By Andy Hale

On April 12, 1984, Van Halen’s “Jump” was number one on Billboard’s charts, British miners were striking over the announcement that 20,000 jobs were to be cut, the Human Rights committee was meeting at the United Nations and an 8 lbs. 3 oz. baby was born at 8:31 a.m. in Birmingham, Alabama.

30 years, 10 months and 19 days later, I returned to the city of my birth to facilitate a conversation about birthing new churches. Needless to say, a lot has changed in the state of Alabama.

“I really do believe that church starting is critical to the continued forward movement of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Dreaming of and developing healthy churches is a primary goal for the future of Alabama CBF,” said Terri Byrd, Coordinator for Alabama CBF.

With 28 CBF churches serving the 4.8 million people and 52,420 square miles of Alabama, that’s roughly 171,428.571 people to reach per Fellowship church. It is a bit of an understatement to say that it is time for new CBF church starts in the Heart of Dixie.

Pioneer Groups

The church start initiative has already sparked with the formation of fellowship groups in two of three focus areas of Alabama CBF. Fellowship groups are small groups located in communities without a CBF church nearby.  These small groups meet once or twice a month at different locations for fellowship and discussion.
Alabama CBF
Fellowship groups, or as we might use the term “pioneer groups” within the CBF church start initiative, are an innovative way to begin exploring and forming a core group of people who do not have an official church starter around a church start vision.

“At Alabama CBF, we are trying to identify places that currently don’t have a CBF-affiliated church close by and seem ideal for gathering progressively-minded believers for fellowship and faith conversations. It is our hope that some of these fellowships grow to become new churches,” Byrd said.

CBF Virginia is beginning to explore the concept of pioneer groups to introduce the church start conversation.

Athens, Birmingham and Mobile are the three key focus areas of CBF for new church starts in Alabama.

Not only is Athens the location of one of CBF’s fellowship groups, but it is also a prime location to introduce people to the transforming power of God’s love. Home of Athens State University, the city is a dynamic and an eclectic community.

“It is such a wonderful location with fabulous people who are excited about the potential of what God might have in store for Athens,” Byrd added.

As the initiative and the fellowship group continue to grow, CBF will help identify a church starter whose gifts, passions and calling fit well with the work to be done in Athens. In fact, as the pioneer group initiative grows, this will be a future trend in the church start initiative. Our team will soon be working on a conversation and visioning resource for groups forming together.

Partnerships In Development

In Mobile, Ala., a partnership is kindling between the Volunteers of America (VOA), Hillcrest Baptist Church and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Over the past year, as Hillcrest began to finalize an agreement to sell its property and building to VOA, the two parties began to explore the idea of using the space as an incubator for new church starts. This is an extraordinary story that you can learn more about in this Baptist News Global article.

VoAWith the church facing no debt and gathering rent free, it is a perfect setting for fostering new church starts. In addition to a free space to gather, VOA would like to offer a two-to three-year program for the new church start, a paid bi-professional role with the organization for the church starter and missional opportunities through their local ministry efforts, including a food program, gang prevention ministry, inner city programs and disaster relief.

“We have a history together, beginning with tsunami disaster relief in 2004, so it makes sense,” said Paul McLendon, Vice President of Community Engagement with the VOA, “Through our partnership of disaster relief and shared values, this is a perfect fit.”

There is one final partnership in the works. We have a dream of seeing the church start conversation beginning at the seminarian level. What better place to help ministers explore the various avenues of ministry in a safe space than through offering an academic cohort centered on contextual church starting.

CBF Missional Congregations Director Harry Rowland and I are currently developing a course that will give students the nuts and bolts of church starting, a conceptual design of the church start vision and components as well as core group development strategy.

This dream is being kindled with our friends at CBF-partner Baptist Theological Seminary of Richmond. Our hope is to offer a course for BTSR students in the late fall or winter of 2015.

Partner With The Fellowship

The new church starts initiative is rolling, and we invite you to join the movement.

You can begin your partnership by praying for the various pioneer groups formed and forming across the Fellowship. Pray for the development of shared vision and connectivity, as well as church starters who can journey together with the pioneer groups. Pray for the various state and regional coordinators and staff as they discern what areas would best be served by a new church start. Pray for the continued development of our various partnerships.

Is there a CBF church in your area? If not, would you consider forming together with like-minded Baptists to entertain the idea of developing a pioneer group? Reach out to your state/regional leaders and me to express your interest.

As the church start initiative continues to grow, we need to expand our resources. We have the profound opportunity to empower pioneer groups, equip and coach new church starts, and grow the Kingdom of God in an innovative way.

Andy Hale is a CBF church starter who serves as pastor of Mosaic of Clayton in Clayton, N.C., and leads CBF’s Church Starts Initiative. For those who wish to learn more about CBF’s Church Starts Initiative or want to contribute to the initiative to help fund new church starts and coaches for church starters, click here, or contact Andy Hale at

To learn about the church starting discernment process, click hereTo find out more about the work being done in the Alabama CBF and CBFVA, visit and