By Tim K.

Nearly 600 individuals representing church planters, team members, multiplying and sending churches from several western states gathered at the Westin Kierland Resort and Spain Scottsdale Feb. 24-25. They gathered for a time of training and encouragement sponsored by the North American Mission Board (NAMB).

“The content is the forum, but the main thing is getting guys shoulder to shoulder,” said Brian Bowman, lead pastor of Valley Life Church — Tramonto in Phoenix. “The relational interaction is the primary takeaway. It lets church planters know they are not alone in this.”

The gathering featured speakers from innovative churches, including Matt Lawson from the Story Church in Los Angeles, Vance Pitman from Hope Church in Las Vegas and Ben and Shauna Pilgreen from Epic Church in San Francisco. Arizona was well represented with Pastor Brian Bowman and Pastor Noe Garcia from North Phoenix Baptist Church both leading breakout sessions.

With the coronavirus changing the environment of social connection and community, church planters are faced with many new challenges.

“We don’t currently have the methods to address this new pandemic environment, but the gospel will always find a way to get out,” Bowman said. “Methods change and adapt, but the gospel remains the same.”

The ever-changing environment, with the corresponding need to change methods to be effective, is another good reason to gather church planters together.

There are currently 50 NAMB-appointed church planters and seven church planters who have not yet been appointed through NAMB working to start new churches in Arizona, according to Monty Patton, Send Network Arizona director. Events like the one held in Scottsdale are important for helping church planters to refresh and refocus on the task. “Isolation is a real thing for church planters,” Patton said.

Each church planter was encouraged to bring their spouse or one key volunteer. Another goal of these events is building unity and shared vision among the core groups of new church plants. Shared experiences, like this training, have a positive effect on helping church planters to build healthy core teams to continue the work.

In the past year, Arizona had more than 120,000 new residents move into the state. Patton suggested that, just to keep up with the influx of new people, Arizona needs at least 600 new church plants to stay even with current levels of Arizona Southern Baptist engagement in the state. If we are to grow in our engagement, we need even more churches to be planted.

These facts reveal how critical it is to not only retain current church planters but also develop new church planters. This is yet another important part of having Send Gatherings.

“We need an army of covocational church planters,” Patton said. “We need them now!”