May 6, 2003
ST. LOUIS – St. Louis has the Cardinals, the Blues and the Rams. And now the city is about to get a “fast-tract plant start.”
It’s a new Southern Baptist church in the development stage. Once planted, plans call for the church to have a membership of 1,000 within 24 months.
It will be patterned after Hope Baptist Church in Las Vegas. Hope Baptist started two years ago in a home with 19 present. More than 700 were in attendance at the 2003 Easter services.
The idea for a fast-tract church in St. Louis is the brainchild of David Clippard, Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) executive director.
“We have 10 Southern Baptist churches inside the city limits of St. Louis,” Clippard told the Executive Board at its April meeting. “Those 10 won and baptized less than 200 people last year. There are some points we really need to focus on.”
Clippard said he met Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga., at a conference where the director presented the St. Louis church idea to Hunt.
“I dropped the idea on him,” Clippard said. “I told him I didn’t want an answer right there, but I asked him to pray about it. It wasn’t long before Vance Pitman called me and said, ‘We’re on board.’”
Pitman was the choice about two years ago when Hunt’s church helped plant Hope Baptist Church in Las Vegas.
The Hope dream became a reality when the North American Mission Board (NAMB) chose Las Vegas as a strategic city for the new fast-tract concept. A partnership formed with Hunt, the Woodstock congregation, and the NAMB to plant a church in “Sin City.”
In June 2000, Pitman was chosen as senior pastor for the new church. Two associates were also named, and the team worked under the missions department at First Baptist, Woodstock. The new pastors spent the rest of the year gaining spiritual and financial support from more than 30 churches in the south.
The new church received a big boost when Kirby Wood Baptist Church, Memphis, Tenn., decided to contribute significantly to the new work. At Woodstock, Johnny Hunt challenged families to consider leaving Georgia and moving west to help with the new work.
During the first year, Hope grew so rapidly that it moved from the pastor’s home, to a studio to a carpenter’s training center.
Pitman, who was one of the featured speakers at the Missouri Baptist Convention Evangelism Conference last January, has agreed to help coordinate the new work in St. Louis.
“I’ve always been very interested in St. Louis,” Pitman told The Pathway. “I believe God brought us here to Las Vegas. But when God called me to get involved in this kind of work, one of the cities on my heart was St. Louis. I lived in Memphis, but we would go up and watch the Cardinals play. I’m an avid baseball fan.”
Pitman said he was attracted to St. Louis because he knew there was not a strong Southern Baptist church in the. “I was burdened by that,” he said. “God brought me to Las Vegas to work in a big city but, when Dr. Clippard called, the thought about planting a church in St. Louis resonated in my heart. I told him I would love to be involved.”
Pitman’s involvement includes recommending a pastor.
“The person I’m recommending is on staff at a church in Alabama,” Pitman said. “He’s a sharp guy with a real vision in church planting and is a gifted communicator.”
Pitman says his church will be able to help in a number of ways even though they’re more than 1,000 miles away.
“We hope we’ll be able to bring their team out here and spend a couple of weeks with us,” Pitman said. “They’ll be able to see what it’s like planting a church on a front-line basis. They’ll see some of the things that worked for us and some of the things that didn’t.
“It will give them an opportunity to meet with some of our people. We’ll be praying for them. And there also will be some mission teams traveling from here to St. Louis.”
Mission teams from southern churches flooded the Las Vegas area to help Hope Baptist get started. Activities included prayer walking to 50,000 homes, distributing 20,000 copies of the gospel of John and lots of backyard Bible clubs.
“It all paid off tremendously,” Pitman said.
Clippard said Missouri Baptist involvement will include the convention’s church planting department.
“We will bring Cooperative Program dollars and North American Mission dollars to the table,” he explained. “Everybody who gives to the Cooperative Program will be a part of this effort.”
Clippard said he expects meetings to occur in the next few months between three Directors of Missions in the St. Louis area, Ben Hess, the new church planting specialists on the MBC staff, and the church planter.
“They will be deciding the most strategic location for the new church,” Clippard said. “They will strategize together and look for the best place.
“The city of St. Louis really needs a strong witness. Look at the baptismal rate for Southern Baptist churches in the city and the total is certainly not what it ought to be. The city is a great burden for us, and we’ll be looking for the best ways for us to penetrate.”
Jerry Field, who leads the church planting team for the MBC, said efforts are underway to identify the three most strategic places for the new church.
This will include, he said, demographic studies, lifestyle studies and recommendations from area DOMs and the MBC church planting staff.
The lead church planter, Field added, likely will be selected by early summer.
Clippard stressed that the goal is not to steal members from other churches and to form a new Baptist church in the city.
“We’re not looking for people from other Baptist churches to join,” Clippard said. “We’re looking for brand new believers. We may have some pioneer families, but that is not our objective.”
More than 2.6 million people live in the Greater St. Louis region. It is the nation’s 18th largest metropolitan area.