BRANSON – Twelve couples will soon be spending one weekend a month in Branson, and they won’t be there to catch a show.
Branson’s First Baptist Church is launching the Tom Fish Church Planting Institute (CPI), named after Tom Fish, a missions-minded layman at the church who died last year of cancer.
Vince Blubaugh, communications and development director for the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) and a former church planter himself, is the institute’s director. It is not uncommon for MBC staffers to accept an interim position for a few months, and Blubaugh said the volunteer role at CPI is equivalent to a three-month interim position.
Although CPI uses a training process very similar to the MBC’s church planting assessment and training, it comes out of First Baptist Church and is not a direct ministry of the convention. It receives some funding from North American Mission Board (NAMB) through the MBC church planting office to offset tuition, but is not a direct ministry of the MBC.
“We’ve taken what would normally be done over two or three weekends and spread it out over 12 months,” Blubaugh said. “We’re going to stop, go through everything and get some on-the-ground training each step of the way. Anyone that comes out of this will be at the same standard as if they had come through the MBC assessment. The goal is for both First Branson and the MBC to be able to utilize these church planters somewhere in the state of Missouri.”
He added that each church planter will go through a criminal background check, a credit check, and other screening processes.
One weekend of each month, the church planting couples will arrive in Branson for a dinner Friday evening, then classroom study from 8-noon on Saturday, followed by an afternoon of hands-on application on their own in various neighborhoods. Sunday, they will have an assignment to preach or work in a church plant in the area before wrapping up with lunch with the First Baptist staff.
One early weekend will focus on how to properly exegete a culture.
“Maybe you’re thinking the northeast side of Springfield needs a church plant,” Blubaugh. “How do you find out the population and discover what cultures are in that area? How much of the housing is multi-housing? Do you see any graffiti? Do you see any indication that there might be a crime problem? What is the socio-economic status of that part of town? We’ll train on that in the classroom, actually go out into a neighborhood and do it, then come back and examine the results and see if they missed anything.”
Other topics for a weekend of study include examining the call to church planting, personal spiritual life, family life, defining vision/core values, working with church structures (deacons, elders, staff, etc.), legal and budget issues and spiritual warfare.
“At the end of the year when we send these guys out there, they’re going to be very prepared and very qualified to go be an effective, balanced, stable church planter whether you’re starting a cowboy church, biker church, ethnic church, traditional church, whatever,” he said.
“This is for the professional guy out there who’s an entrepreneur who feels that call to ministry, it’s for the pastor of a church, it’s for the student, it could be someone working at Subway. It’s for the man of God who can see something good in their mind that doesn’t exist yet, and they need to figure out how to make it happen,” he said. “We’re looking for people who are serious and ready to commit to a year, but there is no target age range or profile, as long as they’re missional and concerned about the unchurched.”
Blubaugh said the curriculum will help identify what type of church planting each couple is best suited to.
“Are you a lead church planter, either apostolic, a short cycle church planter, Pauline or founding?” he said. “Maybe you’re not cut out to be a lead man, but you’re the quintessential #2 guy. Or, maybe church planting isn’t for you.
“I’ve been told by the North American Mission Board that this kind of thing has never been done before,” Blubaugh said. “But it’s the kind of thing we’d like to see more and more of.”
The institute is looking for 12 couples for its first class, and the cost to Missouri Southern Baptists is $250 for the year. The first class began March 25.
For more information contact First Branson at (417) 334-7437.
BRIAN KOONCE / STAFF WRITER