact of Hurricane Ian in Jacksonville) allowed us to meet and come to understand the contextual challenges of planting churches in New England. Our team consisted of pastors Doug Axtell from Murray Hill Baptist Church, Jonathan Reavis of Shindler Drive Baptist Church, Mike Godfrey of First Baptist Church of Orange Park, and me. We met with our longtime friend and former First Coast Churches (then Jacksonville Baptist Association) associate missional leader Hal Haller, his wife Sharon, and North American Mission Board Church Planting Catalyst Darren Sullivan (formerly of Jacksonville and from Chets Creek Church.)
The Hallers and Darren introduced us to a number of planters in various stages of service. One is has planted a church in a lower income neighborhood of Providence. Another has been sent from Oklahoma and serves currently in residence with the first planter and seeks to launch in the near future in the West Warwick, Rhode Island area. The third planter comes from Iowa and is reaching the university student demographic of the city. Providence may be one city, but there are numerous colleges and universities there. The final planter we had the opportunity to engage serves in a lower-income community in the city of New Bedford, Massachusetts.
While each planter has unique giftedness and challenges before him, it is clear that these men love the Lord dearly and love the community God has called them to reach. The churches planted and to be planted in these cities are needed. A recent Barna study identifying the “Most Bible-Minded Cities” listed Birmingham, Alabama as number one, but Providence/New Bedford as number 100. (FYI – Jacksonville comes in at number 24.)
Our desire as member churches of First Coast Churches is to offer the opportunity for legacy churches and church plants here to connect and partner with church planters in Rhode Island and surrounding areas. Much like our Toronto partnership, we believe this helps churches of all sizes to look outward and to be intentional in their missional connections. We plan to have a follow-up vision trip for pastors and church leaders from here who are interested in such a connection. This will likely be scheduled after the first of the year, but pray now regarding this possible connection. You may not think you have resources to offer, but you do. The levels of partnerships will be varied and connections made only as pastors and churches feel led to do so.
If you are interested in such a connection and partnership, please let me know. You may connect with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the First Coast Churches office.