Five to thrive

Lisa Sergent —  November 30, 2015 — Leave a comment

IBSA Annual MeetingSpiritual results aren’t always easy to measure. And they certainly can’t be humanly manufactured. But one metric that can be at least an indicator of God’s Spirit at work, and of thriving spiritual health in churches, is baptisms. Healthy churches should consistently see new believers born into the Kingdom of God and united into church fellowship.

For the past several years, IBSA churches have reported right around 5,000 baptisms per year. But when the 2014 Annual Church Profiles from IBSA churches were compiled earlier this year, the total had dropped to just over 4,500.

There were a few extenuating circumstances in 2014, and I hope the total will be back up this year. But this stable-to-declining baptism rate has led our staff at IBSA to ask, “Is there anything we should do differently?”

Those discussions led us to some research. And we discovered that, while only the Holy Spirit can convict people of their need for Christ, churches that consistently baptize new believers are often engaging in one or more of the following five, seed-sowing commitments.

Vacation Bible School. 43% of Americans come to Christ before age 13, and 64% before age 18. An evangelistic VBS is still one of the most effective ways to reach children, and their families, with the gospel.

Witness Training. While most born-again adults believe they have a responsibility to share their faith with others, only 52% have done so within the past year, and 31% say they “never” evangelize. Churches that are seeing people come to faith in Christ equip their members with a variety of strategies and tools for sharing their faith story. And they create an atmosphere of encouragement, accountability, and celebration within the church that makes it “normal” to talk about how and with whom members are sharing their faith each week.

Outreach Events. Some Christians are confrontational evangelists like Peter and Paul. But many are natural “bringers” like Andrew. Churches that baptize new believers regularly have worship services that are accessible and truly inviting to guests each week. But they also provide multiple outreach events throughout the year such as block parties, concerts, fall festivals, or even service projects. These give their members natural opportunities to invite friends and family to meet other Christians and feel welcome at church.

New Groups. Whether it’s a new Sunday school class, new home groups, or new ministries such as mother’s day out or men’s service group, new groups can give a church multiple settings in which personal, evangelistic relationships can grow. Each new group can be a new bridge across which the gospel may flow, and across which new believers can enter the Kingdom of God.

Evangelistic Prayer. According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, more than 95% of those who accept Jesus as savior report that they were regularly prayed for by someone else for a significant amount of time prior to their salvation. An intentional, evangelistic prayer strategy may be the single most important commitment a church can make toward seeing people come to Christ. It is prayer that sensitizes the church’s heart toward specific lost people. And it is prayer that invites the Holy Spirit to be at work in their lives.

At the IBSA Annual Meeting this month, messengers were challenged to consider and commit to these five evangelistic actions. 146 of them did. During the coming year, our IBSA staff will be working in a focused way with these churches. If your church would like to be part of a regional cohort to focus on these areas, please contact us. We believe that churches that embrace these evangelistic commitments will thrive. And that just happens to rhyme with five.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond to his column at


"Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor" by William Halsall, 1882

“Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor” by William Halsall, 1882 (Wikimedia Commons)

Visitors to London’s Westminster Abbey are transfixed by one tomb containing the remains of two women — sisters who were rivals in life but united in death.

Queen Mary is known to history as “Bloody Mary” because of the repressive persecution and martyrdom of Protestants in England during her reign. When she died, her half-sister Elizabeth I, a Protestant, became queen. Elizabeth was none too friendly with the Catholics during her long reign. Today, more than 400 years later, they are closer in death than they ever were in life, for they are buried together in one grave, which is marked by a Latin inscription reading (in English): “Partners in throne and grave, here we sleep. Elizabeth and Mary, in hope of the Resurrection.”

It was the see-sawing vacillations between religious factions during the 16th and 17th centuries that set the stage for the Pilgrim Fathers to seek out a new world for the exercise of their religious freedom. Those seeking to purify the church (the Puritans) were caught in the middle and opposed by both sides.

Eventually one group of faithful liberty-loving believers gathered in the small village of Scrooby in the Nottinghamshire region of central England. With great courage this group of religious dissenters declared themselves independent of the national church and of the monarchy’s jurisdiction as it related to spiritual matters. This was treasonous in its time, and soon informants were reporting to authorities about the Scrooby meetings, bringing harassment and persecution on the heads of the dissenters.

Most of the Scrooby worshippers fled to the Netherlands where they enjoyed the freedom to self-govern their churches and lives, first in Amsterdam and later in Leyden. Over time, however, Holland, too, posed problems for these wayfarers. The English felt themselves in a cultural no-man’s-land. They wanted to retain their English identity, but as their children grew they were speaking Dutch and being assimilated into the Dutch culture.

What to do? To return to England was dangerous; to remain in Holland was untenable. These worshippers began to discuss something outlandish and dangerous — to cross the ocean to establish a village on the deserted and inhospitable shores of America. It’s still traumatic to us today to think of relocating our families to another nation, but to these Pilgrims the journey must have been akin to traveling to the moon. They were literally going to another world — a new world.

In 1620, the Pilgrims set sail on the Mayflower, and for more than two months they made their home aboard the storm-tossed, disease-ridden boat. Because of the onset of a New England winter, the travelers stayed aboard ship until the following March, then disembarked.

Leaving its passengers to fend for themselves, the Mayflower returned to England. Meanwhile the new residents of Plymouth Colony scrambled to get their lives, homes and gardens organized during the short summer of 1621. They were aided by the timely arrival of Native American helpers such as Squanto and Massasoit.

When the first harvest began to be gathered that fall, the pilgrims and Native Americans gathered for a festival of thanksgiving, which set the stage for subsequent annual Thanksgiving observances around the world.

William Bradford wrote about that original occasion: “Thus they found the Lord to be with them in all their ways, and to bless their outgoings and incomings, for which let His holy name have the praise forever, to all posterity. They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty.”

Have you ever traced the practice of thanksgiving in our Lord’s life? He thanked God when His teachings were received by the humble (Matthew 11:25); before He fed the five thousand (Matthew 15:36); before He fed the four thousand (Mark 8:6); at the Last Supper as He took the cup (Matthew 26:27) and the bread (Luke 22:19); and before the rising of Lazarus (John 11:41).

The biblical story is full of exhortations to thanksgiving, and Christian history is filled with examples of stalwart saints like the Pilgrim Fathers who did just that.

Try it right now. Start your journey each day seeking ways to thank your Heavenly Father.

This article first appeared at David Jeremiah is the founder and host of Turning Point for God and pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif. For more information on Turning Point, visit


The Briefing

Lisa Sergent —  November 24, 2015 — Leave a comment

The BriefingForgiveness as arrests made in murder of Indy pastor’s wife

Two men have been arrested for the murder of Amanda Blackburn, an Indianapolis pastor’s pregnant wife who was shot during a home invasion robbery earlier this month. Her husband, Pastor Davey Blackburn, and family released a statement of hope, “That Jesus would give me and our family a heart of forgiveness.“ Read the entire statement at


Churchgoers, abortion, and a culture of silence

More than 4 in 10 women who have had an abortion were churchgoers when they ended a pregnancy, a new study released by LifeWay Research shows. More than half of churchgoers who have had an abortion (52%) say no one at church knows it. Nearly half of women who have had an abortion (49%) say pastors’ teachings on forgiveness don’t seem to apply to terminated pregnancies.


Teen Mania website goes dark

Many are wondering if the once popular ministry Teen Mania is no more. Its website is offline, and its URL automatically redirects visitors to, which lists a generic e-mail address. In recent months founder Ron Luce has experienced financial and legal troubles that have hurt the ministry.


Swedish court rules midwives must perform abortions

A district court in Sweden has ruled against midwife Ellinor Grimmark, who was denied employment at four hospitals because she refuses to participate in abortions due to her Christian faith. In Sweden midwives are similar to nurses.


Buzzfeed interviews Dr. Moore

Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission popped up in an unexpected place – the internet site Buzzfeed. The millennial geared site is known for its irreverent reporting on news and entertainment. Moore was interviewed about his thoughts on what the site called “anti-refugee rhetoric” from some conservative Christians.

Sources: Baptist Press, Facts and Trends, Fox59, World Magazine

Churches take up five gospel challenges for the coming year

At the IBSA Annual Meeting, churches take up five gospel challenges for the coming year.What are the building blocks of an effective ministry, one that reaches people who are far from God? And how can churches play their role in building God’s kingdom here on earth, and in Illinois?

Surrounded by large Lego-style building blocks, IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams said the answers to those questions are largely familiar.

“The problem is not that we don’t know what to do, the problem is that we’re not doing it,” Adams said during the Wednesday evening session of the IBSA Annual Meeting. The worship service was all about five keys to effective, redemptive ministry: Expanded VBS, Witness Training, Outreach Events, New Groups, and Evangelistic Prayer.

At the close of the service, meeting attenders were invited to commit to one or more of the ministry challenges, and pinpoint on a map of Illinois where they want to see God build his kingdom.

Adams introduced each building block, and an Illinois pastor told how his church had seen God work through that specific ministry. Here are their stories:


Build a better VBS
Scott Foshie, Steeleville Baptist

“VBS is one of the most effective evangelistic tools in our church life,” Foshie said, introducing the first building block. “It reaches kids, parents and grandparents.”

In their 2015 Vacation Bible School, Steeleville church members shared the gospel in many different settings, including small and large groups, and saw 32 professions of faith. “As we followed up with families, we’ve had 10 baptisms,” said Foshie.

Research shows 30% of Christians accept Christ before age 13, and 70% do so by age 18. These statistics demonstrate the need for child evangelism. The most proven way to do this is through Vacation Bible School. Yet, last year 45% of IBSA churches did not host a VBS.

Adams implored churches to help one another with VBS. “If you’re doing one yourself can you help someone else do one? Can we come alongside and help you?” he asked.

Foshie said it’s important to start planning early and to come together in evangelistic prayer. When you do this, “people come to know Jesus,” he said.

“VBS is the low hanging fruit,” said Adams. “If your church is going to do one thing this year—do VBS.”


Go tell the Good News
Sammy Simmons, Immanuel, Benton

Immanuel Baptist holds an attractional evangelistic event every year—alternating a living nativity with a summer block party.

“There are 26,000 lost people in our county,” Simmons said. “Evangelistic events allow us to do all hands on deck. They allow our people opportunities to serve…all weekend or sometimes a week-long event. Our people love to serve.”

Six weeks before this summer’s block party, Simmons began a sermon series on sharing the gospel. He asked every Sunday school class to get involved as well.

One of the ways church members learned to share the gospel was using the “Three Circles” method, a strategy for starting spiritual conversations. Using that method at the block party, Simmons said, “One of our deacons led a cop to Christ.”

Church members followed up with attendees who had completed cards stating they do not attend church. “Over the next four weeks we saw eight individuals come to know Christ,” Simmons said.

After the pastor finished sharing his church’s story, Adams noted, “The church ought to be a place where we teach one another and learn from one another how to share our faith….The hardest thing is starting a spiritual conversation, the second hardest thing is sharing a spiritual conversation.”


Start a new group
Carlton Binkley, FBC, Woodlawn

On a typical Sunday morning, 85-90 people show up for worship at FBC Woodlawn, but the church regularly saw only eight people coming to its weekly prayer meeting. There was no step in place to assimilate new people into the body of Christ, Binkley said.

The pastor became convicted that they needed to be imitating the church in Acts 2, “[meeting] from house to house…breaking bread together, fellowshipping with one another, being in community.”

So they traded in their Wednesday night prayer service in order to start in-home Bible studies across the county.

It began with three groups the first semester, then grew to seven; now they’re about to launch their ninth group and average almost 90 people each week.

With 100% of the congregation involved in a small group, the outcomes are evident: They’ve had eight baptisms in the last year, people are learning ministry skills through discipleship, and the hope is for these groups to lead to church planting efforts.

“We just want to see Jefferson County come to Christ,” Binkley said, “and we think [God] is going to do it through small group ministry.”


Pray intentionally
Roger Teal, Grace Fellowship, Benton

The theme “Build Your Kingdom Here” is an evangelistic prayer in and of itself, Adams said. Pastor Roger Teal’s church has watched God work through their commitment to pray for people who don’t yet know Christ.

Teal explained how his church recently moved locations. Claiming the passages in Ezra 3 where the Israelites built an altar for their church before the actual building, he decided, “We’re going to do that.”

So the congregation cut down a tree, went to the exact spot where the altar would be in their new church, and “started writing names down of people they knew they wanted to see come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior,” Teal said.

Although the building is still not complete, the altar is finished. And the names written on it are seen every Sunday as people walk past. A young man named Garret Mahan, whose name is on the altar, came to know Christ and was baptized by his grandfather, Rick Webb (pictured below). Garrett has since answered a call to ministry.

The altar has served to keep the names of lost people in front of the congregation where they cannot be forgotten or ignored.

When someone at Grace comes to know the Lord, his or her name gets circled. With three so far, Teal said they have a lot more to go. “But, we’ve got three names that are circled.”


Dots on a map

At the end of the worship service, Adams asked everyone in the sanctuary to consider which of the five ministry challenges they’ll take up in the coming year. He invited them to walk down the aisle and place a commitment card near a large map of Illinois, and then to use a post-it note to indicate where in the state they are praying God will build his kingdom.

As the service concluded and people slowly made their way out of the sanctuary, the map remained as a reminder of that prayer.

Build Your Kingdom.


– Team report by Illinois Baptist staff

Amid the chaos, praise

Lisa Sergent —  November 20, 2015 — Leave a comment
Amid the chaos, praise

Representatives of 24 congregations lined the platform at FBC Marion. They were from churches newly affiliating with IBSA.

“The most chaotic three minutes of the year.” 

That’s my label for the annual photo of churches affiliating with the Illinois Baptist State Association at the IBSA Annual Meeting. Each year, the pastors of a dozen or so churches line up across the front of a hotel ballroom or church sanctuary for a wide-angle shot where no one is looking in the same direction, someone’s eyes are closed, and there’s a blur on the right side because someone moved during the picture.

It’s fun, it’s joyful, but it’s never been a good photo.

This year, the chaos was doubled (at least). Twenty-four new churches joined IBSA officially during the Wednesday evening session of the meeting, representing a variety of people groups and languages. So, our photo team’s instructions of “move to the left” and “everyone look here” only seemed to add to the confusion.

And it seemed that each pastor and church had a support team or sponsoring congregation there to capture the moment, resulting in a logjam of people near the altar steps where everyone was supposed to line up for a formal portrait.

After several minutes of trying to arrange everyone, those of us trying to take that formal portrait could only throw up our hands and laugh along with everyone on the stage. It was the kind of moment you only experience with family. Everyone knew it was chaotic, but the joy of being together, and welcoming new members to the family, transcended the language barriers and general confusion.

The best pictures actually came after everyone stopped looking at the camera, when the pastors and leaders bowed their heads there on the steps to pray together. In the stillness, you could see the diversity of the group, and the fellowship they felt for one another.

One pastor wore traditional clothing of his country. Another put his hand on the shoulder of the person in front of him. The group reflected the differences in any family, and the solidarity the members feel because of a shared calling and commitment to, well, act like family.

This year’s family photo isn’t going to win any contests for composition or lighting. If you look closely enough, you can probably tell it’s not perfectly in focus. It’s a bit of a mess, as far as pictures go. A glorious, holy mess.


With echoes of banjoes and a recent chorus ringing in their ears, messengers left the 109th Annual Meeting of the Illinois Baptist State Association with fresh words for prayer:

Heal our streets and land,

Show your mighty hand;

win this nation back…

Build Your kingdom here!*

With that seminal statement comes fresh focus on evangelism.

In the Wednesday evening session, messengers were invited to commit to gospel outreach in their own mission fields by placing a pinpoint on a giant map of Illinois and investing in one or more of five commitments for kingdom growth. (The “commitments” are detailed HERE, and will be featured in the Nov. 23 issue of the Illinois Baptist newspaper and in Nate Adams’ column online next week.)

“Unhealthy churches are filled with people who know about God, but they don’t know God,” IBSA President Odis Weaver said in his address concluding the first business session. “If the Kingdom of God is going to advance in Illinois, or anywhere, we’ve got to move beyond knowing about God to knowing God, and living that.”

Weaver, pastor of First Baptist Church of Plainfield, urged church leaders to repent complacency and bolster their courage. “We have too often allowed our churches to become merely places of comfort and rest, rather than being fortresses against the darkness,” he said.

2015-2016 IBSA Officers

IBSA Officers for 2015-2016 were elected witout opposition at the meeting in Marion. Pictured (l to r) President Kevin Carrothers, pastor of Rochester FBC; Vice President Adron Robinson, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills; Assistant Recording Secretary Teresa Ebert of Temple Baptist Church in Canton; and Recording Secretary Patty Hulskotter of Living Faith Baptist Church in Sherman.


Weaver completed his second one-year term as president and was succeeded by vice president Kevin Carrothers, pastor of Rochester FBC. Adron Robinson, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills was elected vice president.

State of the State

In his report, Executive Director Nate Adams explained that IBSA has narrowed its focus from 12 goals to 4 over a two-year period: develop leaders, inspire cooperation, stimulate church health and growth, and catalyze evangelistic church planting and missions. “We are seeking to focus less on goals that simply measure IBSA staff activities and more on goals that indicate true, positive results in churches, Adams said. He charted positive results in most areas, and noted in particular that new church plants are up from 10 to 22 or more by year’s end. Of concern is last year’s report that baptisms are down from around 5,000 to 4,500. The current totals are not yet available from the 2014-2015 Annual Church Profiles submitted by IBSA-member congregations, but the previous figures are driving the focus on church commitments that produce baptisms.

Messengers approved a 2016 budget with an anticipated Cooperative Program commitment of $6.3 million. The ratio for distributing CP dollars remains at 56.75% for work in Illinois and 43.25% forwarded to the national SBC for international and North American missions.

William Towne, finance director of the SBC Executive Committee reported that 107 IBSA churches had taken the “1% Challenge,” raising their Cooperative Program giving by an additional one-percent of their undesignated offerings, and that 15 of those churches had done so for a second year in a row. While CP giving is down about one-percent year-to-date in Illinois, nationally the trend appears to have turned and CP giving is notching upward.

Messengers received reports from the Baptist Foundation of Illinois (BFI) and the Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services (BCHFS). They also adopted five resolutions, including two addressing current culture and religious liberty.

In addition, an offering of $2799.36, was designated to assist International Mission Board personnel returning from the field due to IMB’s staff reduction.

Strong words

The 109th Annual Meeting coincided with the 150th anniversary of the host church, First Baptist of Marion. The church’s pastor, Bob Dickerson, brought the annual meeting sermon. “Reaping a harvest almost never happens on the same day as sowing the seed,” he said, pointing to the problem of weariness.

Citing Galatians 6:9, Dickerson urged tired workers to seek new strength. “There are times when not getting weary is very difficult,” he said “But we need to keep planting good seeds… even if the harvest takes longer than expected, we have a promise here that in God’s perfect time we shall reap!

The 2016 IBSA Annual Meeting will be Nov. 2-3 at Broadview Missionary Baptist Church in metro Chicago. Adron Robinson, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills, will preach the sermon.

* Theme song for the meeting was “Build Your Kingdom Here” by Rend Collective, © 2011, Thankyou Music

– Team report by Illinois Baptist staff

The BriefingIllinois to stop accepting Syrian refugees

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has temporarily suspended programs to resettle Syrian refugees in the state. Rauner cited the recent terror attacks in Paris as the reason for his action. In a statement he said,” We must find a way to balance our tradition as a state welcoming of refugees while ensuring the safety and security of our citizens.”

Pastor Saeed’s wife halts public advocacy, cites marital woes and abuse

Naghmeh Abedini appeared at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference where she urged prayer for the release of her husband Saeed, an Iranian-American imprisoned in Iran for his Christian beliefs. Abedini recently shocked supporters announcing she was stepping back from her public advocacy due to “physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse (through Saeed’s addiction to pornography).” Abedini said she will withdraw from public life for a time of prayer and rest.

‘Death, pain & terror’ in Paris met by prayer, hope

“Are the French people hurting? Without a doubt,” Michael Harrington, a Baptist worker in France, said after the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris. “Many will find their loved ones home and safe, but there are over 300 people that are not home, nor safe. Our hearts hurt. Our colleagues in the French Baptist Federation expressed solidarity in the face of hurt, pleading adherence to 1 Timothy 2:1-8, which calls for petitions, prayers and intercession.”

Mattel features boy in Barbie ad

In a new Mattel commercial, a mohawk wearing boy places a purse on the arm of a Barbie doll while sounding like a fashionista saying, “Moschino Barbie is so fierce!” Progressives are hailing the commercial for the designer doll as a step forward, while others are saying the commercial is over the top and wondering if it is real.

LifeWay reopens search for new headquarters

LifeWay Christian Resources is stepping away from the purchase of a 1.5-acre site in downtown Nashville, President Thom Rainer said Nov. 16. Rainer stated the entity has come to the conclusion there are “other potential downtown properties that are a better fit for LifeWay’s future.” LifeWay does intend to complete the sale of its 14.5-acre campus, also located in downtown Nashville.

Sources: Baptist Press. CBS Chicago, Christianity Today, New York Post