Texas church planter sticks to basics in diverse state
Published March 22, 2007
IRVING, TEXAS (NAMB)—"If there is anything being done in the world today, to change the world, it is planting churches." So says Leroy Fountain, church planter associate for the North American Mission Board and the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention.
Fountain's mission field is as big and vast as the state of Texas—literally. It includes African-American, coffeehouse, language, suburban, storefront and college churches in Austin, Dallas and Houston, and western heritage cowboy churches from east to west Texas, over 770 miles apart.
How do Fountain and wife Carolyn serve and support such a variety of Texas churches, with different memberships, dynamics, histories and cultures?
"Well, they are all different but there are, at the heart of every church, things that are the same," Fountain said. "We want them to be churches that concentrate on the basics of the development of a group of people who know Jesus Christ is Lord, and who are following Him as disciples."
Fountain is only one of more than 5,300 missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. He's one of eight Southern Baptist missionaries highlighted as part of the annual Week of Prayer. The 2007 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering's goal is $57 million, 100 percent of which is used for missionaries like Fountain.
"By planting new churches, we want to develop an evangelism program that will cause people to be missionaries in their own communities, reaching out and becoming transformation agents in those neighborhoods where they live," said Fountain. "Then they can begin to lead people to Christ, and help the church become a beacon of light in neighborhoods where there is often darkness.
"We often think that all the darkness is in the urban inner-cities," said Fountain. "But there's so much darkness in our suburbs, in our young people and in our senior citizens. Even though the world is more crowded than ever, people are lonelier than ever. The church can be a refuge, an oasis, in the middle of this dark and desolate world."
How does Fountain respond to those who say the state of Texas is 161 years old, located smack-dab in the middle of the Bible Belt, has plenty of churches already and doesn't need any more?
"All you have to do is drive around the Dallas-Ft. Worth area to see all the homes being built," Fountain says. "There are a lot of communities in Texas—Collin County, for example—that are among the fastest-growing areas in the U.S. If everybody in these new neighborhoods were to show up for church Sunday morning, there wouldn't be enough seats. So we need new churches."
Fountain's role in this process is to first identify, assess and train church planters. Next, he works with the local Southern Baptist association offices in Texas to identify sponsoring churches, and works with the pastors and congregations in sponsoring churches to help them see the value of starting a new church.
But Fountain is quick to say he's not trying to plant the same kind of churches Southern Baptists have started in the past. The churches Fountain and other Southern Baptist church planters are starting today take on new forms. Not only are they "niche" churches, some churches are designed even to be non-lasting or temporary churches.
"We need new churches that stretch us—churches that look like the new generation. Many of the new-style churches are actually more demanding, more discipleship-oriented and have stricter accountability than traditional churches."
Young people, he said, are looking for a church that presents the Gospel in a package they can readily understand.
"We want to instill a missionary mindset in the hearts and minds of young people in Texas that if and when they move to another state or city, they don't have to look for a church, they can start a new one," Fountain said.
Fountain says the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is important in a couple of ways.
"It is the primary funding agent for our North American missionaries. It also allows me and other missionaries to concentrate and focus on the work rather than on worrying about how we're going to take care of the daily necessities of our families."
Fountain believes that "this is what I was shaped to do—it's what I am gifted to do. It's the place where I'm most comfortable in ministry. I don't want to be a pastor or a preacher.
"This gives me an opportunity to invest my life with a group of people in one community, and then move on to do the same in another community. Church planting has brought a joy to my life. It's something I still get a thrill in doing."Editor's note: Following the writing of this article, the Fountains moved to Alpharetta, Ga., where Leroy joined the staff of the North American Mission Board. He serves in church planting and continues to assist churches and new church planters as they seek God's will in starting new works throughout the United States, Canada and their territories.