August 4, 1999

New church in Midland may be
largest-ever start not caused by split

___By Mark Wingfield
___Managing Editor
___MIDLAND--In what may be the largest intentional church start in Texas Baptist history, nearly 300 members of First Baptist Church of Midland were sent out July 25 to launch Stone Gate Fellowship, a contemporary-worship congregation on the city's northwest side.
___When the new congregation holds its first public worship Aug. 15, it potentially will begin with the third-largest church in Midland Baptist Association in terms of attendance.
___Stone Gate Pastor Patrick Payton said he anticipates about 500 people at that initial service, including the 270 members sent out by First Baptist Church to form an immediate core group.
___A few Texas Baptist churches might have started with a larger initial membership than Stone Gate, but only churches started out of a split, noted E.B. Brooks, director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas Church Starting Center.
___Brooks said neither he nor other members of his staff can recall any other "colonization" church start beginning with such a large membership. A "colonization," he said, is a church start where a mother church intentionally sends out some of its own members to launch a mission.
___A typical colonization church start would begin with between 35 and 70 members coming from the sponsoring church, Brooks said.
___The 65 to 70 families who are leaving First Baptist aren't leaving in anger or over any difficulty, said Gary Dyer, pastor of First Baptist. Rather, they are leaving because they feel a clear leading to be part of this missionary effort sponsored by First Baptist.
___This is a model for church starting that Brooks praised as healthy.
___"What it means is that this church will be a missions-giving and a missions-sending church from the very beginning," Brooks explained. "They won't have to focus inward for a long period of time to develop a substantial core. They already have the potential of doing ministry outside the church from the very beginning.
___"This multiplies the ministry of the sending church," he said.
___And history demonstrates the sending-out church will benefit nearly as much as the new start, Brooks said. "Almost unanimously, pastors of such churches say that within a year the leadership that has gone and the finances that have left are replaced with new leadership and new financial support."
___This principal already is becoming evident at First Baptist, Payton said.
___Most of the 270 people going out from First Baptist have attended that church's contemporary worship service. On July 25, the first of three "practice" Sundays at the new church and the first Sunday to feel the loss of those sent out, attendance at First Baptist's contemporary service was up by 150 people.
___"If there was any doubt in anybody's mind that this was something the Lord was doing, there should be no more doubt," Payton said.
___Dyer admitted it's hard for him to give up the faithful members--many of whom have been teachers and leaders at First Baptist--who will start Stone Gate. But he is convinced God will honor the church's commitment and raise up new leaders to replace those who have gone.
___This experience also will bring the missions commitment of First Baptist full-circle, he said, noting that while the church has been well-known for its commitment to missions in Mexico and around the globe, it has not helped start new congregations at home.
___Stone Gate is the first English-speaking congregation launched by First Baptist in 38 years.
___In addition to the 270 core members, First Baptist also has given the new congregation $350,000 in start-up funds.
___For now, Payton, a recent graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is the only paid staff member of the new congregation.
___The new church will meet initially at Abell Junior High, but that building likely will not accommodate the congregation for long, Payton predicted. The auditorium there will hold about 500 people.
___That means the new church already is making plans for a building that could cost $3 million to $5 million. Payton anticipates the church will launch its first capital campaign within six months.
___Stone Gate will offer a contemporary worship style and seek primarily to reach people in the Midland-Odessa corridor who are not Christians or who aren't going to church anywhere else.
___"Our whole incentive is to reach people out here who have a church background but haven't been in church in a long time or who just aren't saved, period," Payton said.
___Many people may perceive Midland as a Bible Belt town with more than enough churches for everyone, he admitted. But the research First Baptist has done in preparation for this new church shows otherwise, uncovering a large unchurched population.
___The oil patch, he believes, is ripe for a harvest of souls.

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