Thrive Baptist Network plants churches, grows pastors

By Irene A. Harkleroad | Mar 29, 2021

In January 2019, Central Association of Southern Baptists reinvented itself as Thrive Baptist Network. That was the beginning of a radical turnaround affecting more than 70 churches in the greater Phoenix area.

A major milestone was the reorganization of leadership. Instead of a single full-time person bearing the weight of the entire network, responsibilities were divided among five part-time positions: Executive Director Jackie Allen, lead pastor of Cross Church, Surprise, and four associate directors: pastors Brian Bowman, Jeremiah Semmler, Charles Scheffe and Steve Hayes.

“At that time, debt was keeping the association from moving forward,” Allen says. “But we have a tremendous story of financial recovery. Over the last two years, we’ve made some hard decisions.”

The network sold several properties originally purchased for church sites and then paid its debt in full.

“We were able to increase our cash resources from $800 to more than $70,000,” Allen says.

Now, the network can start investing those funds into the ministry, he says.

“Throughout the time of financial hardship, the network successfully fulfilled every request for assistance, due largely to the part-time status of staff members,” Allen says. “We expect to say yes to bigger requests in the future.”

While Allen provides primary oversight, the associate directors each focus on pastors and lay leaders of churches within their geographic area — affectionately known as “Tribes.”

The team believes healthy, thriving pastors, over time, will lead to healthy, thriving churches. Their goal is to connect pastors for the purpose of encouragement and support, reassuring pastors they are not alone in the ministry.

The five principles of the Thrive leadership model are connecting as leaders, developing leaders, partnering in outreach, multiplying churches and embracing unity.

Through partnership with the North American Mission Board, the network has developed specific ways to engage leaders. Besides individual Tribe gatherings, the network conducts “First Mondays” leadership roundtables for lead pastors and church planters.

“We want camaraderie with other pastors,” Allen says, “learning best practices from guys who are getting it done in our city, church planting, evangelistic efforts of our local churches, anything that would make Jesus known. Everything counts.”

Also, more than 50 lay leaders gather on “Second Mondays” for the Thrive Residency Leadership Development Program. Here, they learn intentional steps to cultivate skills to better serve their congregations and communities.

Thrive Network offers additional pastor-affirming services including one-on-one phone calls, confidential personal and marital counseling, and pastoral retreats.

The network also partnered with Asante Church and Redemption Road Church, which launched in the West Valley in December 2020.

Not surprisingly, the network has already developed its next steps.

  • Leaders are in the process of identifying a location for the next major church plant. When that is determined, they will begin seeking a church planter.
  • Every five years, the network will plant a “shade tree” church, a multiplying church that will grow and provide protection and provision for another church plant.
  • The network is willing to partner with the next qualified person who comes to the Valley and wants to plant a church in the network.

“It’s a work in progress,” Allen says. “We’re certainly not where we’re going to be, but we’re taking those intentional steps along the way to get to what’s next.”

Irene A. Harkleroad, a freelance writer living in Carefree, is a member of Black Mountain Baptist Church, Cave Creek.

NEXT STEPS

–Learn about your association and how you and your church can be involved.

–Find out about leadership opportunities in your association and help determine next steps.

–Learn more about Thrive Baptist Network at thrivebaptistnetwork.com. Find contact information and links to Arizona Southern Baptists’ other associations here: azsbc.org/associations/.

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