When Aaron and Carmen Coe started Gallery Church, situated in the heart of Manhattan, they had no idea of what the Lord had in store for them and their vision.
Within its first year, their first church plant grew to nearly two hundred in weekly attendance and started the work of planting two other churches—one in New York City and one in Baltimore, Maryland. In less than six years, the Coe's vision to evangelize the nation's largest city had become a national church planting strategy called "Send North America" that had garnered international media interest, from the New York Times to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and even the Dutch newspaper Friesch Dagblad.
Send North America is the North American Mission Board's strategy to help existing churches start new evangelistic Southern Baptist churches in twenty-nine regions across the North American continent that are under-reached and underserved. This bold church-planting initiative stemmed from one man's vision for urban church planting.
Church Planting in New York City
The passion for church planting started for Coe, vice president of mobilization and equipping at NAMB, as a college student. On the brink of graduation, he asked himself the same question most near graduates do: what am I going to do with my life?
"When I wanted direction, to know what I was going to give the rest of my life to, I read in Matthew that Jesus says if you are building His church, not even the gates of hell can stand against it," he said. "And I thought, 'That sounds like the kind of thing I want to spend my life doing.'"
Shortly after graduation, Coe and his wife, Carmen, both born and raised in the South—Kentucky and South Carolina, respectively—set their sights on learning and preparing to plant a church in the South. But after the terrorist attacks of September 11, their prayers shifted to New York City. At the time, Coe was serving on staff at a church in Kennesaw, Georgia.
"September 11 really put New York City in a new light for us," Coe recalled. "Slowly, our hearts were becoming more and more inclined to the city."
One year later, Aaron and Carmen joined a team of NAMB missionaries on a two-year assignment to serve urban college students residing in New York City. Before long, the couple realized this two-year commitment was only the beginning.
"The longer we were in the city, the more our hearts were moved by it. Our prayers again shifted to church planting but this time, specifically church planting in New York City," he said.
The Gallery Church opened its doors in 2006 with Coe serving as pastor. After serving the church for three years, Coe stepped down as pastor in order to focus on the heart of his call in the city: church planting.
"Church planting is the strategy for us because it was the strategy for Jesus," Coe explained. "He wanted to build His church, and all over the Bible there are examples of church planting as a means for evangelism."
In 2009, Coe started "Send New York City," an initiative to plant churches throughout the metropolitan NYC area. The vision was clear: plant one hundred churches in New York City over the course of the next decade. Within months of Send NYC's first meeting, it became evident to Coe and his team that this plan of urban church planting could work in places beyond the Big Apple.
"Our strategy for Send NYC was mobilizing and equipping church planters to plant churches in the metro area of New York City," Coe explained. "There's no reason why this same vision couldn't be applied to penetrate lostness on a national level."
Send North America
Just last year Coe, along with his wife and three children, made the prayerful decision to move back to the South and take on the job of leading NAMB's mobilization and church planting efforts. Coe took the basic principles of Send NYC and developed them into Send North America.
For Kevin Ezell, NAMB's president, the decision to bring Coe on board to cast vision and lead church planting efforts through Send North America was simple.
"Aaron's been a leader among Southern Baptists for so many years," Ezell explained. "He has a vision to mobilize thousands of SBC churches and engage them in church planting."
And with nearly ten years of firsthand experience in church planting, Coe is just the man to spearhead Send North America.
"God showed us that coming to NAMB would give us a lot of influence in other cities and still [allow us to] to have the same vision and passion for church planting that we always had," Coe said.
The vision behind Send North America is to penetrate lostness in North America through intentional, evangelistic church planting. NAMB hopes to see an overall net gain of five thousand new congregations across the United States and Canada in the next ten years. In order to do this, Coe and NAMB's mobilization group plan to mobilize and train new church planters while also engaging existing churches to partner with and support these church planters and their ministries.
Through Send North America, NAMB will come alongside Southern Baptist churches that are not directly involved in church planting and help connect them to a church plant. And NAMB will partner with Southern Baptist churches already planting churches to help them increase their efforts.
Though the strategy is still taking shape in cities across North America, Coe and the staff at NAMB are hopeful for the salvation of many through Send North America efforts and were excited when the New York Times ran an article in its December 26 edition with the headline, "Seeing City in Need, Southern Baptist Plan Growth." Other news outlets followed suit, giving NAMB's goal of planting one hundred new congregations in the Big Apple over the next decade broad exposure.
NAMB leaders said Southern Baptists can expect more media attention as they focus on penetrating major cities with the Gospel.
"New York City is probably the most influential city in the world," noted Ezell. "[The Times] article shows that when Southern Baptists get serious about serving communities and advancing the Gospel through church planting, the world is going to notice."
Coe added, "There's an overwhelmingly excited energy in the Convention right now and I think this is the evangelistic energy that comes with church planting. Churches and families are putting themselves out there and saying, 'We want to be involved in the mission in North America, in church planting.' I believe in what God is going to do through these people and I'm just excited to be a part of it."
Churches that want to partner in church planting through Send North America can get started by visiting namb.net and clicking on the "mobilize me" button.
Sara Shelton is a writer for the North American Mission Board.