Today's From the States features items from:
Western Recorder (Kentucky)
Florida Baptist Witness
Vision tour, prayer night
launch Chicagoland's 'Send' strategy
By Meredith Flynn
CHICAGO (Illinois Baptist) -- Billy and Rebecca Williams hadn't spent much time in Chicago prior to the North American Mission Board's trustees meeting Oct. 8-10. Their previous experience of the city was limited to a frustrating day of airport delays.
Thankfully, their first real trip to Chicago was more uplifting - the Williams were part of a large contingent of NAMB trustees and their spouses that visited three church planting sites on a "vision tour." The tour, made on three charter buses through the city's busy streets, was part of the Send North America: Chicago church planting strategy that launched this month. NAMB's Send emphasis hopes to bring new energy and resources to church planting in 30 of the continent's major urban areas.
"It's the eye opener of the entire board meeting," said Rebecca, who is serving as a NAMB trustee and has led Woman's Missionary Union in her home state of Mississippi. Meeting church planters face-to-face helps trustees "see the purpose of what we're doing."
Prayer, passion and need
Prior to the vision tour and trustees meeting, hundreds of Chicagoland church leaders gathered at Armitage Baptist Church for an evening of prayer and vision casting. Several pastors of existing churches shared their vision for their city and prayed for God to work, as did new church planters, some who moved to Chicago as recently as a month ago.
The Williamses met three church planters on their vision tour: Marvin del Rios, who's planting a new work while pastoring Iglesia Bautista Erie; Scott Venable, a Texan who moved to Chicago almost three years ago and is now planting Mosaic Church in Wicker Park; and David Choi, whose Church of the Beloved is reaching international students and young professionals near the University of Illinois-Chicago.
The Mississippi couple finished each other's sentences as they talked about each planter's creativity and passion.
"We feel like we need to go home and be more passionate for our area…," Rebecca said. "…And really re-think how we do things," concluded Billy, a long-time pastor who's in his ninth interim role after retirement.
"We wish we could carry them all home to Mississippi," Rebecca said with a laugh about the church planters. But of course, they're desperately needed in Chicago - and many more like them. The Send strategy, detailed for the trustees and NAMB leaders during a banquet following the vision tour, identifies 163 locations in the 10 counties encompassed by metro Chicago that are without a Gospel witness. New churches are needed in these places, which include up-and-coming neighborhoods, depressed urban areas, and suburbs that are now home to diverse ethnic populations.
Add to that the 21 church plants already in progress in the metro area, and the result is a list of 184 new churches needed to even make a dent in the lostness of Chicago, where only one in 10 people attend the area's 2,924 evangelical churches.
And within each big category of need are subcultures that require their own brand of care and investment. For example, church planter del Rios is planting a new work in the Northlake neighborhood primarily to reach second- generation Hispanics. He and his wife Luz "are part of that second generation," del Rios said. They both teach and write in English and Spanish, and can help mediate a growing "second generation crisis," said IBSA's Dale Davenport.
"The next generation is a generation we need to be... praying over, because they don't respond in the same way as the generation before them," said Davenport, who serves as a zone consultant in Chicagoland.
Churches in Chicago and around the state are a crucial part of the process. Some churches in the metro area have already committed to become church planting centers, and will actively develop leaders who can start muchneeded churches to reach people groups in the city.
An Illinois mission field
That mindset is at work in current church plants, too. Pastors Venable and Choi both included interns and volunteer staff members in their presentations to the trustees who visited them on the vision tour. In Wicker Park, Venable's co-ministers talked to trustees about the church's outreach to a neighborhood school, and led them to pray for the acquisition of a strategically located building that could serve as a home base for the church. Leaders from Church of the Beloved shared how being part of the congregation has helped them align with God's plan and purpose for their families and their city.
The desire to share responsibility for Chicago also resonated at the prayer gathering. Jonathan Peters, pastor of FBC Columbia in the Metro East region and current IBSA president, shared he grew up in Chicago and never heard the Gospel. "We have to pray for established churches to lead out and to move out," Peters said.
Michael Allen pastors Uptown Baptist Church and understands the challenges that come with ministering in the city. "This is a great city, but this is a tough city. You have to have staying power," he urged church planters at the prayer gathering.
He pointed to experienced Chicago leaders in the crowd. " is not a flash in the pan thing. By God's grace, they have survived, and we are grateful for their example. That's what we hope to do for you church planters who are coming in."
For more on Send North America: Chicago, go to www.namb.net/Chicago.
- With additional reporting by Baptist Press
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.
'Always powerful' baptisms on
Florida's coasts evidence of harvest
By Joni B. Hannigan
CLEARWATER, Fla. (Florida Baptist Witness) -- At Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater and Fruit Cove Baptist in Jacksonville, it's not unusual to see baptismal waters rising on a regular basis at the two Florida churches.
What is unusual is when folks are asked to bring their own lawn chairs and towels.
The Clearwater church baptized 82 at the beach Oct. 14 and the Jacksonville church baptized 65 in three services Oct. 21.
William "Willy" Rice, Calvary's senior pastor, said the large baptism was one of many intentional "harvest" days the church has throughout the year -- and the result of two weekends of preaching about the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8.
The first part of the evangelistic series presented a "simple, clear Gospel," Rice told the Florida Baptist Witness. The second week gathered in the harvest.
Scheduling several "big" baptism events each year allows the church to "draw the line in the sand" and remind people of the biblical imperative of baptism, Rice said.
At Calvary, Rice said such events attract a variety of people. Some have never been baptized or were baptized as infants.
Calling the second week "the chariot moment," Rice said he preaches clearly about the meaning of baptism, but avoids creating an "emotional wave." It's "historic Baptist doctrine" Rice said, referencing "simple Baptist theology."
While teaching baptism is symbolic and has no saving grace inherent within itself, Rice said he believes Southern Baptists "almost inadvertently de-emphasize baptism sometimes."
"We almost make it optional," Rice said of baptism. "In the Bible I don't think it was necessary . At the same time, it was never seen as optional. There was always an urgency to it."
A focus on baptism allows Rice to present the message clearly and for people to respond. "I do challenge pastors to present a clear message about baptism, and a clear calling. I think there's power in that," he said.
At Calvary's beach baptism, Rice said one man stood out from the rest. He had two prosthetic legs and a prosthetic arm. And he was disfigured. Riding a city bus to the beach with his little daughter, Rice said the man awkwardly walked down the beach in long-sleeved pants and shirt to approach the Calvary group. He told Rice he accepted Christ recently and urgently sought baptism.
"Here's a guy who took a bus and had to walk to the bus stop—to be baptized," Rice said.
At the same time, a young woman who had been resistant to the Gospel, and for whom Rice's wife and others had been praying, said God supernaturally intervened to prompt her, Rice remembered.
"'God woke me up at one in the morning this morning and told me I had to do something to get right with him,'" Rice recalls her telling members of the congregation. He said, "It happened today, it was harvest day."
At Fruit Cove Baptist it's been 20 years since there were over 20 people baptized on a single day—and this time folks were asked to bring their own towels.
"We have never, never had this many baptisms at one time," Tim Maynard, senior pastor of Fruit Cove Baptist said. "It's been a pretty amazing thing.
Maynard, who is the current president of State Board of Missions and will be nominated for president of the Florida Baptist State Convention, said the middle school department at church "led the way" after a Wednesday night series, "Follow."
In the Oct. 14 service, Maynard said he spent 15 minutes talking about baptism before preaching. The result? After extending an invitation to stand for baptism, about 40-45 young people and 10-15 adults expressed a desire and were directed to the church office to talk.
"A lot of folks stood up," Maynard said. "It's really been a God thing. It's a cool thing. I've always predicted when revival started it would be in our youth program."
Maynard said he and the church staff met to work out logistics and opted to baptize about 15-20 people in each of three Sunday services in the church's baptistery. "The youth decided to go ahead and spring for t-shirts for everyone," he said.
"We decided if Peter could do it on the day of Pentecost, we could work it out," Maynard said.
At Fruit Cove Baptist where about 1,400 attend regularly and 70 were baptized last year, Maynard anticipates the 65 baptized is a good start to a new church year when baptisms take place at least once a month on Sundays to coincide with the Lord's Supper service.
On the other coast of Florida, at Calvary Baptist Clearwater where about 3,500 attend on average and 272 were baptized last year, Rice said he was challenged to begin a regular focus on baptism several years ago after the story of a Tampa-area church was featured in Florida Baptist Witness.
In the 2006 article, pastor Forrest Pollock (who was killed when his single-engine plane crashed in 2008) had baptized 146 on "Unashamed Sunday" after a movement of God at the church.
"It's always powerful," Rice said. "We always have people come."
This article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention. Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness.
Gospel-driven church yields
7,000 baptisms in 20 years
By Robin Cornetet Bass
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (Western Recorder) -- Hillvue Heights Church is reaching south-central Kentucky's lost in large numbers. Annually reported baptisms have topped 500 since 2010.
"There is a deep passion at Hillvue to ensure that every human being hears the Gospel," Ayers said. "We're not as concerned about the building and the carpet and whether we're going to have ladies night out or puppet shows. We're concerned about people hearing the gospel."
According to the SBC records, Hillvue Heights has consistently ranked among the top 100 churches in recent baptism statistics. Hillvue also is ranked among the SBC leaders in youth and children baptisms. Each time, it has been listed alongside churches in much larger metropolitan areas.
During the past associational year, 554 baptisms were recorded between Sept. 1, 2011, and Aug. 31, 2012 -- with 84 taking place during an outdoor event called Godstock at Barren River Lake. Hillvue Heights may be headed toward record year with more than 100 baptisms in September alone.
"I'm humbled and so grateful that the Holy Spirit has drawn that many people," Ayers said. "But I'm not surprised by the lostness."
Focused on the lost
It is because of the lostness that Ayers said he remains singularly focused on telling and re-telling the salvation message.
"Our people have the confidence that if they bring a lost friend to church, they are going to hear the Gospel no matter what service they come to, no matter who is preaching," said Jamie Ward, Hillvue Heights' co-lead pastor.
Despite the thousands of souls saved during his 21 years at the church and the nearly 4,000 who attend services each week, Ayers said about 90 percent of the population in the region around Hillvue Heights still are considered unchurched. Therefore, he noted, it is imperative that all believers share what Christ is doing in their lives.
"Steve Ayers is probably one of the more dynamic preachers you'll ever meet," Ward said, "but he would never take credit for these 7,000 baptisms . For one, it's the work of God, and two, God had to use a whole lot more people than Steve."
Even before they leave the baptismal, new believers are urged -- much like the Great Commission instructs them -- to tell their story to a lost family member, friend or co-worker.
"You really see the fruit in our church because there's a high expectation to share the Gospel," Ward said. "A 40-year-old man that doesn't go to church doesn't typically get led to Christ by a pastor. It's going to take another 40-year-old man who is sharing his faith and living it out."
Of the 554 baptisms at Hillvue during the past 12 months, 320 (nearly 60 percent) were adults 18 years or older. The largest group of new believers are between 30-59. The smallest group is children under age 9.
Bart Britt, a Hillvue Heights member since 1992, arrived shortly after Ayers became pastor and has witnessed the church foster a culture of evangelistic responsibility.
"There have been people whose lives have seen a complete transformation because of how Hillvue stresses the Gospel," Britt said. "It makes you have this compelling urge to go out and do exactly that, especially in the times we are living in."
Ward said another aspect that increased the evangelism temperature was when the church began allowing the members to baptize the people whom they led to Christ. "It's very common to see a father or mother baptize their children," he noted. "It's very powerful."
Ward said there have been far-reaching effects after a layperson led someone to Christ. To illustrate his point, Ward talked about when a female parole officer baptized one of her male parolees.
"The next three Sundays, he was in the baptismal baptizing his family members," Ward said -- first his mom and sister, then his wife and finally, one of his children. A year or so later, Ward said a friend of the family came to the saving knowledge of Christ and also was baptized at Hillvue.
The church makes a point of reaching out to the broken, Ward said. He estimated that about 20 percent of the people touched by the ministry are in some stage of recovery. Some are suffering from addictions or shattered marriages; others are tortured by pain of past abuse. Regardless, Ward said, "we believe the gospel is going to heal them. The word doesn't return void."
Two decades ago, Hillvue Heights was $500,000 in debt, had about 30 regular attendees and was on the verge of dissolving. Today, weekly attendance totals are near 4,000 with a mid-week service and three Sunday morning services. Hillvue's multi-ethnic congregation and visitors can choose from more than 60 weekly Bible studies, many of which are not age specific so that young and old congregants can fellowship and learn from each other.
"Hillvue was that typical church that hadn't baptized anyone for years," Ayers said, "but this church laid down everything it had been. It surrendered it all, the music style, the facilities, the constitution and bylaws. They surrendered all that and said, 'OK, God, we're done trying to be what we want to be. Now bring us to what You want us to be.'"
This article appeared in the Western Recorder (westernrecorder.org), newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Robin Cornetet Bass is an editor for the Western Recorder.
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