As a leading church planter in Canada, Jeff Christopherson sat down with a friend and constructed a list of people they knew who started out as church planters, failed and weren’t in ministry anymore.
“We filled up three sheets of legal pad paper with names,” Christopherson says. “It was heartbreaking. Many of them shouldn’t have been planting in the first place or weren’t trained for the job.”
A church planter’s promise
Christopherson mourns the results that come from a failed church plant. “When a church planter plants a church, he makes a promise to that community, and if the church fails, then he doesn't fulfill that promise,” he says. “The outside world watches that, and it makes future church planting efforts there more difficult.”
“But I also think about a failed church planter’s children who have to watch the church plant die,” he says. “How will those kids view and think about God afterwards? That’s the kind of stuff that motivates me.”
These things bothered Christopherson, and he began to see the desperate need for an accountable, unified church planting network. God began to give him a vision which would later be named the Send Network.
What is the Send Network?
“The Send Network helps a church planter plant a healthy, self-sustaining and reproducing church,” Christopherson explains. “We have a process in place that assesses a leader’s strengths and properly trains him for where he’s going to plant. We make sure he’s well-coached and supported through Sending Churches and personnel, like Church Planting Catalysts. We have planter care ministries that support church planters and their families for years after the church is in place. So the Send Network is a holistic and healthy way to plant a church, something not available anywhere else.”
As Vice President of Send Network, Christopherson describes his role as “figuring out what the Send Network needs and how to get it.” As he built the vision of Send Network, Christopherson reached out to his friends from some existing networks and united them all under one roof to determine next steps. The Send Network was formalized December 2015, and began taking responsibility for all Southern Baptist church planting in 32 Send Cities across North America.
How the future looks
Now, a year into the initiative, Send Network continues to break new ground. “We want to help church planters after their first year, to help them know what to do once their church plant is up and running,” Christopherson says. “We’re also trying to get to a place where 75% of our churches are planted by indigenous planters. That means funding will become less of an issue, and the transition for church planting families won’t be difficult because they’ll be planting where they already call home.”
Christopherson says he gets emails daily asking for church planters. “Everyone is in need of them,” he says. “So right now we’re building systems like a three-year internship in churches to help develop a church planter pipeline. We’re also building a track for bivocational church planters.” Send Network also looks to increase the “runway” for church planters by funding them up to five years instead of three years.
Impossible without gifts
Christopherson is adamant the Send Network wouldn’t be possible without the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® (AAEO).
“What we’re doing is totally dependent on the sacrificial giving of Southern Baptists,” he says. “The AAEO is how church plants are funded, how we’re able to care for planters—it’s because of that giving we’re able to do everything we do. And the AAEO wouldn’t exist without the WMU pushing it forward. So without the WMU, there wouldn’t be an AAEO, and without the AAEO, there wouldn’t be a Send Network!”
Christopherson marvels how Southern Baptists have grown from not being effective in church planting to being the global innovators of it. He knows that’s only because of God’s grace and Southern Baptists’ generous gifts.
“We want to use what we’re learning and building to help reach the millions lost in North America,” he says. “We’re even trying to advance God’s kingdom work by assisting other denominations in pushing back lostness.”
How can I help?
Jeff Christopherson says people can help in two ways. “The most direct way is by giving to the AAEO,” he says. “But another way is by leading your church to be a Sending or Supporting Church for church plants. If the church you’re attending isn’t directly engaged in church planting, learn how to get involved. It’s amazing to drive past block after block in a city and not see a church anywhere. How many people are going to live and die and never hear the good news of Jesus Christ? Realize that’s not right! We must leverage churches toward church planting to advance the gospel directly, and that happens by giving to AAEO and getting involved in a church plant.”
Send Network’s future looks bright. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t have the best church planting network because of Southern Baptists’ generosity,” Christopherson says. “So we’re holding nothing back. We’re motivated by the lostness out there. We’re continuing to build the Send Network while we try to think of everything we can possibly think of to produce and encourage healthy church planters and families.”