Almost five million people call Alabama home, but approximately three million do not have a church to call their spiritual home.
“It’s sad,” said State Missionary Lamar Duke, lead church planting strategist with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM). “Alabama is considered to be the heart of the Bible Belt, yet over half of our residents do not attend church. We have to do something about it.”
Duke and SBOM have a comprehensive strategy to address the lack of churches and church attendance in Alabama, and the plan has been largely successful in church planting efforts fostered by the SBOM and partnering Baptist associations.
With a 90 percent success rate, Duke’s church planting strategies have led to 85 churches and almost 800 baptisms during the past six years.
Duke’s process, fully described at PlantAlabama.org, consists of three steps: assessment, training and coaching. This multi-step endeavor, he said, ensures that the people tasked with planting churches in the state are called, qualified and prepared for the hard work that church planting requires.
“Church planting, as you can expect, is not easy, and we want to be sure we have the right man for the job and that we have helped him as much as we can,” Duke said.
Often, the first step a potential church planter takes is to attend Alabama Church Planting Basics Training hosted by their local Baptist association and an interested sponsoring church.
The training consists of three days covering topics such as Biblical foundations, demographics and administrative requirements for a church plant.
These trainings take place in various locations across Alabama throughout the year. During March, the Tuscaloosa County Baptist Association hosted its first-ever training in Spanish. Several potential planters and interested pastors of recently planted churches attended to learn more about how to succeed in such a difficult field.
The training to prepare and strengthen Hispanic churches was led by Annel Robayna, who in June will begin serving as a state missionary in the SBOM Office of Associational Missions & Church Planting.
“I have seen how impactful this training can be, and I know the Spanish-speaking community in Tuscaloosa wanted to go through it,” Robayna said. “I was more than willing to help because I want to see a thriving Hispanic community of Christian leaders here in Alabama, and I cannot wait to play a role in that when I start work in June.”
Robayna will work to translate much of what SBOM already does into Spanish, particularly in the area of church planting. Duke said he is excited to see Alabama church planting “break the mold” of traditional Southern Baptist Churches and grow in new and diverse ways.
Another man working to “break the mold” of traditional church planting in Alabama is Marcus Collins, pastor of Grace Community Church in Montgomery. Almost two years ago, a group began meeting in a space in downtown Montgomery designed for 100 people but grew eventually to 120 in attendance.
Recently, Grace officially had a grand opening and reopening at a new venue: a former bar on Vaughn Road in east Montgomery. Collins said the initial service in the new location was attended by approximately 200 Montgomery residents and 10 accepted Christ.
Grace has a goal of “loving people to life,” something Collins said was influenced by church planting.
“With church planting, it is all focused on outreach and discipleship,” he said. “The nuts and bolts of practical planting and support provided by the State Board has helped me stay motivated and committed to loving people even when church planting got difficult.”
Collins added that the church planting resources provided by Duke helped him plan strategically and navigate the process, particularly since east Montgomery is an underserved area.
“I would not be here, and more importantly Grace Community Church would not be here, without the training, resources, and support provided by the association and the State Board of Missions.”
Duke said his work, along with the addition of Robayna in the coming months, helps to ensure that Alabama continues to be a place where churches like Grace are planted, and people are reached with
“We have to reach out to the people in our own state who have been left out,” Duke said. “Our training and resources help to prepare church planters to go out in our state and change the lives of the three million people in need of