Archives For May 2014


Editor’s note: Leading up to the Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore June 10-11, the staff of the Illinois Baptist will preview the annual meeting in “Baltimore Oracles,” a series of columns about SBC elections and key issues.

When there was but one candidate for SBC president, attendance at the Baltimore gathering seemed of little consequence in the outcome of the proceedings. The analysts would comment on the demographics and decline.

But now, with three candidates in the running, the convention promises a bit more of a horserace. And the headcount becomes more important.

The 2011 annual meeting in Phoenix is the lowest-attended in recent history, with only 4,814 messengers registered. Many would attribute the sad nadir to distance from the Southern-states home base – faraway conventions are rarely well attended.

And since 1985’s peak of 45,519 messengers in Dallas when Charles Stanley was elected president, there hasn’t been a political debate or theological wrestling match to draw ordinary church members in large quantities. Only the stalwarts have continued to make the annual trek, no matter how far from home the host city may be.

Attendance has declined steadily over the past two decades. When 7,484 registered in New Orleans in 2012, Fred Luter’s election as the first African American SBC president was the big draw and debate over renaming the convention received second billing. The following year, when it was thought the simmering dispute about Calvinism might boil over, only 5,103 showed up in Houston.

If the proponents of Reformed theology had put forth a candidate this year, then location and attendance could have significantly swayed a genuine two-man race. Location and attendance were big factors in Stanley’s win, when busloads of messengers from nearby states traveled to Texas to raise their ballots and secure conservative control of the denomination.

But after Southern Seminary president Al Mohler said he would nominate megachurch pastor Ronnie Floyd, it appeared there would be no duel over theology and no need to rally support from the Reformed bases near Baltimore. Convention attendance, except as a measure of personal investment,
wouldn’t be an issue.

Now, however, attendance becomes a factor with the announcement by Jared Moore that he will run against Floyd. With registration expected to be near record lows, a relative unknown running on a “small church” platform could muster a respectable showing when ballots are raised. And the late entry of Maryland pastor Dennis Kim makes every vote – cast in his home state – even more important.

It’s been a long time since the convention elected a president who wasn’t the pastor of a megachurch. Mississippi businessman Owen Cooper served two terms starting in 1973 with a win in Portland, Oregon, and only 8,871 messengers registered.

With the denomination’s recent voting history, such a dark-horse win seems unlikely. But the race for SBC president just became interesting.

COMMENTARY | Meredith Flynn

Editor’s note: Leading up to the Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore June 10-11, the staff of the Illinois Baptist will preview the annual meeting in “Baltimore Oracles,” a series of columns about SBC elections and key issues.

Leaders of smaller Southern Baptist churches will be watching closely in June as the SBC Executive Committee considers a change to the denomination’s constitution. The article in question (Article III) governs how many voters – known as messengers – individual churches may send to the Convention’s annual meeting.

Here’s how Article III stands now:

  • Churches in friendly cooperation with the SBC can send one messenger to the annual meeting, as long as the church contributed any amount to SBC causes the previous year.
  • Additional messengers may be sent for every 250 members, or for each $250 given to Convention causes.

Under the proposed changes:

  • Churches may send a minimum of two messengers, provided they meetthe guidelines for friendly cooperation (including undesignated, financial contributions either through the Cooperative Program, toward Convention causes, or to Convention entities).
  • Additional messengers are based on contributions (one for every $6,000 or full percent of the church’s undesignated receipts, whichever results in more messengers).

Whew. What does all that math actually mean for churches? In the March issue of SBC Life, Executive Committee Chairman Ernest Easley explained the thinking behind the changes: The new version adjusts for inflation. The $250 figure was adopted 126 years ago. And the proposed wording is an opportunity to “lift up Cooperative Program as the preferred model of giving to Convention work.”

But what about smaller churches, some asked. Won’t the new giving standards make it more difficult for them to send additional messengers?

“…If the perception is that it will hurt small churches, this is DOA,” Executive Committee President Frank Page told EC members at their February meeting. “My heart is with small churches, and I don’t want anything that even seems to be in some way pejorative toward their involvement.”

The EC meets just prior to the Convention and will decide whether to bring the amendment to messengers for a vote during the meeting June 10-11.

Any debate surrounding the proposal, especially if it makes it to the convention floor, could have some bearing on the race for SBC president. Ronnie Floyd pastors a megachurch, while Jared Moore is from a smaller, rural congregation. Dennis Kim’s Maryland congregation of around 1,700 is somewhere in between.

If the conversation about messenger representation swings the momentum in favor of smaller churches or those in regions with fewer Baptists, Moore or Kim could gain some extra visibility at the Convention. If the measure doesn’t come up for a vote or passes without much debate, Floyd would remain the better known candidate with the most SBC leadership experience.

Math may make a difference when Baptists meet in Baltimore.

Previous Baltimore Oracles columns:
The Southern Baptist Convention’s new ‘traditionalists’
What a single-candidate election could mean for the SBC
Why geography matters


THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Oregon and Pennsylvania became the 18th and 19th states to approve same-sex marriage after judges struck down their states’ same-sex marriage bans May 19 and 20.

An Oregon appeals court denied a request to stay the ruling, and no appeal has been filed in Pennsylvania. In both states, the attorney general has said she would not defend the ban.

Layout 1Earlier in May, Arkansas became the first southern state to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Arkansas joined the list of states in limbo between a judge’s decision and current law. In Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee, the debate is over whether to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Only one same-sex marriage bans remain unchallenged – North Dakota – after lawsuits were filed late last week in Montana and South Dakota. The Minneapolis attorney who filed suit in South Dakota told the Post he will do the same in North Dakota within six to eight weeks.

Same-sex marriages were scheduled to begin June 1 in Illinois after the passage of SB10, the “Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.” But many counties began issuing licenses after Attorney General Lisa Madigan gave clerks the go-ahead in March.

According to a Gallup poll released May 21, 55% of Americans approve making same-sex marriage legal, including 78% of those in the 18-29 age bracket.

More news:

Baptist seminary criticized over admission of Muslim student
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson faced criticism this month when a blogger reported the school had admitted a Muslim student to its Ph.D in archaeology program. Patterson told the Southern Baptist Texan that the student “had had no other options for Ph.D. work in his field,” and that he hoped to win him to faith in Christ. Patterson also said, “We required that the student would agree with our moral standards while a student at Southwestern. It was no problem for him.”

The decision, which Patterson said he is responsible for, was debated online after Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson published the report on his blog. Trustee chairman Steven James said the board will discuss the issue at its scheduled meeting in September. According to the Texan, Southwestern’s website includes requirements for graduate-level courses including “a mature Christian character” and “desire for Christian ministry.”

Boy Scouts president stands by decisions made last year
Robert Gates, president of the Boy Scouts of America, said he supports the organization’s decision last summer to include openly gay participants, and would have extended the policy change to include adults too. But Gates, a former U.S. Defense Secretary, also said it’s time to let the issue rest, according to a report on

“Given the strong feelings – the passion – involved among our volunteers on both sides of this matter,” Gates said at the organization’s annual meeting May 23, “I believe strongly that to reopen the membership issue or try to take last year’s decision to the next step would irreparably fracture and perhaps even provoke a formal, permanent split in this movement with the high likelihood that neither side would survive on its own.”

Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting to focus on prayer, revival
Restoration, revival and prayer are the themes of this year’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, scheduled for June 10-11 in a city known for its place in American and Baptist history. And baseball and crab cakes.

SBC President Fred Luter will preside over his final annual meeting as his second one-year term draws to a close. He told Baptist Press this year’s meeting theme is similar to last year’s – revival – with added importance given to prayer. The meeting also will include a Tuesday night revival service. “…We just come for worship and the word,” Luter said. “That’s it. No business will be conducted.”

Three candidates will reportedly be nominated to succeed Luter: Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas; Dennis Manpoong Kim, pastor of Global Mission Church of Greater Washington, and Jared Moore, pastor of New Salem Baptist Church in Hustonville, Ky. Read more about the SBC Annual Meeting at


Nate_AdamsCOMMENTARY | Nate Adams

Just a few days ago, my wife, Beth, and I finally got around to doing something we had promised ourselves we would do for years. We updated our wills.

It’s only the second time in our married life that we have drawn up wills, and this time around it was quite different. For one thing, our young adult sons are now old enough to play significant, legal roles in matters such as our future healthcare decisions and finances. Frankly, it felt a little sobering this time around to assign those responsibilities to our children rather than our parents.

We also discovered that the people and causes to which we wish to entrust our earthly possessions at life’s end have, at least in some cases, evolved. Our confidence in the effectiveness of some ministries has increased, while in others it has decreased. Even within the ministries we have always planned to support with our estate, we now have more specific causes we want to empower.

But by far the biggest difference in updating our estate plan this time around was in the help we had doing it. This time we had a wonderful tool from the Baptist Foundation of Illinois called the “Life Stewardship Navigator.” And we had the expert help of our friend and BFI Executive Director Doug Morrow.

The Life Stewardship Navigator is simply a do-ityourself document that walks you through the different types of assets and decisions you need to consider as you form your estate plan. It helped us pull together our records and documents, and talk through key decisions we needed to make as a couple.

With that information in hand, we were ready to sit down with Doug and discuss the best ways to both
take care of our family and invest in Christian causes well beyond our lifetimes. Doug called it “taking
care of both the kids and the Kingdom.”

With Doug’s office here in Springfield where we live, having that conversation with him personally was easiest for us. But the Foundation also has qualified attorneys all over the state who make it relatively
easy for any Illinois Baptist to have that same helpful conversation.

Frankly, the hardest part of the entire process was not filling out the Life Stewardship Navigator, or
walking through the paperwork with Doug. The hardest part was simply sitting down as a couple and
making some of the biggest decisions of our lives about our life stewardship as disciples of Jesus

Though we are lifelong tithers and seek to be generous with Kingdom causes beyond our tithe, we realized during this process that our estate plan would far exceed even our lifetimes of weekly giving
through our church. What we chose to do with the accumulated wealth of our lives, however large or
small that might be, would be our largest single opportunity ever to contribute financially to God’s
Kingdom on earth. So prayerfully, thoughtfully, we wrote out a plan that will care for our family, and that will support ministries that advance the Gospel and support Baptist churches and ministries, especially here in our Illinois mission field.

I realize now that the day I sat down with my spouse to outline our estate plan was, in effect, my own personal Memorial Day. It was the day I was able to intentionally choose the values that I want to
memorialize my life, and to stand the tests of time and eternity.

I know that my life is about far more than my material possessions. But I also know that where my
treasure is, there my heart is also. So I chose to communicate to God that the biggest giving opportunity of my life places His Kingdom as the top priority. We can all do that. After all, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

Dennis_KimNEWS | The SBC Voices blog posted late Tuesday afternoon that Dennis Kim, pastor of Global Mission Church of Greater Washington, will be nominated for president of the Southern Baptist Convention when it convenes in Baltimore in June.

Texas pastor Dwight McKissic will nominate Kim, whose predominantly Korean church is the largest in the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, according to a report by the convention’s communications director.

Kim is a past president of the Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches in America, and recently served on a task force appointed by the North American Mission Board to study the SBC’s declining baptisms.

Dr. Kim’s heartbeat is evangelism and discipleship,” McKissic wrote in a letter announcing he would nominate Kim. “He has been faithfully serving as the senior pastor of this church for 23 years with a great passion for evangelism, discipleship and world missions. Fulfilling the Great Commission is the all-consuming passion of his ministry.

“…He is fully bilingual in Korean and English with a keen understanding of multicultural world views. If elected, he will be an ambassador for the Kingdom and Southern Baptists that’s well qualified.”

Kim joins Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, and Jared Moore, pastor of New Salem Baptist Church in Hustonville, Ky., in the election to succeed current SBC President Fred Luter.

Read more about Kim in this article from BaptistLIFE, the newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.

Where_Was_God_posterTHE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Film documents storm recovery
One year after a tornado killed 24 people in Moore, Oklahoma, survivors are sharing their stories in a new documentary film. “Where was God? Stories of Hope After the Storm” was produced and promoted in partnership with several churches and faith-based groups, including the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

“We want to remind people that God is always near, no matter what,” said pastor and executive producer Steven Earp. “There is not a single thing that we could ever go through that our heavenly Father does not understand, and there is not a single dark place that He has not already walked.” Read more at

Sudanese woman won’t recant, faces death sentence
A Sudanese doctor was sentenced to death after she refused to reject her Christian faith. Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, 27, was convicted of apostasy April 30 and given 15 days to recant. “I am a Christian, and I have never been a Muslim,” she told the judge, according to Morning Star News. Ibrahim, who is due to give birth soon, is married to Daniel Wani, a South Sudanese Christian who also is a U.S. citizen.

Her sentence, set to be carried out two year’s after her child’s birth, is representative of “increasing Islamization” of Sudan sparked by the secession of South Sudan in 2011, Christianity Today reported. Read more at

Americans inflate church attendance
It’s easier to be honest online, at least about church attendance. A new study by the Public Religion Research Institute found Americans inflate their levels of religious participation, especially when answering questions about it over the phone. For example, 36% of Americans who took PRRI’s telephone survey said they attend services weekly or more, compared to 31% who answered an identical question on a self-administered online survey.

Among white evangelical Protestants, 9% answering over the phone said they seldom or never attend services, while 17% reported the same on the online survey. PRRI reports young adults, Catholics and white mainline Protestants are most likely to over-report their church attendance. Read more at

‘Gay Christian’ publisher out of National Religious Broadcasters
WaterBrook Multnomah resigned this month from the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) network over a controversial book published by an affiliated imprint, Convergent Books. “God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships” by Matthew Vines theorizes that Scripture doesn’t condemn monogamous same-sex relationships.

Though WaterBrook Multnomah and Convergent are separate entities with the same leader, employees of both companies are reported to have worked on the book. According to a Christianity Today report, NRB President Jerry Johnson wrote in a letter to his board, “This issue comes down to NRB members producing unbiblical material, regardless of the label under which they do it.”

Baptist history gets hip-hop treatment
“Now this is a story all about how the Baptists became what they are now…” Rapping seminary study Ashley Unzicker took the outline from one of her classes and set it to the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” theme song, creating a 5-minute ode to Baptist history that starts with religious persecution in England, and concludes with the election of Fred Luter as the SBC’s first African American president. Now, that’s fresh. Watch the video on YouTube.

Blessed bikers

Meredith Flynn —  May 19, 2014
Rainy weather

The annual Blessing of the Bikes April 27 in Decatur went on despite stormy weather.

HEARTLAND | Meredith Flynn

It wasn’t a great weather day for the annual Blessing of the Bikes in Decatur, Ill. Gray clouds piled up in the sky on Sunday afternoon, April 27, and then came a downpour, just as hundreds of motorcyclists made their way to and from the Harley-Davidson store to be prayed over by volunteers in orange vests.

Every spring, riders gather in Decatur and at the Bald Knob Cross in southern Illinois to be blessed. Over the sounds of revving engines, pray-ers put their hands on the shoulders of each rider and ask God for a safe motorcycle season.

It’s a tradition IBSA’s Pat Pajak has kept for several years, including the most recent blessing. He hustled home from a preaching engagement that Sunday afternoon to change into his Harley shirt, blue jeans and leather vest. On the way to the blessing, he stopped to help a couple whose bike had hit a pothole and slid down an embankment.

“After patching up a cut on the wife’s chin and helping her husband wrestle the bike out of the mud and wet grass, I shared how the Lord had watched over them,” Pajak said. “Our discussion led to the Blessing of the Bikes, which they were headed to, and ultimately the Gospel.

“Standing on the side of Highway 51 in the rain, I had the privilege of leading both of them to Jesus Christ.”

Pajak was 30 minutes late by the time he got to the Harley-Davidson parking lot, but he – and his new brother and sister in Christ – had already been extraordinarily blessed.

F.A.I.T.H Riders is a ministry for motorcyclists who want to use their passion for biking to share the Gospel. For information about how to start a chapter in your church, contact Pajak at (217) 391-3129.

COMMENTARY | Meredith Flynn

The tweets came fast and furious. They poured in, at least a dozen every 30 seconds or so, throughout the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s April summit for church leaders.

By the end of its first day, the conference on “The Gospel and Sexuality” had become one of Twitter’s top trending topics.

Most of the posts were angry. One might have guessed the subject matter would cause a stir, and indeed, many of the objecting tweets came from activists and others who don’t believe the Bible is the ultimate authority for marriage and sexuality.

But not all the messages addressed what the speakers said. Some pointed out that the majority of the speakers were white and male. Out of two dozen personalities who would take the stage during the three-day conference, only two were women.

Amid the tweets about homosexuality and gay marriage came a different complaint: Where was the diversity?

The topics covered certainly were diverse: pornography, pastoring church members through sexual sin, teaching kids about sex.

The speakers handled their topics with sensitivity, encouraging church leaders that the best way to truly love people in their communities is to teach what the Bible says about sex and marriage.

Their messages echoed the ERLC’s current tone, described by President Russell Moore as “convictional kindness.” It’s what most Christians think when they hear the phrase “speak the truth in love.”

Or, as Moore told conference attenders, “A refusal to speak to consciences, clearly and openly, is a refusal to love.”

While men populated the platform, in the back of the room it was mostly female journalists who covered the summit. One of them blogged about the summit’s overall tone and applied it to the angry tweets about so few women at the podium.

Chelsen Vicari of the Institute on Religion and Democracy wrote that while she would have appreciated more female voices, “it cannot be disputed that the ERLC’s tone is shifting in a genuine attempt to mirror the Gospel and balance a message of grace, respect for all women and men, repentance and  reconciliation in a troubled post-modern world.”

But on Twitter, and for the outside world, a new tone wasn’t enough. The world is watching to make sure when we Baptists preach a Gospel for everyone, we really do mean everyone.

Growing trends among second-generation and multi-site congregations

By Eric Reed

Starting Point in Chicago: Pastor Marvin del Rios of Iglesia Bautista Erie (right) prays for the new congregation his church is sponsoring, led by Pastor Jonathan de la O and his wife, Emely, surrounded by leaders from Chinese, Korean, and Romanian church plants who attended the April 6 launch service.

Starting Point in Chicago: Pastor Marvin del Rios of Iglesia Bautista Erie (right) prays for the new congregation his church is sponsoring, led by Pastor Jonathan de la O and his wife, Emely, surrounded by leaders from Chinese, Korean, and Romanian church plants who attended the April 6 launch service.

Across Illinois |
Five new churches held their “grand opening” events during the two weekends before Easter.

The congregations couldn’t be any more different: They are Hispanic, Korean, Anglo, and multicultural. They meet in the inner city, in new suburbs and older neighborhoods, and way out in the countryside.

Yet their worship services are remarkably alike: all in English, all contemporary, all enthusiastic, and mostly loud.

Collectively they show how some important ministry trends are reaching both main roads and back roads in Illinois:

➢ After decades of planting ethnic language churches, English-language ministries may be the next wave as the grown children of immigrants aren’t feeling comfortable in their parents’ churches.

➢ Starting new churches is getting more complicated and expensive and harder for planters to do solo. That is resulting in more multi-site churches and in new networks among church leaders.

➢ And in some situations, starting from scratch may prove a better strategy than re-engineering a faltering ministry.

Jonathan de la O was born in the United States, but his parents are from El Salvador. He is the product of two countries. “I wasn’t 100% Latino or 100% American, at least in the eyes of those around me,” he said. “It made it difficult to identify with a people group.”

When called to pastor a church, he asked what kind? “I didn’t know where I fit in,” he said in a video.

That tension produced a new kind of church in the Humboldt Park neighborhood: Hispanic worship in English. It’s designed to reach people like him, second-generation young adults, the children of immigrants who are often more like the kids they went to school with than their own parents.

De la O cites a statistic showing 60% of second-gen adults have markedly different culture, language, education, and income than first-gen immigrants. If they don’t find a different kind of church than mom and dad’s, he said, they are likely to drop out.

At home, and not at home

If the very different needs of younger people sound familiar, there’s good reason, said IBSA’s multicultural church planting specialist, Jay Noh. “The gap between first-gen immigrants and their U.S.-born second-gen children includes every challenge that the mainstream U.S. churches have faced, compounded by differences in languages and culture.” In his words, “The paternalistic assumptions of the first-gen won’t be accepted” by their children.

“As soon as they are able to escape the world of their parents and other people of authority, they find a place that is somewhere between their ethnic heritage and the dominant American culture,” said Van Kicklighter, who heads church planting for IBSA.

De la O hopes that place will be his new church. Starting Point Church is meeting in the newly refurbished building owned by Chicago Metro Baptist Association. Noh is assisting another second-gen church start that also shares the space, The Way Bible Church, reaching young Romanians. The Romanian congregation, and second-gen Koreans, Chinese, and international students from Moody Bible Institute, packed out the launch service to show support for De la O and the new church.

Bethel Church in Mt. Prospect: A multi-ethnic crowd feasted on an international menu following the church's first public service. Pastor John Yi (in the green shirt) shakes hands and bows to almost every guest. Yi has led a ministry to poor families in another Chicago suburb since 2008.

Bethel Church in Mt. Prospect: A multi-ethnic crowd feasted on an international menu following the church’s first public service. Pastor John Yi (in the green shirt) shakes hands
and bows to almost every guest.

Later that same day, northwest of Chicago in Mt. Prospect, a worship band rehearsed prior to the first public service of Bethel Church. On the platform was the expected array of guitar players and drummers, plus one violinist. Mostly Korean, they sang in English and the music was loud.

“Is this typical of Korean worship services?” a guest asked two teenage girls who were thumbing their phones while sitting on the back row of the borrowed sanctuary.

“No,” one girl said. “Not the Korean-language services. They are very traditional.”

“Very,” the other added, “but EM – that’s English Ministry – those services are contemporary. Not as, um, Korean,” she said, smiling.

“Not as, um, Korean” might be a good slogan for Bethel Church. Pastor John Yi has led a multicultural community ministry to poor families in Maywood, about 15 miles away. Now he is starting a new church, also multicultural, which is expected to draw several ethnic groups, but especially second-generation Asians. Like the young women on the back row.

“Our principal attention has been on unchurched English-speaking people in our surrounding neighborhoods in Mt. Prospect even though Bethel Church is made up of a largely Asian-American base,” Yi said. “Interestingly, our ethnic affinity is difficult to dismiss and thus, we have attracted a lot more Korean-speaking people than we had planned.”

The disconnect between generations becomes evident as older people filled the pews, then attempted to sing English worship songs. It’s not only the linguistic gap, there’s a musical gap that many churches have had to bridge.
Their discomfort is evident, but clearly the older people support Yi and his effort to reach their children’s generation. It’s all smiles and bows as about 300 people filled the fellowship hall after the service and shared an inaugural meal of stir-fried rice, Buffalo wings, and Italian spaghetti.

“The first generation has a growing understanding of the necessity of having a gospel ministry that’s culturally indigenous for their U.S.-born second gen,” Noh said. “This may have come about belated as a result of a decade or more of the young generation’s silent exodus from their ethnic churches.”

New networks, new sites

Grace Point in Frankfort: Pastor Emanuel Istrate greets worship attenders at his church's first service. Grace Point is a church plant of Crossroads Community Church in Carol Stream.

Grace Point in Frankfort: Pastor Emanuel Istrate (right) greets worship attenders at his church’s first service. Grace Point is a church plant of Crossroads Community Church in Carol Stream.

In the far south Chicago suburbs, another church launched this day. Meeting in a middle school amid large new houses, this church plant is a restart. “First Baptist Church of New Lennox approached us asking for help,” said Scott Nichols, pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Carol Stream, another suburb 40 miles away. “They sold their building and had been meeting in a school….Unfortunately, they were…near to closing the doors.”

Nichols and his team did what they have done twice before: they brought in leaders and vision. First they offered Saturday night services utilizing the Carol Stream staff. Then, after calling a campus pastor to lead the new work, they restarted Sunday morning worship.

On opening day, Grace Point Community Church in Frankfort welcomed about 60 people from the area. Their target is not based on ethnicity but proximity. “Our target is anyone who will hear us,” Nichols said. “We have gone door to door and mailed about 20,000 postcards to the area.”

Nichols recounts how he’s often said, “You could blindfold an ape and give him a dart. Any place on the Chicagoland map he hits is a good place to plant a church!”

The Crossroads/Grace Point plant demonstrates two trends: the trend toward shutting down a foundering church, then allowing a stronger church to restart a ministry with new vision and new DNA; and the emergence of networks among churches that produce multi-site ministries.

“I believe this is happening both out of necessity and a new valuing of multiplication and reproduction,” Kicklighter said. “Necessity, because churches and pastors are hungry for connection with others,” but also from “a passionate commitment to impact lostness and to do whatever it takes to reach people and give them a local church in which to grow as disciples.”

North by northwest

Grace Fellowship in Davis Junction: Pastor Brad Pittman's church meets in a renovated electrician’s shop at an Ogle County crossroad. Pittman (left) is leading Grace Fellowship's third campus.

Grace Fellowship in Davis Junction: Pastor Brad Pittman’s church meets in a renovated electrician’s shop at an Ogle County crossroad. Pittman (left) is leading Grace Fellowship’s third campus; the other sites are in Ashton and Amboy.

As at Crossroads, the leaders of Grace Fellowship have a broad vision. On Palm Sunday weekend, in a small metal building in north central Illinois south of Rockford, that vision is becoming reality – for the third time.

“I got my first job when I was 13,” Brad Pittman said, “tasseling corn. Anybody know what tasseling corn is?” Hands shot up across the room, along with a few chuckles. “Best job in the world,” he said, before describing his journey from corn tasseler to full-time church planter. A member at Grace Fellowship for 13 years, Pittman eventually joined the staff with pastors Jeremy Horton and Brian McWethy. From the main campus in Ashton, the trio launched Grace Fellowship in Amboy in 2012, and next in rural Davis Junction.

“This is a part of the state where Southern Baptists have had little presence,” said Kicklighter. “When Baptists moved from the south, they settled primarily in the metropolitan areas of the north to work in industry. They did not come to Illinois to buy farms…so we have few churches in these kinds of settings.”

The mainline denominations were better established here, but their churches are in steep decline. So, there is potential here.

“There are over 4 million people living in the non-urban context in Illinois,” said IBSA’s John Mattingly, who leads church planting in the northwest quadrant. “I believe God has prepared many more churches like Grace Fellowship to step out in faith and do something remarkable.”

The three pastors targeted Davis Junction (called “DJ” by the locals) because there was only one faltering mainline church there to serve more than 4,000 people. “We hung over 800 door hangers” in the week before the launch, Pittman said. “We don’t know what the Lord is going to do; we’ll have to wait and see,” he said, before describing how deeply he feels the spiritual need in the area.

“This is not the typical multi-site church plant,” Kicklighter said, “but a commitment to reproduction and, even more importantly, sending people who will impact another place with the Gospel. This is a value system commitment that says extending the reach of the Gospel and the church is at least as important as how many we gather in our own building on Sunday morning.”

More than 60 turned out for the first Saturday evening service, some from the church’s other locations, but many new visitors from DJ. After the service in the brightly rehabbed building, there are lots of hugs, as at each of the launches, and cake.

It is a birthday, after all.

After closure, new hope

New Hope in Rock Falls: Pastor Jon Sedgwick prays with IBSA church planting leaders Van Kicklighter (left), John Mattingly (right) and Jordan Van Dyke, a future church planter in Galesburg, prior to the launch service. Later Sedgwick baptized a brother and sister.

New Hope in Rock Falls: Pastor Jon Sedgwick baptized a brother and sister at his church’s launch service.

The next morning Jon Sedgwick is all smiles as he baptizes two new believers. Sedgwick didn’t intend to plant a church in northern Illinois. “I didn’t like Illinois,” the former Missouri pastor said emphatically. Illinois was just a place to get through when traveling home to Indiana for visits with family. “But God gave us a love for Illinois!”

“We love Rock Falls!” his wife, Rhadonda, added, equally enthusiastically.

Mattingly had visited the Sedgwicks’ Missouri church describing the need for planters in the Northwest quadrant of Illinois. After Mattingly’s second appeal – “Is God calling someone here to come and help?” – the couple realized, “It was us. God was calling us. God said, ‘Why not you?’”

In 2012, they arrived and began building a new ministry at the building that once housed First Southern Baptist Church of Rock Falls. To the usual round of Bible studies and home meetings, Sedgwick added “Celebrate Recovery,” a faith-based twelve-step program originated by Rick Warren and Saddleback Community Church in California. Reaching out to people with addictions, Sedgwick found doors opening that once were closed to Baptist ministry.

At the worship service, greeters David and John freely told guests how they came to be part of New Hope Church through the recovery ministry.

Also in attendance was Jordan Van Dyke, a planter who is gathering a core group for a new church in Galesburg.
It is commonly observed that ministry in northwest Illinois is especially challenging. “It’s because of the soil,” Van Dyke said. “It’s hard. Sometimes I wish I’d been sent to southern Illinois where, when it’s Sunday, people go to church. In the northwest, it’s Sunday and church is an option. ‘Will I go to church?’ Maybe. Maybe not.”

On this day they do, because there’s new hope in Rock Falls.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper. In the May 26 issue of IB, we’ll continue our series on The Midwest Challenge with a focus on church revitalization. Go to to read past issues.

Sonja Conrad was baptized during a spring crusade at First Baptist Church, O'Fallon, Ill.

Sonja Conrad was baptized during a spring crusade at First Baptist Church, O’Fallon, Ill.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

A task force appointed to study declining baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention released its report May 12, detailing five problems they believe have contributed to the recent downward trend. The task force, appointed last year by the North American Mission Board and comprised mostly of pastors, also suggested five solutions focused on prayer, evangelism and discipleship.

When it was published in June 2013, the Annual Church Profile (ACP) report showing the previous year’s facts and figures sounded several alarm bells: 25% of Southern Baptist churches reported zero baptisms. And 60% of churches baptized no one in the 12-17 age bracket.

“We have a spiritual problem,” the task force acknowledged in its report. “Many of our SBC pastors and churches are not effectively engaged in sharing the gospel and yet continue business as usual. We need a sense of brokenness and repentance over the spiritual climate of our churches and our nation.”

Churches also need to get back to celebrating baptisms, the group said. “Many of our churches have chosen to celebrate other things as a measure of their success rather than new believers following Christ in baptism. We have drifted into a loss of expectation.”

To address the decline, the task force suggested five focus areas for pastors that correlate to five problem areas (spiritual, leadership, discipleship, next generation, and celebration):

1. Pray for spiritual awakening.

2. Model personal evangelism and provide pathways. (NAMB has introduced a new evangelism tool called “3 Circles: Life Conversation Guide.)

3. Create a disciple-making culture.

4. Serve the next generation.

5. Celebrate evangelism and baptism.

“…We encourage our fellow SBC pastors to join us in owning this problem,” the task force said. “Together, we can seize this opportunity to lead our churches and be part of the solution.”

For more on the task force’s report, evangelism tools, and a new video challenge, go to

Boko Haram offer to release kidnapped girls may be ploy, Nigerian Southern Baptist says
Terrorist group Boko Haram released a video Monday offering to release about 100 of the Christian girls they’ve kidnapped, in exchange for the release of Boko Haram prisoners in Nigeria. But the offer could be a tactic to buy time to strategize, Adeniyi Ojutiku told Baptist Press. Ojutiku is a Southern Baptist and co-founder of Lift Up Now, a Christian-based grassroots organization addressing political, economic and social challenges in his homeland Nigeria.

“They have wiped out families. They have killed generations of people, even infants,” Ojutiku said of Boko Haram. “They have maimed people for life. They have killed hundreds and thousands of people. And then to conceive that you would negotiate with such very, very despicable … people who commit such heinous crimes, it is unthinkable to me.

“These people must be prosecuted,” he said. “There cannot be sustainable peace without justice.” Read the full story at

Arkansas becomes first southern state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples
County clerks in Arkansas were thrown into a state of confusion by Judge Chris Piazza’s decision to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage on Friday, May 8. By Monday, clerks in some counties were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, while others had decided not to. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel filed paperwork to temporarily extend the ban Monday, the Associated Press reported, but clerks can continue to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples until the state’s Supreme Court processes documents from both sides on Tuesday.

Translators work to get Bible into dangerous territory
Ten million landmines may still be buried in Angola, left over from a 27-year civil war that ended in 2002. But Wycliffe Associates, known for their efforts to translate the Bible into every language, is working to take God’s Word to the southern African nation, The Christian Post reports. “These people have been ravaged by brutality and poverty,” said Bruce Smith, president and CEO of Wycliffe Associates. “They live in daily danger of stumbling onto hidden land mines. But worst of all, many have never even heard a word of scripture in their own language.” Read more about Wycliffe’s Angola project at

HGTV stops production on show starring Christian brothers
A reality show in the works about two house-flipping brothers was shelved after the group Right Wing Watch posted about David and Jason Benham’s beliefs about marriage, homosexuality and abortion. “Flip it Forward” would have followed the Benham brothers as they helped six families renovate homes, reports “We promised we would give Jesus glory whether in victory or defeat,” David Benham said after the show’s cancelation. “Sure seems like we’ve been defeated lately. But you know what? God is bigger than all of this.”