Daniel Edmonds said for his team — as with most people — the COVID-19 pandemic caused them to rethink everything.
Edmonds, who serves as director of the office of Sunday School and discipleship at the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said the type of ministry he equips churches for had to change dramatically over the past year as meeting in person became difficult or even impossible.
“When COVID happened, many churches got caught thinking linearly,” he said. “We’re trying to create space for people to think creatively about what they’re doing.”
And recently, Edmonds’ office experienced another big change too — two longtime staff members, Jamie Baldwin and Eileen Mitchell, retired on the same day.
‘Creating a strategy’
All of that together put Edmonds’ office in a space to think creatively too — and that brought on the hiring of new staff focused on making disciples and reproducing groups. Two of those new staff members — Steve Layton and Mark Gainey — are working with him to produce tools called Connect316 and 4 Invitations to help churches “create a strategy that matches their mission,” Edmonds said. “We want to help them think through ‘Who are the people I’m trying to connect with? What’s the plan? And what are our steps to carry out that plan?’”
Layton is the new lead strategist for groups. That could mean Sunday School classes, life groups, connect groups or whatever a church might call them, Edmonds said.
“Ultimately the goal would be to help groups strategize how to start another group. Churches start churches, groups start groups and disciples make disciples. That’s what we want to help facilitate.”
Layton comes to that role with “a wealth of knowledge,” Edmonds said. “He is conversant in all that.”
Layton studied at Samford University and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and has a doctorate of ministry in leadership and administration.
Over the years, he has served in a variety of church staff roles as well as in a church consultant role with LifeWay. Most recently, he served as pastor of Riverchase Baptist Church, Hoover, and as discipleship minister at Brentwood Baptist Church in Tennessee.
He also served as associate pastor of teaching and discipleship at NorthPark Baptist Church, Trussville; minister of Christian education at Lakeside Baptist Church, Birmingham; associate pastor and minister of education at First Baptist Church, Alexander City; and minister of education and youth at Fultondale First Baptist Church.
At each of those churches, they were working to multiply different kinds of groups in different ways.
Layton said he’s thrilled to be able to serve churches all over the state and help them reproduce groups.
“The foundational focus of my call to serve Alabama Baptists and the kingdom is making disciples who are disciple makers in and through groups — groups of all shapes, sizes, and methodologies,” he said. “From Sunday School to small groups, micro groups to Bible reading groups, groups that meet on Sunday mornings at church or throughout the week across communities, I look forward to equipping and encouraging them all.”
He said they are “dreaming big” when it comes to helping churches regather post-pandemic.
Gainey, pastor of Fultondale First Baptist Church, has also joined the team in a part-time role as lead strategist for disciple-making.
For a number of years now, he’s been partnering with Edmonds’ office as part of the Disciple-Making Ministries of Alabama team, a group of leaders and pastors who are making disciples who make disciples and equipping others to do the same.
“I’m excited about this role because it allows me to continue to fulfill my dual calling of pastoring a local church and pouring into other pastors and leaders,” Gainey said. “I believe God is doing something in our state and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”
His main area of responsibility will be to continue to build relationships with pastors and leaders and helping churches across Alabama “discover and implement a pathway to make disciples,” he said. “So much of what our churches have done over the years has been to try and program disciple-making or focus on a curriculum. I believe a return to Jesus’ method and model is what is needed.”
Before starting his role as pastor of Fultondale First in 2018, Gainey served as pastor of Deerfoot Baptist Church, Trussville. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Troy University, a master’s degree from Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham and a doctorate from New Orleans Seminary.
Frank Jones, who for years has served as pianist for the Alabama Baptist State Convention and the Alabama Baptist State Evangelism Conference, will also join Edmonds’ team on a contract basis, serving the state’s senior adults by coordinating events such as hymn sings and Abundant Living, a one-day event in October with speakers and music.
“Frank is well known and well loved around the state,” Edmonds said. “He is excited about creating a few other ministries for senior adults and senior adult leaders.”
For more information about discipleship resources, contact Edmonds at 800-264-1225.