Today's From the States features items from:
The Alabama Baptist
Biblical Recorder (North Carolina)
How downstate & rural churches
in Ill. are reaching the cities
By Meredith Flynn
PATOKA, Ill. (Illinois Baptist) -- Hang around Illinois long enough, and you'll notice the divide between north and south. Specifically, between Chicago and the rest of the state. Jim Shemwell hears about it in southern Illinois, although not necessarily from people in churches.
"The thing is, there is a normal 'not' wanting to go to Chicago," Shemwell said. Partly because of perceived political differences, and also because the city receives a lot of resources, "I hear lots of people saying, 'Why are you going to the big city like that?' You hear that in this region."
But it's different in churches, Shemwell said. As director of missions for Kaskaskia Baptist Association, headquartered in Patoka, Ill., he's seen how his 32 churches respond to needs, and there are a lot of needs in the city.
That's why partnership with existing churches is a key component of SEND North America, the North American Mission Board's initiative to reach urban areas through focused church planting and ministry - with the help of churches of all sizes.
"Send North America is not just a big church strategy, it's an every church strategy," said Aaron Coe, NAMB's vice president for mobilizing and equipping, during this month's SEND North America national conference.
An every church strategy, even churches that are far removed from the hustle and bustle. Even those who have to fight the impulse to run in the other direction. Many churches in Illinois are taking responsibility for their Chicago mission field, despite the challenges inherent in urban ministry.And it's because they've found their own "X factor," something that allows them to embrace the city, and even its differences.
For churches in Kaskaskia Association, it's the city's vast need - one church's needs in particular. Shemwell and a volunteer team representing six churches traveled to the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights earlier this summer to partner with Chicago Japanese Church, a nearly 12-year-old congregation pastored by Yugo Kobari.
Chicago Japanese has met in a Korean church's building since 2001, but they started looking toward a place of their own two years ago. Construction has been an ongoing project since then. The Kaskaskia group spent a week sleeping on the floor at a nearby church and hanging more than 400 sheets of dry wall - in a building without air conditioning amidst recordbreaking temperatures outside.
"It was really hard work," Kobari said, calling the team a "tremendous help." The volunteers not only worked long days, they cast a vision in their churches for what Chicago Japanese Church can become: a cultural center for 10,000 Japanese people living in Arlington Heights. In Vacation Bible Schools and through special offerings across Kaskaskia churches, people gave more than $1,500 in additional funds for tile flooring in the building.
It's the detailed needs - even things as small as bathroom tiles - that speak to people, Shemwell said. "By having these experiences, they learn to care about a big city that seems way too big for us."
An important partnership
How do you put a face on a city as imposing as Chicago? For First Baptist Church, Elkville, located near Carbondale in southern Illinois, that face is Dave Johnson, a church planter who just moved to the city from North Carolina.
Elkville's pastors Darryl Williams and Scott Slone got interested in partnering toward ministry in Chicago during last year's IBSA Annual Meeting.God spoke to them, Slone said, and he and Williams came to the conclusion they needed to do something in Illinois. They contacted IBSA's Church Planting team, who connected them with Johnson.
The church sent their first team to Chicagoland earlier this summer to help the Johnsons move into their new home. They bought groceries to stock the family's kitchen, and plan to do the same for others who will move from North Carolina to help with the new church. In the future, the church also plans to send teams to help with ministry projects as Johnson's church gets established in the city.
Slone hopes the church planter's example will change lives in his own congregation.
"Our plan is to learn through the Johnsons as we partner with them, the ins and outs, and the hope is God will begin raising up people in our church that say, 'Hey, I can be a church planter,'" Slone said.
"When you see somebody who is committing to totally relocating, and have three or four families committing to that same purpose - to build a church that's going to reach a lost population such as Chicago - that's inspiring. And I see that opening the doors for people to do things even around here."
A burden for the city
"Going toward the cities has been a very intentional goal," said Travis Peterson of his church, First Baptist in Columbia. Peterson, the church's associate pastor of evangelism and discipleship, is one of four staff members with personal ministry experience in Chicagoland.
"We have a connection to the city." FBC Columbia has been sending missions volunteers to work with existing churches and church plants for several years. Most recently, they've partnered with Crosswinds Church, a Plainfied congregation led by two bivocational pastors - engineer John Stillman and professional entertainer Ken Schultz.
"When you look at Illinois logically and say, 'Where are the lost people?' Chicago has to ring first," Peterson said. The sheer number of people (up to 10 million within several counties) combined with the relatively low number of churches make the city an undeniable mission field.
"When we recognize that about three-quarters of the population of Illinois is in the Chicago metro area, we have to go where the people are."
But just understanding the numbers doesn't move people to action, Peterson said. "If we teach our people to love Jesus and to love the Gospel - to think the Gospel is beautiful - then they're going to want to go share it.
"Your theology is what leads you on mission. It's not the sad numbers. We can overwhelm people with sad statistics on everything. Eventually, it's not the emotional appeal that grabs you, it's what has God done for you, and how are we going to communicate that same Gospel."
For more information about serving in Chicago, contact Tim Cotler at (217) 391-3142 or TimCotler@IBSA.org.
This article originally appeared in the Illinois Baptist (ibsa.org/illinoisbaptist), newsjournal of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Meredith Flynn is associate editor of the Illinois Baptist.
The Creek & other N.C. church
plants: A small part of something big
By Melissa Lilley
CARY, N.C. (Biblical Recorder) -- God burdened Matt Rice's heart for northwest Cary when the North Carolina community was nothing more than dirt roads.
"Nothing was there; I started praying along the dirt roads," said Rice, the pastor of The Creek Church of Cary that started in 2008. "I prayed for God to do something in this area."
Now, schools, neighborhoods, grocery stores and highways have replaced the dirt roads, and people continue moving in to northwest Cary. The area is already diverse, with Asians representing 25 percent of the population, and the African-American population is projected to increase 55 percent by 2017.
By 2017, the total population is expected to increase by nearly 24 percent.
Before starting the Creek, Rice was the evangelism minister at Apex Baptist Church, where he served for nine years. Rice said the church and the Raleigh Baptist Association had a vision to reach northwest Cary, located west of Raleigh, with the gospel. And so, Rice left Apex to plant The Creek Church.
The church, which averages around 160 people each week, gathers for Sunday morning worship service at Mills Park Middle School. For two and a half years the church held services at Carpenter Elementary School before moving to Mills Park.
The Creek is one of many young church plants in North Carolina seeking to impact lostness.
In 2011, the Baptist State Convention Church Planting Team worked with 89 new church plants across the state. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) reports that the number of church plants reported by state conventions increased 27 percent between 2010 and 2011. NAMB also has set a challenge to see a net gain of 5,000 Southern Baptist congregations by 2022. With an average of 890 congregations dying off each year, more than 13,500 new churches will need to be planted in the next 10 years.
Reaching the unchurched population of North Carolina - alone - is going to take a lot more churches than that, said Tom Billings, executive director of Union Baptist Association in Houston, Texas. Billings spoke during a meeting in July with N.C. directors of missions. He said in order to reach the unchurched population of the state, a minimum of 25,815 churches - each averaging 200 in attendance - will need to be planted to reach more than 5.6 million unchurched people who live in the state. According to one report, new church plants reach people for Christ at three times the rate of existing churches, contended Milton Hollifield, the state convention's executive director-treasurer, in a recent column he wrote for the Aug. 4 issue of the Biblical Recorder.
"Therefore, if we do not plant churches, we miss a critical opportunity to reach people with the gospel," Hollifield reported. "Our prayer is that healthy church plants will multiply by planting other healthy churches."
Last year new N.C. churches reported 2,651 professions of faith. Church plants also report an 82 percent survivability rate over four years, which Hollified contended, makes the average survivability of church plants in the state higher than the national average. Pushing back spiritual darkness through church planting requires planters to maintain a perspective that goes beyond themselves and their church. "It's not about your kingdom," Rice said. "It's about what is best for the Kingdom of God."
The Creek Church is focused on reaching their community with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rice said they have learned that "doing life" with people is one of the best ways to accomplish that, especially among the many internationals in northwest Cary. "I never realized how important it was to develop relationships until I got to northwest Cary," Rice said. "The people really want to build relationships, it just takes time. You have to be patient, be faithful. Live in the community with them."
Much of the church's outreach is done through small groups, or "huddle groups," that meet throughout the week. Each group is encouraged to reach out to a business, neighborhood and school. The church partners and serves in various community events. For instance, this past spring the church held an Easter egg hunt at Mills Park Middle School. The event, which attracted hundreds of people from nearby neighborhoods, featured free food and games.
Reaching a community requires investing time, Rice said. He coaches basketball and baseball teams for the town of Cary, which provides opportunities to meet different people and have conversations that turn to spiritual issues.
He encourages other church planters not to focus too much on the numbers.
"Don't put so much pressure on yourself," Rice said.
"Rest in the gospel and live in the gospel. At the end of the day, you know God called you to do this. Don't allow the low or high numbers to discourage you or fill you with pride.
"The measure of success is not in how many are coming, but in how many are being sent and discipled," he said. "We're able to invest in people to make sure they are disciples and not just converts. We have a great community. There is a great unity among the body at The Creek."
Committed to stay
Rice grew up in Connecticut, moving to North Carolina to attend Gardner-Webb University. In Connecticut, in the late 1980s, Rice's parents planted a church. "I saw the beauty of staying through the good, the bad and the ugly," he said. That same mentality transferred to Rice, as he is committed to Cary for as long as God will allow him to serve.
"This church plant is the best, and the hardest, thing I have ever been part of. But I couldn't imagine doing anything else," he said.
"I want to be able to watch the tree in my driveway crack through the driveway; I want to be here that long. I love being pastor of The Creek Church."
This article appeared in the Biblical Recorder (brnow.org), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Melissa Lilley is research and communications coordinator for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
Alabama Baptist churches continue
missions partnership in Guatemala
By Carrie Brown McWhorter
THOMASVILLE, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) -- In 2009, missions volunteer Allen Stoudenmire looked around the small village of Conevisa, Guatemala, seeking a suitable building site for a church where the growing Baptist community in the town could gather.
What he found was a half-finished concrete building with a dirt foundation, just 200 feet from the local elementary school and adjacent to a small store frequented by area residents. The owner of the lot had evil intentions for the abandoned property.
"The building was to be a night club and a house of prostitution, but God had other plans," Stoudenmire said.
The site is now the home of Shalom-Jireh Baptist Church, a church with a special relationship to Alabama Baptists thanks to Stoudenmire and his wife, Laurelle, and the International Mission Board's (IMB) Guatemala Operation Gospel Outreach Project, or Guatemala GO.
The Stoudenmires served in Guatemala from 2006 to 2008 in the IMB's Masters Program, a short-term service assignment for people age 50 and above who want to serve on the international missions field.
During those two years the Stoudenmires regularly hosted GO teams, whose primary objectives are distribution of gospel materials and door-to-door evangelism. The GO teams ministered throughout Guatemala, a Latin American country the size of Tennessee with a population of 14.7 million.
In 2007 the Stoudenmires led a team of students from Jacksonville State University to Conevisa, a small mountainside village in the eastern part of Guatemala near the city of Zacapa. They found a village mired in extreme poverty and spiritual darkness. Many of the residents were young female prostitutes and their children, Stoudenmire said.
Allen Stoudenmire was hesitant about taking the students into such a place at first, but the results confirmed a bigger plan for the village.
"God blessed in a mighty way," he said. "Many people prayed to receive Jesus and they found hope where there was none."
The Stoudenmires saw a need for a church in Conevisa. They shared their vision with Rolando Cruz, pastor of Shalom Baptist Mission, Zacapa, Guatemala. The Stoudenmires, Cruz and other church leaders from Zacapa began visiting homes in Conevisa and holding Bible studies for the villagers. Out of that effort, Shalom-Jireh Church got its start.
In February 2008, just one week before their service in Guatemala was to end, the Stoudenmires hosted a small missions team from First Baptist Church, Moody, and First Baptist Church, Ashville, both in St. Clair Baptist Association. The churches caught the Stoudenmires' enthusiasm for Conevisa.
"These people became excited about what God was about to do," Allen Stoudenmire said.
In February 2009 the Stoudenmires led a 14-member team from the two churches back to Conevisa. Another group of 25 went back in October 2009, this time with some members of the Stoudenmire's home church, Thomasville Baptist Church, in Clarke Baptist Association, and an ongoing missions partnership began.
The GO teams have done everything from medical missions to Vacation Bible School (VBS), according to James Sampley, pastor of First, Ashville, who has traveled to Conevisa six times. In fact the trip has become a family tradition of sorts for the Sampley family. James' wife, Judy; his daughter, Robyn Rooks; and his grandchildren, Breanna Rooks and Cameron Sampley, have all been to Guatemala. Robyn, Breanna and Cameron were part of the 42-member GO team that went to Guatemala for a week in July.
During the first part of the week 165 students participated in a two-day morning VBS at Conevisa Elementary School. In the afternoons the team divided into groups for prayer walking and door-to-door evangelism.
In the evening the team attended worship at San Juan Baptist Church, led by Pastor Rony Medina, whose family assisted the team with transportation and translators.
A second two-day VBS was held later in the week at ELIM Christian School, where another 225 students participated. The Stoudenmires and the missions team have a long-standing relationship with the ELIM Christian School, where 30 children from Conevisa attend thanks in part to sponsorships from the three churches.
Allen Stoudenmire reported that at least 20 prayed to receive Christ during the week.
"God used this team to share the gospel, disciple believers and bring joy, hope and encouragement to many," he said.
Reggie Quimby, director of the office of global missions for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM), praised the commitment of the GO teams and their work in Guatemala. He said that while the SBOM's official missions partnerships in Guatemala will soon be phased out, he expects that "many Alabama Baptists will still have a great passion for ministry in Guatemala because of the need, as well as the wonderful relationships that have been established between our churches and the churches in Guatemala."
This article originally appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention State Board of Missions. Carrie Brown McWhorter is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.
Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net