Little League Baseball, Collaboration, and Church Planting

By Tom Jones

My son turned 21 on November 13. I can’t believe it. I remember when I turned 21. How could he possibly be 21? As our family celebrated his birthday, I began to think back with fond recollection of many hours spent hitting, kicking, shooting, catching, and throwing balls of all sorts. If it was round, this kid loved it.

When we lived in Princeton, New Jersey, I coached my son’s Little League baseball team. I vividly remember seeing my team for the first time. There they sat: 13 8- and 9-year-olds. They were Jewish, Indian, Japanese, African-American, skinny, chubby, tall, and short. Some could throw and catch well and others were good hitters. There were a few who had never played before, but that was OK.

This was my team. We decided (OK, I decided) that before each practice and game we would go over what was important to the team. I would ask, “Boys, what’s important to our team?” By the end of the season every boy would respond with the same list:

1. We are a team. We win and lose as a team.

2. Every member of the team is important and every member of the team plays.

3. Baseball is fun.

4. We give our best, nothing more or less.

5. We play by the rules.

6. We respect the coach, umpire, and the opposing team.

I know, it’s a little much, but I have to tell you those boys learned something about the importance of collaboration.

Power and Synergy

Likewise, church-planting churches, organizations, and experts in the field have also learned about the power and synergy of collaboration. Throughout North America, collaborative church-planting networks are emerging. Let me share a few examples.

• Forefront Christian Church was launched in New York City (Manhattan) on September 18, 2005. Brian Moll and his church-planting team have done an outstanding job of learning the culture and fitting into the community. This dynamic plant was made possible because of the collaborative efforts of three church-planting organizations (Orchard Group, NewThing Network, and Stadia) and five churches (Northside Christian Church in New Albany, Indiana; Community Christian Church in Naperville, Illinois; Rocky Mountain Christian Church in Longmont, Colorado; Christ’s Church at Mason in Mason, Ohio; and Journey Christian Church in Apopka, Florida).

The collaboration involves more than finances. NewThing Network provides coaching in creative programming. Orchard Group provides accounting services and planter coaching. The church-planting team was assessed by the Church Planting Assessment Center.

• Community Christian Church in Naperville is partnering with Stadia to do a Hispanic plant in the Pilsen community of Chicago. This exciting, cutting-edge ethnic campus of CCC will reach deeply into the local culture to influence the community on behalf of Christ.

• David Robinson is preparing to plant a church on March 5 in White Marsh, a suburb of Baltimore. David was on staff of Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, Maryland. The Mountain Church is getting ready to deploy David, along with a large group of members, to start a new church that will multiply their kingdom impact. Other collaborative partners include the Orchard Group, Fork (Maryland) Christian Church, New Life Christian Church in Centreville, Virginia, and Avoca Christian Church in Bristol, Tennessee. Other groups were used to assess team members and provide donor services. Passion for Planting, a Restoration Movement church-planting agency, was used for project management.

• Breath of Life Christian Church in Oxnard, California, is a true collaborative church plant. Church planter Jose Martinez launched this Christian Missionary Fellowship church targeting third generation and beyond Hispanics on September 11, 2005. Stadia contributed to the partnership by providing training, coaching, consultation, and a monthly financial commitment. California church partners include Christian Church of Thousand Oaks, Camarillo Christian Church, and First Christian Church of Newberry Park.

• Lead church planter Tim Halstead has started a church in Odessa, Texas. This baby church is only a few months old and is consistently averaging 180 in attendance. Collaborative partners include Stadia, Golf Course Road Church of Christ (a cappella) in Midland, Texas, and Church Planters of the Rockies. There are other exciting emerging creative partnerships in Texas that are sure to bear fruit because of cutting-edge churches and organizations with a kingdom mind-set.

• Northwest Christian Church is a one-year-old church in Vancouver, Washington. Stadia, Christian Evangelizing Association (Washington), Oregon Christian Evangelistic Fellowship, Northwest Christian Evangelistic Association (Portland), and East 91st Street Christian Church (Indianapolis) made this collaborative church plant possible.

Working Together

Church planting networks are emerging all over the country. Associations, churches, and other groups are effectively working together to fulfill the mission of the church. What does a church planting network look like? A typical network is characterized as follows:

Four or more churches or other groups form a collaborative network and plant a new church. Existing church-planting organizations support the network and facilitate the establishment of new networks. The participating partners determine the model, funds required, and the length of support necessary for each new church.

These grassroots networks work collaboratively to recruit leaders and provide financial resources, assessment, coaching, training, and administrative support. Existing church-planting organizations focus on providing support to the networks.

• On average, depending on the church-planting model, it takes $200,000 to start a healthy, dynamic new church. In a network of four churches/organizations, each supporter commits $16,667 per year for three years. This figure is within the means of many churches. With more churches in the network, the dollar amount for each partner becomes less.

The network supports the new church through its existing infrastructure or by contracting with proven service providers. The service providers include, but are not limited to: assessment, coaching, training, project management, payroll services, human resource benefits, donor management, bookkeeping and accounting services, and creative programming support.

• The underlying focus throughout the collaborative process is that the church-planting network is committed to multiplication and reproduction. In other words, the network seeks to do it again and again and again. They are passionate about recruiting other churches and organizations into new networks.

A New Model for Stadia

Stadia: New Church Strategies is sold out to the collaborative model and the reproduction of church-planting networks. The leadership of Stadia has spent the last several months reorganizing in order to support and come alongside church-planting networks. Stadia West (Mark Leeper, director) focuses on church-planting networks west of the Mississippi, minus Louisiana. Stadia East (Tom Jones, director) looks for ways to collaborate and support church-planting networks east of the Mississippi, plus Louisiana.

Stadia has moved from an organization centric model, where most services were provided by Stadia, to a decentralized network centric model, where services are provided by proven church-planting service providers. In the new model, Stadia becomes a partner in church-planting networks. The East and West regions champion collaborative church-planting networks, including partnerships with existing church-planting associations and local churches. It is not Stadia’s intent to take the place of existing church-planting associations or agencies, but to come alongside those entities, when invited.

Stadia National, led by President-at-Large Marcus Bigelow, is now a lean and cost-efficient organization focused on building an essential church-planting endowment fund that will provide grants for church-planting networks. The importance of this fund cannot be overstated. It will allow the emerging church-planting multiplication movement to grow exponentially.

Little League and church planting. They’re both about collaboration. Play as a team. Every member of the team is important and should be able to play. Have some fun. Do your best. Play by the rules. Respect the coach.

Let’s play ball!

Tom Jones is professor of Christian ministries at Emmanuel School of Religion and director of Stadia East.

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