It's been said of Acts 29 Network, "When you're looking for theologically vibrant, healthy models that lead to growing churches, where else are you going to look?" If I am not mistaken, Dr. Ed Stetzer introduced Southern Baptists to the church planting network known as Acts 29 while he was Director of Research and Missiologist at the North American Mission Board (NAMB).
In addition to introducing Southern Baptists to Acts 29 Network and its assumed "theologically vibrant, healthy models" of church planting parallel to none, Stetzer also planted a church in Cumming, GA at the same time he held his position at NAMB. In September 2005, Stetzer and Phillip Nation planted the Lake Ridge Church, a church affiliated at the time with both Acts 29 Network and the Southern Baptist Convention. Nation now serves on Stetzer's Lifeway team in Nashville as Director of Ministry Development for LifeWay Christian Resources.
But where is Lake Ridge Church now?
They surely were not lacking skill and talent. After all, Lake Ridge Church had NAMB's resources at its fingertips. Stetzer is an experienced missiologist. And, he had his hand on resources at NAMB others would find difficult to tap.
Nor was it a lack of people in the area. At the time, Forsyth County, Georgia was among the fastest growing areas in the nation, and only about 20% of the population regularly attended church on any given Sunday. So, prospects were not a problem.
Could it have been it was just too traditional? Not on your life. Lake Ridge Church described itself as thoroughly contemporary:
"The worship at Lake Ridge Church will combine the best of emerging music and melody with the most cherished practices of ancient Christianity. You will hear music in a style that is familiar to the modern ear. You will also experience those practices that have been used for centuries. The one thing you will not experience: boredom. Our worship is passionately about the One who is worthy of our worship and our goal is to connect you to Him" (//link)
What about theology? Could theology have hindered the church from moving forward? Some might suggest so. Though it's not as vivid as one might imagine, Lake Ridge Church was decidedly Calvinistic in its theological profile. How do we know this? First, we may deduce its Reformed character from its unapologetical affiliation with Acts 29 Network, a network which boasts of its exclusively Reformed theology. Secondly, we may deduce its strict Calvinistic nature from its statement of faith on salvation.
Consider the following statement from their published articles of faith:
Read carefully the highlighted words again: "Once a person is regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit, they can repent and place their faith in Christ and be transformed by God's saving power." Surely there are different degrees of being Calvinistic. But a dead give-a-way for strongly Calvinistic theology is the insistence on what R.C. Sproul famously calls the essence of the Reformed faith--regeneration precedes faith. Stetzer's statement above makes it clear he stands solidly within a strongly Calvinistic framework of salvation (for a scholarly biblical response to the Calvinistic regeneration-precedes-faith dogma, see Dr. David Allen's series beginning here).
Incidentally, Phillip Nation presumably also holds to the "essence" of Reformed faith--regeneration precedes faith. Hence, with Lifeway being infiltrated with leaders who embrace such a strong Calvinistic understanding of salvation--i.e. regeneration precedes faith--it's not unreasonable to conclude that strong Calvinism--i.e. regeneration precedes faith--will inevitably trickle down into the curriculum as our default understanding of salvation. So, did theology cause the downfall of the Lake Ridge Church? Frankly, we don't know. The church just kinda faded out into the night with no real explanation as to why.
Stetzer now has another church plant in metropolitan Nashville. At least one staffer who served with Stetzer at the failed Lake Ridge Church plant is also serving with Stetzer at the Hendersonville start. This makes me wonder if either Acts 29 Network (Mark Driscoll and Matt Chandler), Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan (Tim Keller), or Sovereign Grace Ministries (C.J. Mahaney) has the keys to the kingdom when it comes to church planting. One also wonders if any objective, scientific studies are ever going to be available for us to discern just how successful the "theologically vibrant, healthy models" of church planting really are.For my part, I'd really like to know.