A church that’s not even listed in the PCA’s yearbook is now an organized and fully functioning congregation. Four mission churches are now developing new ministries. Three other sites are targeted and waiting for the right church planter.
This is a slice of what’s going on in Covenant Presbytery — home to more than 50 PCA churches in northern Mississippi, western Tennessee, and Arkansas.
The lion’s share of the church planting is taking place in Arkansas, says Mission to North America chairman Paul Sagan, even though church planting is a high priority throughout presbytery. “We have a group of godly, committed, Gospel-centered men who desire to extend God’s kingdom through the ordinary means He has appointed to do that, which is the church. Our presbytery sees the importance of doing that.”
This burst of new churches is due to several factors, Sagan says, including MNA’s “every church plant a church” movement. That’s become part of the presbytery’s DNA,” he says. He points to the resurgent interest in Reformed theology, leading younger men to start new churches. There’s also been good mentoring, he says — a concerted effort by senior pastors to prepare younger men to lead new congregations. “But when you boil it all down,” Sagan says, “it is a movement of the Holy Spirit, [changing] hearts to be obedient to the Great Commission.”
The new congregation in Fort Smith serves as a prime example. Many years ago, a PCA church in Fort Smith failed. Afterward, Flo Lamb approached Sagan and then MNA coordinator Cortez Cooper about how to prevent such failures in the future, and how the PCA might plant new, thriving churches in the area. That conversation resulted in the creation of the Elmo Lamb Fund, a revolving fund for church planting in Arkansas.
Twenty years later John Clayton contacted MNA about starting a PCA church in his hometown — Fort Smith. Church-planting coordinator Ted Powers referred him to Covenant Presbytery, which assigned oversight to the session of Covenant Church in Fayetteville. Clayton went through MNA’s Assessment Center and received money from the Lamb Fund. He soon gathered a core group and secured the original Fort Smith Presbyterian church building. The new church is thriving. “It’s one of those things where at first you say, ‘This is too good to be true,’” says Sagan. “I’m convinced it’s the Lord answering Flo’s prayers.”
“We need to realize we can’t do this by ourselves,” Sagan says. “We need to ask for help.” The Lamb Fund, MNA’s church-planting office, and the Assessment Center all played important roles in the new Fort Smith church. “Church planting is about being sensitive to the movement of the Spirit as He directs people and pulls people together and gives them a vision,” he says. “We shouldn’t think we have to have big initiatives before we can do something. We have God’s infinite resources at our disposal. He is not stingy, and invites us to ask Him for help.”