Unity has a strong history of church planting. Many of the Baptist churches in the Ashland area were started by Unity or by one of her daughter churches. In 1892, Unity planted Pollard Baptist under the leadership of pastor S. Hensley. In time, Pollard planted at least 7 mission churches, including Rose Hill Baptist, and Wildwood Baptist, who would plant their own daughter churches as well. In the early 1900’s, Unity was instrumental in starting 3 mission churches. In 1954, one of those missions became Belmont Street Baptist in under the eventual leadership of pastor Wesley Harris. In 1974, Unity helped the 45th Street Mission organize into Blackburn Avenue Baptist under the leadership of pastor Thurman Jackson. Some of Unity’s spiritual progeny have grown through the years, and some have disappeared, but her church-planting legacy lives on today.
Church planting has been overlooked for several years, but recently it has made a comeback. Some forward-thinking church leaders, like Ed Stetzer, Executive Director for Lifeway Research, believe church planting is essential for the future of the church in North America, but others have doubts. Those who resist the idea of planting new churches think that there are already enough churches. Here are 3 objections to church planting that Stetzer addresses in his book Planting Missional Churches.
Isn’t one big church better than several smaller ones? It’s true that larger churches have more to offer than medium or smaller churches, but that doesn’t mean they are better at reaching people. Consider the findings from a recent study:
- Churches under three years of age win an average of 10 people to Christ per year for every hundred church members.
- Churches three to fifteen years of age win an average of 5 people to Christ per year for every hundred church members.
- Churches over fifteen years of age win an average of 3 people to Christ per year for every hundred church members.
Shouldn’t we help our struggling churches instead? It’s estimated that as many 90 percent of churches in North America are in plateau or decline. Some feel that the resources used to start new churches should be used to revitalize churches that are struggling. This is possible in some cases, but it’s not very common. Existing churches that are struggling are struggling for a reason, and they are often resistant to the kind of change that is necessary to revitalize them. The best strategy is to both plant new churches and revitalize existing churches that are open to change.
Haven’t we already reached everyone? Even after generations of evangelism and discipleship, the U.S. is the largest mission field in the Western hemisphere. Our country’s largest cities are filled with millions of lost people, and there are thousands of lost people in our Tri-state area, too. According to recent estimates, 40 percent of people in the Ashland area have no religious affiliation whatsoever, and only 15.7 percent of the people in the Ashland attend church on a given Sunday. That means that of the approximately 9,000 people who live within a 1-mile radius of our church property, 3,600 have no specific religious connection, and 7,600 do not attend church on a regular basis. It’s estimated that there are as many as 30,000 lost people in Boyd County alone.
The North American Mission Board is encouraging Southern Baptists to pursue church planting as the best way to reach the lost through the Annie Armstrong Missions Emphasis and the SEND City Church Planting Strategy. This year, we will all be encouraged to participate in missions in North America by praying, giving, and even going. But this is nothing new for Unity. We have been participating in missions and planting churches for years.
 Special thanks to Judi Little and her careful research on the history of Unity Baptist.
 Ed Stezer, Planting Missional Churches (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2006), 5.
 Bruce Nichols, “Churches Die With Dignity,” Christianity Today (January 14, 1991), 69.
 Stetzer, 13.