FROM THE STATES: Ala., Okla. & Fla. evangelism/missions news; "The Southern Baptist Convention is no longer monolithic"

Baptist Press
Posted: Apr 02, 2013 4:22 PM
Today's From the States features items from:

The Alabama Baptist

The Baptist Messenger (Oklahoma)

Florida Baptist Witness

Alabama Baptists train, equip leaders

as ethnic congregations rise in SBC

By Carrie Brown McWhorter

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) -- As the number of ethnic churches in the Southern Baptist Convention continues to grow, Alabama Baptists are training leaders to minister to under-reached people groups around the state.

Across the SBC, the number of churches identifying themselves by an ethnicity other than Anglo has increased from 6,044 congregations in 1998 to 10,049 congregations in 2011, according to the Annual Church Profile (ACP) compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources.

The largest jump in non-Anglo SBC congregations from 1998 to 2011 has predominantly come from an 82.7 percent increase in the number of African American congregations. Hispanic congregations have also seen a significant increase over the same span — nearly 63 percent. The number of Asian congregations affiliated with the SBC has grown by 55 percent.

"It's clear that Southern Baptists have been multi-ethnic and are becoming an even more multi-ethnic convention of churches," said Joseph Lee, senior pastor of Connexion Church in Lawrenceville, Ga., a mostly Korean Southern Baptist congregation.

These same groups are the focus of efforts in Alabama as well. Kristy Kennedy, state literacy missions coordinator for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM), said North American Mission Board (NAMB) church planters are active in several areas of the state, including Birmingham, Dothan, Florence and Mobile.

Working in conjunction with the SBOM, these church planters focus primarily on establishing congregations in under-reached African-American, Hispanic and Asian communities, though church plants around the state include outreach to Arab, Creek Indian and Messianic Jewish communities as well.

Rick Barnhart, who recently took over as director of the office of church planting and associational missions for SBOM, said Alabama efforts to establish ethnic church plants are concentrated on training leaders for these churches.

"We are getting these equipped with core values and basic administrative skills so they can develop a strategy for how to reach their community for Christ," Barnhart said.

Before coming to the SBOM in August 2012, Barnhart served in associational missions for Baldwin Baptist Association. It was there, he said, that he began to realize the need for ethnic congregations in the state as well as for additional resources to establish such ministries. In Mobile, for example, the International Ministry Center, a ministry of Baldwin Association, serves as a centralized location that can both minister to the many international seamen who enter the Port of Mobile and provide resources to ethnic churches in the area, which include Cambodian, Laotian, Vietnamese and Korean congregations.

Barnhart said it is essential to have individuals who speak the language to help families in these ethnic communities. He noted growth in ethnic congregations in Alabama's largest cities, as well as the growth of Hispanic ministries around the state.

"It's phenomenal the kinds of things we're seeing happen," Barnhart said.

Because of the nature of ACP statistics, it's impossible to know the diversity of individuals within the SBC — only the diversity of SBC congregations, said Richie Stanley, the director of the Center for Missional Research at NAMB.

"We are only able to categorize congregations by ethnicities — not members — because the ACP only asks the predominant ethnicity of congregations, not individuals," Stanley said.

However, Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, believes not much has changed in terms of diversity in the local church. In a blog post in June 2012, Stetzer noted that the new gains in ethnic congregations in the SBC are "coming from churches which are of one race." He added that Southern Baptists "must continue to work toward reaching all members of our local communities for Christ, not just the ones who look like us."

Some Alabama Baptist churches are doing just that. Cross Roads Baptist Church, Wellington, in Calhoun Baptist Association is an example of a church where the mission goes beyond race and ethnicity, said Pastor Jake Brown.

Brown said the church began four years ago as a church plant supported by Calhoun Baptists and the SBOM. Today the church averages 50 people each Sunday, and though the membership is predominantly white, the church has many African-American members and some Hispanic members, too.

"Cross Roads has never said we want to focus on this community or that community," Brown said. "Our mission is to reach Wellington for Jesus."

Cross Roads deacon Tony Haver, who has been at the church since its beginning, said that as members of different ethnic backgrounds began to come to the church, he and others realized that the vision statement of the church, "to reach the community ... with the message of the hope of Christ," was being accomplished.

"Our vision statement doesn't say the affluent or the white. It says the community and we do our best to do that," Haver said.

Ken Weathersby, NAMB's presidential ambassador for ethnic church relations , said he is grateful to God for the growing diversity in the SBC.

" saying that the Southern Baptist Convention is no longer monolithic. The Southern Baptist Convention is very diversified. It is open to all peoples — regardless of ethnicity and race."

NAMB contributed to this report. This article originally appeared in The Alabama Baptist (, newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Carrie Brown McWhorter is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.


Founder of Latvian

school visits Oklahoma

By Chris Doyle

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (Baptist Messenger) -- Inguna Gruznina has an amazing story. Raised in communist, atheistic society in Latvia, she was enlightened in 1990 when her daughter Elina, then 18 months old, was partially paralyzed because of a brain tumor.

Doctors warned Gruznina that Elina may not survive the complicated surgery to remove the tumor. It was then, as an unbeliever, she cried out, "God, if You exist and if You are real, please save Elina's life, and I'll serve You."

Elina did survive, but was physically handicapped, which prevented her from going to public school in Latvia. In 1992, Gruznina surrendered her life to Christ after coming in contact with American missionaries, and from there, she followed the plans God gave her.

"God put a dream in my heart about a Christian school where physically handicapped children would be included," she said. "God opened my eyes to see that many children need help, and a Christian school would meet their needs."

On Sept. 1, 1995, Talsi Christian School (TCS) opened with 37 students in grades first through fourth, and five teachers. In 2001, the school was able to offer through all high school grades. Currently, the enrollment is 256 students with 35 teachers and staff members.

"Talsi Christian School has become a place of ministry, as well, because it's not just an education establishment where handicapped students are welcomed. We reach out to the community, and we do orphan and youth camps in the summer," said Gruznina who serves as the school's headmaster.

Once a month, the school organizes a children's church service, a fellowship for handicapped children and adults and an orphanage fellowship.

Gruznina recently spent a few weeks in Oklahoma, visiting churches that developed partnerships or have shown interest in supporting Latvian mission work, including TCS.

"The past six weeks have seen a good amount of interest among our mission partner churches," said Eric Dennis, pastor of Madill, Cross Roads, which has had a ministry to TCS for approximately nine years. "On March 12, we celebrated March birthdays of some church members in conjunction with our Latvian mission endeavors. Birthday gifts were monetary donations given to help fund the TCS band project."

Dennis said his church's birthday celebration was a "spectacular evening," as Gruznina and her daughter Zane' gave an update on the progress of TCS. Zane' is currently living in the United States, finishing law school in Texas.

Overall, Gruzinia gave reports in eight meetings, including Johnson Marshall and Muskogee association pastor conferences. Dennis said 20 churches, as well as individual businessmen, helped meet a goal of raising $10,000 for TCS band project and $5,000 for teachers and staff members to continue working at the school.

Churches and associations interested in ministry in Latvia may contact Dennis at 580/564-0382 or To comment on this article, visit

This article originally appeared in The Baptist Messenger (, newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. Chris Doyle is associate editor of The Baptist Messenger.


First Baptist Brandon (Fla.) leads team

to plant a church in New Orleans

By Carolyn Nichols

BRANDON, Fla. (Florida Baptist Witness) -- First Baptist Church in Brandon has made a five-year commitment to support a church start in the city of New Orleans. First Baptist, as lead church, is working with six other churches through the North American Mission Board's Send City initiative to plant a congregation in the Crescent City.

The churches will work together to find a key neighborhood in need of a church. The choices of neighborhoods is vast since 40 percent of Southern Baptist churches in New Orleans did not re-open after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, according to First Baptist pastor Tommy Green.

"When I saw New Orleans on the list of NAMB's Send Cities, I knew we had to go there to help," Green said.

Green, a graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, said his love for the city has grown through the years, and his family vacations there when possible.

"I feel this is an opportunity to give back to the city," he said.

First Baptist made a five year commitment to the church start with finances, prayer and people. First Baptist also has planted churches in Hollywood, Fla., and Missoula, Montana.

"The success of these churches moves us to create others," Green said.

He said First Baptist and partner churches -- Island Chapel in Tierra Verde; Shindler Drive Baptist Church in Jacksonville; Trinity Baptist Church in Keystone; Chapel Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Ala.; First Baptist Church in Greenhill, Ala.; and Surf City (N.C.) Baptist Church -- have been exploring neighborhood demographics about a year.

They recently named a church planter, Josh Holland, a second year M.Div. student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He will join the team churches in prayer and scout out church locations, Green said. Holland was introduced to the Brandon congregation March 17.

Holland, a native of Hazzard, Ky., moved to New Orleans two years ago with his wife Taran and preschool sons Titus and Luke. Although they arrived "with a passion for the city of New Orleans," Holland was offered a position as youth pastor of Roseland Park Baptist Church in Picayune, Miss. The family, now expecting their third child, has been "content where we were working," Holland said.

That changed when fellow NOBTS student Britt Moore, a former member of First Baptist in Brandon, introduced Holland to her former pastor.

"It has been a crazy ride since we met Dr. Green. I really never thought before about planting a church, and it has been amazing how quickly this whole thing has moved," Holland said. "It follows our pattern. Every opportunity the Lord has given us is one we didn't know we wanted."

Over the last few weeks, the Holland Family "have been getting our boots on the ground" in New Orleans neighborhoods, he said. The new church planter has also sought advice from other church planters and from the New Orleans Baptist Association leaders.

"Every neighborhood needs a church, but I believe that God can put everybody on the same page on this. Like in Acts, it has to a Lord-appointed place—a move of God's Spirit," he said.

Holland said he wants to start a church that is "uniquely the Lord's."

"At the end of the day, nobody will be able to take credit for it but Him," he said. "The only way to see lives transformed is if He does it."

First Baptist Church, along with its Send City partners, is in prayer for the location of the church, Green said. The church will be within the city limits, not in the suburbs, and "it won't be next door to another church," Green said.

Green and Holland agree the new church will be unique, with the one-of-a-kind culture of its home city.

Green encourages other Florida Baptist churches to join the adventure of church planting, especially through NAMB's Send City program that offers training and "vision tours" of the cities for interested churches.

Green will lead a conference during NAMB's Send North America Conference in Dallas in July. The two-day gathering of church leaders will focus on "penetrating the lostness in North America."

Churches have the opportunity to plant a church with the help of other churches in the Send Cities program.

"This is open to any church. On our own, it may be too much, but this about a team coming together to plant a church," Green said.

This article originally appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (, newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention. Carolyn Nichols is a newswriter for the Florida Baptist Witness.


EDITOR'S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board's call to embrace the world's 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups also are included in From the States, along with reports about church, associational and state convention initiatives in conjunction with the North American Mission Board's call to Southern Baptist churches to broaden their efforts in starting new churches and satellite campuses. The items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.

Copyright (c) 2013 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press

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