The goal of the EPC Church Planting Team is “to cultivate a culture where church planting is embraced, encouraged, and celebrated by all EPC churches.” Central Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Ala., has embraced this goal and believes that the heart of church planting is making new disciples.
Randy Jenkins serves as Central’s Pastor, and also leads the church planting network for the Presbytery of the Central South. What began as a committee for church planting has grown into a network of people and churches who are passionate about church planting and see it as an indicator of the future.
“When people see church planting and understand it, it is very, very exciting,” Jenkins said. “Church planters are the tip of the spear of the EPC. They are on the cutting edge of doing new ministries in a different way and helping the rest of us learn what it means and how to apply it.”
The EPC’s church planting strategy has been a combination of recruiting and leadership diagnostics. The church planting networks are trying to develop a pipeline of church planters that they then mentor, assist with fundraising, and support through the process.
“I am the guy who facilitates church planters and helps them raise money,” Jenkins said, explaining his role in the process. “Because they are our investment, we are trying hard to pick the right people.”
He recalled that when CPC joined the EPC in 2007, his new colleagues stressed the importance of church planting. Jenkins knew church planting was not his specific calling, but that did not lessen his excitement.
“I like success,” Jenkins admitted, “and if I can’t do it, then I want someone else to do it. And we’re talking about the Kingdom. I want to see them achieve for the Kingdom.”
As he began talking with the congregation about church planting, they expressed a willingness to invest. They started by partnering with existing church plants. Eventually, Central became a parent of Chelsea Presbyterian Church in suburban Birmingham, about 100 miles south of Huntsville.
Returns on investment
James Daniels was a “parachute drop” into Chelsea. Daniels came from the education field and didn’t have years of experience as a pastor. Yet as CPC began to see Daniels’ vision for the community, they also began to see the realization of their investment of time and money in the process that started years earlier.
“We didn’t really understand what it means to be a parent, but that is exactly what it is,” Jenkins said. “It’s like delivering a baby who at first spends most of its time eating and sleeping. But one day it wakes up and needs lots of care and lots of time and supervision.”
While CPC continues to play an active role in the strategy of planting churches, it also provides structure that is crucial to existing church planters in a variety of ways.
Kirk Adkisson, planting pastor of All Souls Church in Nashville, Tenn., said his relationship with Jenkins and CPC has been “nothing short of amazing.”
“Under Randy’s leadership, CPC stepped in and provides accounting and bookkeeping services for us. I can’t overstate what a gift this is,” Adkisson said. “This gives us the freedom from some of the basic financial tasks and more time for other essential components of church planting.”
Jenkins noted that financial tasks, including fund raising, are a key factor in a plant’s success—with undercapitalization as the biggest hindrance to church planting. Without the funds in place, church planters must balance their time between fundraising and ministry. This is where the networks step in with more structure.
“We encourage our church planters to have $100,000 in the bank before doing anything else, Jenkins explained. “If your energies are spent on making sure you have enough money to exist, then that is a problem. CPC is very generous financially and always ready to be involved when it comes to giving to a church plant.”
Tom Ricks, leader of EPC Church Planting Team, ascribes CPC’s generosity to Jenkins.
“Some people are that influential with their congregation, and Randy has a great track record with his people,” Ricks said. “He has led them in a Christlike manner. When he stands in the pulpit and says that we have a great opportunity here, his people listen and follow. The relational capital that he has with his congregation has been put to use for church planting.”
Wide geographic reach
In addition to Chelsea and All Souls, CPC partners with Quest Church in New Braunfels, Texas; The Table in Little Rock, Ark.; The Table Project in Denver, Colo.; and a non-EPC plant, St. Patrick Church in Cedar Park, Texas. These church plants cover a wide range of geography and demographics—from suburban “Bible Belt” to suburban/urban transitional, to western suburban where religion does not play a prominent role in the community.
Ricks loves that CPC is willing to support church plants outside its own Presbytery.
“I love the diversity of the church plants that CPC is supporting” Ricks said. “They couldn’t be more different, and I love that. We need more of that diversity.”
CPC’s generosity and connection involves much more than finances. Each of the church planters that Central partners with highlighted the importance of the spiritual support they have received.
In Nashville, sent a mission team to assist with clean-up and distributing supplies to the neighborhood residents after a March 2020 tornado hit the largely under-resourced community that All Souls serves.
In Chelsea, CPC members routinely dropped in to attend worship services prior to the COVID-19 shutdown.
“Some from CPC stop and visit as they are passing through to lend moral support—sometimes physical support—and to see what God is doing here,” Daniels said.
Mark Grapengater, Pastor of The Table Project in Denver, described Central as having “a real Kingdom mindset.”
“Their ministry for church planting extends well beyond Huntsville,” he said. “That posture is key for us as church planters. Randy and the church always make sure we have everything we need.”
Investing where God is moving
Central dedicated 8 percent of its total budget to church planting in 2020—evidence that the congregation shares Jenkins’ enthusiasm.
“If your mission is only within your own four walls, you won’t be there very long,” Jenkins warned. “If you see the vision for the gospel moving forward both locally and in other areas, you want to invest where God is moving. God is moving in church planters.”
Jenkins acknowledged that church planting can be lonely and stressful, and emphasized that CPC wants to “walk alongside the planters” and remove as much of that burden as possible so they can be caring, welcoming, and opening doors to relationships.
“Church planters are taking people from that secular point, with no knowledge of Christianity, and speaking simply to them so that they will understand,” he noted. “Church planters love to see eyes open, and people begin to believe and grow in faith. If we can help make this happen, we want to help them any way we can.”
Ricks said the denomination’s goal is that every EPC congregation is involved in some aspect of church planting. He said he will “continually be shooting for every church, no matter the size, to participate in being a parent, partner, or patron.”
“Randy and CPC exemplify a congregation that gets this, and the congregation gets it because Randy gets it,” Ricks said., “If I could have a ‘poster child’ for what I believe is a great attitude for church planting, it would be Randy.”
by Kelli Lambert Gilbreath