NEWS | Frank Page is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, but he also carries the title CEO, which he has often said means “chief encouraging officer.” Operating in that role, Page joined pastors and church planters in northern Illinois for two “listening sessions” in August.
Throughout the year, Page has met with leaders in several states. In Chicagoland, he and members of his staff hosted church planters at a luncheon in Edgewater to discuss specific ministry challenges related to planting in the city. They also were at Broadview Missionary Baptist Church for a session with more than 50 leaders.
“I think the key is building relationships and building trust,” Page told SBC Life about the listening sessions. “It’s time to build some momentum on correct relationships.”
Broadview Pastor Marvin Parker said he was impressed Page “is taking the time to go around the country, to hear what SBC pastors are talking about.” In the Chicago sessions, Page and leaders addressed several issues:
Church size and diversity. Page previously has called small churches the “backbone” of the convention. In the session at Broadview, he told leaders that a large majority of Southern Baptist churches run 100 people or less, said Pastor Don Sharp. “And to me, that’s a story that needs to be told over and over and over again,” said Sharp, pastor of Faith Tabernacle Baptist Church in Chicago.
“…We hear these stories of people coming in places and [the] membership’s quadrupled and the baptisms are off the board, so to speak, but it doesn’t speak to many of us” pastors of small churches, Sharp said. Faced with the comparisons, leaders can fall into fear that they’re the reason their church doesn’t measure up.
“If nothing else, I came out of that meeting with a sense of, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing, and leave room for God to do the rest.’”
The group also discussed diversity in the SBC, and the need for more ethnic groups to be represented in convention leadership, Sharp said. He paraphrased Page’s words: “The election of Fred Luter (as the SBC’s first African American president) should not be an anomaly…it shouldn’t take another 30 or 40 years for something like that to happen again.”
Cooperative Program education. The CP is Southern Baptists’ main method of supporting missions around the world, but it doesn’t have a Lottie Moon or Annie Armstrong to help promote it. “One of the keys for the future is to somehow put a face on the Cooperative Program,” said IBSA’s Dennis Conner during the Edgewater meeting of church planters. “We are deep into a cultural shift where people want to know the people they support.”
That challenge is something his team deals with every day, Page said, asking for ideas. The planters suggested using social media or daily news briefs to connect Southern Baptists with missionaries they support through the Cooperative Program.
The Executive Committee’s Ashley Clayton suggested a more foundational plan to help communicate the importance of CP giving in the next generation. “Perfunctory” support for CP has been tailing off for several decades even among older Baptists, Clayton said. There’s a need to elevate again Baptists’ core values, like international missions, reaching unreached people groups, planting churches, and theological education.
“These are core values, that when you say it in a room full of pastors, they nod their heads, they’re in agreement, they go, ‘Yeah, I’ll support that.’”
The Chicago challenge. Also in Edgewater, Page heard from Chicagoland church planters about how long it often takes to grow a church. Michael Allen, city coordinator for Send North America: Chicago, said he tells planters, “When you come to Chicago to plant a church, buy a cemetery plot.”
“In other words, don’t come to Chicago thinking I’m going to try this church planting thing and see if it works out….Many [church planters] who start do not last, and I think primarily they didn’t realize just how hard the ground is, and how much gumption you have to have.”
Page told the leaders around the lunch table that he understands the role of a sponsoring church pastor, but hasn’t had personal experience as a church planter. “I don’t even pretend to understand what you might be going through,” he said.
“I will tell you that what I hear, what I’ve seen in the past four to five years, is that things are changing across our nation….Even in the deep south, we’re seeing an encroaching lostness in some areas that is profoundly more than what you might think.”
The planters and Page discussed the temptation church planters have to move to a new place with the hope of winning the city, but without really understanding its culture and context.
Page said he was praying for “an indigenous move of God, that native Chicagoans will be able to reach the city for Christ, in addition to those that God does bring in from the outside that has called, and equipped, and [that] have the staying power to get it done.”