When Pastor Chris Lockhart led members of The Crossing Church in High Point, North Carolina, to adopt a local school in a low-income area, he never imagined the impact it would have. After two years of supporting teachers, staff, and students through volunteering and providing resources, school staff members showed up for a worship service one Sunday morning to express their thanks.
As great as this recognition was, Lockhart said he experienced more joy when two of the staff members responded to the presentation of the Gospel at the end of the service and placed their faith in Jesus Christ.
Lockhart credits his local Baptist association with making his church aware of the need and opportunity to partner with the school. He sees it as one of a myriad of ways the Piedmont Baptist Association (PBA) and Director of Missions Larry Doyle demonstrate a commitment to transform the Piedmont Triad Area around Greensboro, North Carolina.
"The partnership between The Crossing Church and PBA has been wonderful for us over the last two years," Lockhart said. "The commitment of Larry and PBA leadership to their mission of 'Transforming the Triad' has fostered for us connections to our community and partnerships in church planting that would, in conventional terms, never be established."
As an example, Lockhart said his church has partnered with PBA to start a church planting center, which has produced four new Southern Baptist church plants as well as facilitated relationships with eleven potential church planters.
"I am a bivocational pastor of a small church that is truly grateful that I have the ability to impact others because of the partnership with PBA and its churches," he said. "To be connected to a greater Kingdom purpose allows me to create opportunities that I could otherwise not have done without the associational connection."
Headquartered in the rolling hills of Greensboro, PBA is comprised of 125 churches in a region quickly growing in ethnic diversity with an estimated 150 languages spoken and 142 nationalities represented.
"Although we're in a semi-rural, old mill village area," Doyle said, "the transition and the diversity is changing almost daily."
This cultural shift has opened the door for a large number of ethnic churches. Approximately one in five PBA churches is an ethnic congregation. These twenty-six ethnic churches are comprised of eleven Asian, seven African, three Hispanic, and five African American congregations. Doyle, who served for many years as a missionary to Ecuador with the International Mission Board as well as pastor of a Spanish-speaking church in the US, embraces the opportunity to reach the nations in his own backyard.
"We recognize the fact that we're going to have to do both traditional and non-traditional church planting if we're going to reach the community with the gospel and penetrate the lostness around us," Doyle said. "Because of the rush of refugees that we've had over the last three years, we've seen a number of our churches both start ethnic churches and start ministries to ethnic people groups."
One PBA church has started three ethnic congregations among Burmese refugees who have fled to the area. Another church—a small house church of about twelve people—caught the vision and now regularly minister to more than 160 international refugees.
"There's an awareness, and it's becoming stronger among our churches, of the nature of the lostness in Greensboro and Guilford County," Doyle said. "That's driving some of these more missional endeavors."
In addition to ethnic ministries in the association, churches have sought other ways to impact the community. One church opens up its facilities for the homeless every night during winter months.
"Not all the churches are there yet," Doyle said, "so we feel like the role of the association is to help be the catalyst."
"I use the illustration of being in a hot air balloon. We can see the entire county, and no one else has the vision for the county like the association does. Individual churches have the passion and the commitment for their communities, and they see things from their doorstep. But the role of the association is to see the county from a global perspective and to see further and beyond that, even into the world. We're a catalyst for missions, and we're strategists for reaching the community with the Gospel and penetrating lostness."
This commitment to the Great Commission among the churches fostered a willingness to adapt the association's structure and vision several years ago by creating a leadership team, as opposed to the councils and committees generally found in more traditional associations.
"Our vision became to see our community radically transformed by the power of Christ," Doyle said. "What that did was take our focus away from us and our churches and put it on our community."
This vision also included a heavy emphasis on church planting. Partnerships with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC) and the North American Mission Board have aided PBA in impacting churches, communities, and the world.
"We enjoy a very good, healthy relationship with our state convention," Doyle said. "In fact, we wouldn't be doing a lot of what we're doing if it were not for our state convention partnership."
The state convention helps identify, assess, and support church planters. Doyle says the BSCNC seeks ways to serve the association rather than dictate the ministry, which he considers a healthy partnership. Additionally, PBA participates in state convention evangelism, missions and disaster relief ministries. For example, PBA is joining the BSCNC in working on a partnership with Baptist churches in Toronto, Canada, with the goal to adopt forty churches.
PBA also became the first association in the state participate in Operation Reach, a strategy to identify unreached people groups in the region. PBA invited NAMB personnel to help pastors in the county identify people groups. They identified forty-two areas that need new churches.
"As a result of that," Doyle said, "we no longer hear pastors asking the question, 'Why are you starting a church just a few blocks from my church?'
"They realize the lostness is so great that we're going to start a new church plant or a new outreach that will reach people they can't reach. That awareness has almost dissipated the turf wars that we used to see between pastors or churches."
Not only does PBA have its sights set on the Piedmont Triad, but it also seeks to connect churches with unengaged, unreached people groups around the globe. Rather than the association adopting a country, which generally results in churches only participating in mission trips a couple of times, Doyle challenges individual churches to adopt people groups whom they feel the Lord has called them to reach.
"If they adopt [a people group], then they stay long term, and that's what we want," Doyle said.
As part of PBA's vision to reach local communities, the state, and the world, Doyle said it emphasizes the Cooperative Program (CP) every step of the way. When PBA partners with church planters, it asks the new churches to commit ten percent of their budget to missions—5 percent through CP, 3 percent through the local
association, and 2 percent to a ministry or cause the church chooses.
"We're trying to birth churches with a DNA of giving," Doyle said. "If it isn't in their DNA, it's tough to get it into a church that's been in existence for many years."
For existing churches, PBA distributes CP promotional resources provided by the state convention. Doyle also looks for one-on-one opportunities to encourage pastors and churches to support CP missions and ministries. He especially likes to do this after a pastor or church experiences the impact of the Gospel in the community.
"I sit down with a pastor and say, 'Do you know why that happened? It's because we have this partnership with the state convention. And you wouldn't have that partnership if we didn't have the Cooperative Program. The gifts from the Cooperative Program enable us to have these partnerships,'" he said.
Whether its pointing a young church toward opportunities to impact its community through adopting a school across the street or connecting churches with unengaged, unreached people groups across the ocean, the Piedmont Baptist Association represents a strong model of Great Commission commitment and cooperation.
Keith Collier, a member of Normandale Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, is director of news and information at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.