Approximately 140 church planters, pastors and other leaders met April 8 in Oklahoma City for the first gathering of the Send Oklahoma Network, Oklahoma Baptists’ recently-established church planting network.
The event, which took place at Oklahoma City, Southern Hills, offered a day full of inspiration and equipping for church-planters, sending churches, multiplying churches and those considering church planting.
“Today is a great day,” said Doug Melton, senior pastor of Southern Hills who directs the pastor-led Send Oklahoma Network, “as we gather to strengthen church planters and pastors who have a desire to start new churches, all of this to advance the Gospel together and to reach people for the Lord.”
The event included keynote sermons, a luncheon, breakout sessions, church planter coaching, prayer and more.
Zack Randles, who is lead pastor of Washington, D.C., Waterfront, preached during the morning session. Randles said their congregation experienced their largest attendance prior to the global pandemic being declared in March 2020.
“We had the misfortune of having our largest gathering ever the Sunday before the pandemic hit,” he said.
Randles shared how God used the trials to refocus him on God.
“Church planting is difficult work,” he said. “We need to let go of our fantasy or imaginary picture of how our church plant is supposed to go. We need to turn it over to the Lord and trust Him to do an even better work.”
WatersEdge Ministry Services provided lunch for the attendees and presented how the organization offers financial and accounting services for church plants and churches. A wide array of breakout sessions were offered.
Melton spoke to pastors about the calling to church multiplication and led a breakout session about the residency programs that are available through the network. Rusty Gunn, who is a catalyst for the network and pastor of Sand Springs, Church that Matters, spoke about keeping momentum in church planting.
Ray Strauss, Send Oklahoma Network catalyst and pastor of Edmond, Edmond Community, spoke about getting started with church planting. Megan Gunn and Christina Strauss, who both are married to church planting pastors, led breakouts about the important role of spouses in church planting.
Hispanic Oklahoma Baptist pastors and church planters took part in the event. Julio Crespo, Send Network catalyst and pastor of Oklahoma City, Central Hispanic, joined Felix Cabrera, executive director of the Convention of Southern Baptist Churches in Puerto Rico, and his wife Denise in leading the Spanish-language breakout sessions of the gathering.
In the afternoon session, Hance Dilbeck, Oklahoma Baptists’ executive director-treasurer, preached and underscored the importance of the event.
“This is a key event,” he said. “Much of this network, this group working together in church planting, is new and being formed.” Dilbeck encouraged to give feedback on the process and also to walk away from the day with their next ministry step in mind.
Dilbeck preached from the closing benediction in Hebrews, which says “Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, that is, Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (Heb. 13:20-21).
“A great truth we understand,” Dilbeck said, “is that, if we want to serve the Lord, if we want to do His will, you have to have a strong theological foundation. Jesus is the foundation of our faith.”
Church planter Mike Lehew, who leads Sapulpa, Church Inside Out, expressed how he was blessed and encouraged by attending the event.
“One of my greatest takeaways is hearing from fellow church planters how they are engaging their community with the Gospel,” Lehew said. “I think Oklahoma Baptists should be proud knowing that church planting is alive and well, and there are faithful stewards of the Gospel that God has called to go where the Gospel has not yet been planted.
“I am grateful for the encouragement from our Oklahoma Church Planting team and how they have come alongside us to advance the Gospel in our context. There is a brotherhood that is encouraging to see here in Oklahoma. The Send Network Conference gave me tools to think beyond my own church to multiplying THE Church.”
Crespo gave insight to the event’s importance.
“A main objective was to lead people to a decision point about their next steps in both leadership development and restorative action, and we feel like this goal was accomplished,” he said. “The objective of the Send Oklahoma Gathering was to inspire and equip local churches to know what role Send Network Oklahoma has in the area of church planting in our great state. We were greatly pleased with how the event came together.”
Visit oklahomabaptists.org/send-network to learn more about church planting in Oklahoma.