Archives For November 2015

“I never really did much with religion,” said Austin Owen. “I went to church and never understood anything about it.” But things changed for Owen at IBSA’s Youth Encounter conference on October 11. The 17-year-old was one of many students who made decisions to follow Christ or deepen their commitment to him.

He had never read the Bible before, Owen admitted. “But today I guess is a good day to start.”

Student ministry leaders say Millennials are looking for the kind of faith that transcends family history or tradition and leads to real life change.

Usually held right after Christmas in Springfield, organizers changed the format to one day in three locations. “We were hoping to make it more accessible to more of our churches,” said Barb Troeger, ministry coordinator on IBSA’s Church Resources team, and that more unchurched kids would attend as a result.

The north site in suburban Chicago, the central site in Decatur, and the southern site in Mt. Vernon saw a combined attendance of 1,519, up from 961 people in 2014. The southern site sold out a week before the event­­—in part due to well-known evangelist David Nasser being the scheduled speaker.

The northern site featured Christian hip-hop artists FLAME and V.Rose. And the central location hosted bands Seventh Time Down, The Neverclaim, and Manic Drive, as well as Passion Painter Ministries artist Andy Raines. Sierra Jones said, “I just really like how the art dude is making all the paintings as people talk. It’s really cool!”

Leaders at each venue tailored the events to their audiences, but the focus was the same in each place: helping students develop an intimate belief in Christ, so that they might know they’ve been chosen and that the creator of the universe loves them.

“That type of belief changes your heart and life,” said evangelist Clayton King, lead speaker in Decatur at Tabernacle Baptist Church.

Many salvation decisions were made across the state—107 alone in Decatur. In Mt. Vernon, Owen responded with a firm, “Yes, I did,” when asked if he made a commitment to Jesus that night.

No more ‘playing church’

Changing the structure of Youth Encounter was admittedly a risk. But “ultimately, we hope people are led to the Lord,” said Daymont VanPelt, coordinator of the northern location at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills. That’s the main goal—students accepting Christ and taking a different direction in life.

Which is perhaps one of the toughest issues to address, said John Howard, student pastor at First Baptist Church in O’Fallon and IBSA’s student ministry consultant. How do we reach youth? How do we effectively present the gospel to teenagers?

“The most significant spiritual hunger I’m seeing among students is for an authentic faith experience,” Howard said. “That is, many have quit riding the coattails of their parents’ religious experience and are seeking an authentic faith of their own.”

In Decatur, Clayton King summed up the main message leaders at all three locations were trying to communicate. He didn’t pose the question, “Do you believe in God?” but rather, “How do you believe in God?”

In youth ministry, leaders know it is crucial that students not have an inherited belief—putting their faith in something simply because their family does. Their relationship with God also cannot be intellectual, having biblical knowledge in their head that never touches their heart.

One student who attended the south location said it stood out to him when Nasser talked about “just playing church.” Admitting to struggling with that himself at times, John Wittenborn, prior to the final session, said that if he made a decision for Christ he wanted to make sure it was a real one.

In the trenches

The post-Christian culture we live in often fuels teens’ spiritual crises. Even students who have grown up in the church are susceptible to society-prompted doubt.

“Leaders should walk through the trenches of these uncertain times with students, both counseling toward and modeling an authentic faith walk,” Howard said.

An especially timely example is the debate on homosexuality. Howard said one student in his youth group, a leader for others, has begun to question whether Christians have it right regarding their stance on the issue. His question then snowballed and soon he was perplexed about everything he once believed in, “to the point of questioning the existence of Jesus,” Howard said.

This spiritual crisis is not yet over for this student, he added, and although there are still many questions to wade through, “there have been strides made in the right direction.”

“Events like IBSA’s Youth Encounter seek to gather students from across our state in the name of Jesus Christ,” Howard said. “Despite our many differences, one thing many different people from [all] different places can converge on is our great God…Students engage in a relaxed atmosphere where they will hear great music, be led in genuine worship, and hear the true and relevant gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed, explained, and applied.

“Much time, effort, resources, and prayer are poured into creating an avenue through which God can save souls, rebuild hearts, mature disciples, and call servants to serve him with their lives.”

And what about the temporary “spiritual high” that often results from big events? Howard said all the time, but especially after an event like Youth Encounter, be intentional about setting aside time to invest in “doing life” alongside students. Large scale, evangelistic endeavors can be the tool through which the Holy Spirit works, but remember that ultimately, “Only God can save a life and transform a heart.”

Morgan Jackson is an intern for the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

Odis_WeaverMarion | Are we really committed to the work of God, or just watching on the sidelines?

Odis Weaver challenged Illinois Baptist churches that operating out of faith, rather than fear, is how they will advance God’s kingdom in the state and beyond. Furthermore, Weaver preached this afternoon, we must seek God’s favor rather than mere familiarity with him.

“If our churches are going to advance the kingdom of God, we must be first on our faces confessing our sin,” said Weaver, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Plainfield and president of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

“We must grow tired and weary of a partial repentance that means nothing except to soothe our conscience for a moment. And our people must follow our lead in doing that.”

You can know about God from a place of comfort, Weaver said, but you can’t really get to know him.

“We have a community that’s lost. We have a state that’s doomed. We have a nation that’s rolling as fast as it can roll to hell. Our churches need leaders who will lead by faith and courage, who will be honest about their sin, who will be humbled before each other. If we’re going to advance the kingdom of God, it’s got to happen.”

The IBSA Annual Meeting (#IBSA15) continues tonight at 6:40. Learn more about the meeting at

Dr. Shane GarrisonThe IBSA Pastors’ Conference is happening now (Nov. 11) at First Baptist Church in Marion, IL. Dr. Shane Garrison, Campbellsville University, shared about reaching the spiritual orphans in our communities. “The vast majority of kids attending your church don’t come from Christian families, they are orphans spiritually,” said Garrison. “They [and their families] don’t hate the church. They just don’t care.”

Garrison called Vacation Bible School, “the most effective soul-winning evangelistic outreach to children and families that the Southern Baptists have in [their] arsenal.”

He urged churches to reach out to those orphans. “Our churches have become primarily focused on our kids. Fifty-one weeks of the year on focused on children of believing parents. Just five days a year [VBS] are focused on spiritual orphans.

“VBS is not for church kids…If you haven’t done one thing for the kids that are not there, your VBS is a failure.”

The Pastors’ Conference (#BuiltUp) ends at noon Wednesday and the IBSA Annual Meeting (#IBSA15) begins Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. and goes through noon Thursday. Learn more about at

E-mail Mark Emerson and find out how IBSA can help your church host Vacation Bible School in 2016.

Lifeway: SBC becoming more urban
LifeWay’s new list of the top 500 Southern Baptist churches shows the denomination is becoming more urban because the American population is becoming more urban. Among other findings the South—and particularly Texas—is the epicenter of SBC megachurches; and of the 20 largest SBC churches, 20% are predominantly non-anglo. Learn more findings.

Feds give Chicago school 30 days to let boy use girls’ locker room
A transgender female student has complained District 211 high school in Palatine has “set her apart from her female classmates and teammates.” The district however has “noted two concerns it had in giving full locker room access to the student: First, a biological male would have opportunity to see girls changing clothes, and second, girls might see the student’s ‘biologically male body.’ OCR said those concerns were ‘unavailing in this case,’ and called them a pretext.”

German Protestant church rejects the Great Commission
The Evangelical Church in the Rhineland says the passage in the Gospel of Matthew known as the Great Commission does not mean Christians must try to convert others to their faith. Their position paper states, “A strategic mission to Islam or meeting Muslims to convert them threatens social peace and contradicts the spirit and mandate of Jesus Christ and is therefore to be firmly rejected.”

Religious liberty key to refugee crisis, leaders say
Religious freedom and the protection of religious minorities are essential to resolving the escalating refugee crisis in Syria and other countries, human rights advocates say. The repressive role of a religious group against other religious adherents can be seen not only in Syria but in Burma, the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Nigeria and Pakistan.

High court to hear GuideStone abortion mandate appeal
The U.S. Supreme Court (Nov. 6) agreed to hear appeals by several ministries, including GuideStone Financial Resources, to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate that would require certain ministries served by GuideStone to provide potentially abortion-causing drugs and devices or face crippling penalties.

Sources: Baptist Press, Religion News Services,

God uses healthy congregations to build his kingdom in Illinois. But what makes a church healthy so that it grows by making disciples? Studies show these five commitments are the building blocks for kingdom growth.

IBSA Annual Meeting1. Can I get a witness?

Numbers to think about:

  • 73% of born again Christians say they have a personal responsibility to share their faith with others.
  • 52% have actually done so in the past year, according to Barna research.

If we believe hope in Jesus Christ is the greatest news a person could receive, why do 31% of adults never evangelize? For many people the answer is they don’t know how. And they lack confidence.

When churches focus on intentionally training believers to effectively share their faith, members start to gain confidence in becoming active disciple-makers.

2. Welcoming newcomers, discipling new believers

Christ-followers need Christian community. “We often fail to realize the importance of new groups in light of a church’s discipleship emphasis,” said Eric Geiger of LifeWay. They “generate excitement…provide a fresh point of focus for the church family.”

Studies show that believers actively involved in a group actually pray, serve, give, and read their Bible more than those not plugged in to regular community.

The Millennial generation, especially, places a high value on relationships­­­–most citing group activities as main reasons they stay connected to the church.

3. Prayer is over all we do

More than 95% of those who pray to accept Jesus have been regularly prayed for by someone else for a significant amount of time, according to the Billy Graham School of Evangelism. Without effective prayer, a church cannot be effective in evangelism. As author and pastor Richard Krejcir said, “Prayer is our key to God’s door. It is…essential in our witnessing. It is the work of Christ through the work of the Spirit that saves.”

When churches put an emphasis on the power of witnessing through prayer, the body experiences great growth individually as well as corporately.

4. Start with the kids!

Vacation Bible School is the single most effective evangelistic tool churches have. LifeWay VBS specialist Jerry Wooley reports nearly 3 million people participated in Vacation Bible School in 2014, and 80,000 children made professions of faith.

In addition, 1 million unchurched individuals were identified.

Young people are most likely to accept Jesus Christ as Savior:

  • 43% of Americans come to Christ before age 13, and
  • 64% do so before their 18th birthday.

So why not bring the biggest need (salvation) together with the best opportunity (VBS)?

Last year, 432 IBSA churches didn’t hold a Vacation Bible School. For them, faithful old VBS is new territory!

And for all churches, there are opportunities and resources to expand VBS to weekends and weeknights, Winter VBS, and joint VBS with other churches in parks, backyards, and apartment complexes.

5. Events connect churches and communities

The call to reach the whole world with the gospel starts right here, right in the community around your church. That’s your Jerusalem.

Although there is no one-size-fits-all outreach event for every congregation, churches with successful community involvement do have one thing in common: they make outreach the priority.

  • Add an additional worship service
  • Send members into the community to meet needs
  • Host a bake sale, volunteer at a 5k, serve at a homeless shelter.

Whatever outreach looks like for your community, do it! Be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Does your church need to make a fresh commitment to any of these areas?

Prioritize these building blocks for your church and visit the Church Resources Team at the IBSA Annual Meeting. They’ll give you resources to take back to your church.

Be sure to attend the evening session at 7 p.m. Wednesday evening, November 11 to learn more even more. Or contact the Church Resources Team for assistance with your fresh commitments to effective ministry.

Each building block has potential in God’s hands to build up your church—and His Kingdom!

Visit to learn more about the Nov. 11-12 IBSA Annual Meeting and the Nov. 10-11 Pastors’ Conference at Marion FBC. #IBSA15

New church plants double in 2015

Edgar and Sonia Rodriguez, potential Chicago church planters

IBSA’s northwest church planting director, John Mattingly, talks with Edgar and Sonia Rodriguez, potential Chicago church planters.

Illinois Baptist church planters started 20 new congregations in 2015, an increase of 10 from last year’s number.

“We are very grateful to the Lord for the increased harvest of new churches this year,” said Van Kicklighter, associate executive director for IBSA’s Church Planting team. “At the same time, we feel the burden of knowing that 20 new church plants doesn’t begin to impact the huge number of people in Illinois who need to hear the gospel message.”

In October, Kicklighter and his team welcomed a group of potential church planters for an assessment event that will help determine their next steps in the planting process. Edgar Rodriguez, a candidate from Illinois, said the state’s diversity draws would-be planters.

“Not just in Chicago, but in [all of] Illinois…Individuals are coming in from all over the world, so I think it’s good ground for the gospel and leaders from various places in the world to be trained up and eventually be sent out.”

Thomas Clark wants to plant a new church in Chicago. “This is a place where souls are needing to be saved,” he said, noting that Christ’s blood can have an impact there. “There’s a lot of blood being shed in Chicago, but with the right blood, we can make a difference.”

Tim Swigart

Tim Swigart, who wants to plant churches in NW IL, preaches to a number of IBSA representatives.

New churches are needed outside Chicagoland too. Tim Swigart and his wife are Midwest natives and self-described “farm kids.” They’re exploring planting possibilities in Northwest Illinois, the state’s most unchurched region.

“The motif of ‘planting’ is an apt one in understanding why some years produce a large harvest of new churches and other years a smaller harvest,” Kicklighter said. “As in the parable of the sower, some seed falls on good soil while other seed falls on hard and rocky soil.

“We are seeking to increase the number of people and churches who are sowing in the mission fields of Illinois and the amount of gospel seed that is sown.”

Bryan Coble and his wife, Marci, are two potential “sowers” from Missouri. At the assessment event, Bryan said planters are drawn to Illinois not just to plant churches, but to “make disciples that will plant churches themselves.”

Local churches are key to more church plants, Kicklighter said. IBSA’s Church Planting team has implemented a pray-partner-plant strategy to engage more congregations in the planting process.

“This year the Lord has blessed our sowing and gave us an increased harvest,” Kicklighter said. “Some of this is a reflection of the work of our staff and some is the result of more praying, partnering, and planting churches.”

The IBSA Pastors’ Conference and Annual Meeting are next week (November 10-12) at First Baptist Church in Marion. Find out how to make the most of your time there.

  1. Tweet the Annual Meeting. Or Facebook it,  but be sure to use #IBSA15. Share what you’re learning and what inspires you. See something that you may have missed. Tweet the Pastors’ Conference with #BuiltUp.
  2. Go to the Pastors’ Tailgate Party. Grab a bowl of chili or chicken and noodles cooked up by an IBSA Disaster Relief feeding team. Learn what they do, why they do it, and how you can be a part of it. It wouldn’t be a tailgate party without subs, sliders, nachos and other delicious treats. You’ll enjoy food, fun and fellowship Tuesday from 4:30-6 p.m. – all for just $5.
  3. Pray ahead of the meeting, during, and after it. Ask God to bless the meeting and everyone attending. Pray for the pastors and churches in our state. Pray also for people who don’t know Christ – there are more than 8 million of them in Illinois. The prayer room will be open in Room C1, just inside the chapel.
  4. Get the building blocks for church growth – Lego-style. Visit the Church Resources Team in the chapel and pick up resources you can take back to your church to create evangelistic prayer strategies, lead effective witness training, host outreach events, bring a renewed focus on Vacation Bible School, and start new small groups and classes. You might even play a video game build your own masterpiece while you’re there.
  5. Network. You’re at a meeting with 100s of other pastors from cities and churches of all sizes, different backgrounds, full-time and bi-vocational, plus some just like you. Take the opportunity to talk with them about what they’ve experienced, achieved, and hope to do. Talk one child of the King to another about how to help and encourage each other.
  6. Invest in yourself and your church. Attend the Pastors’ Conference, listen to the speakers, and go the breakout sessions. Take notes to help you remember important points to bring back to your church and community for growing  His Kingdom.
  7. Check out the exhibit hall. Want to see what kind of exhibit the Church Planting Team has cooked up this year? Need to know about the services GuideStone Financial Services provides? Interested in the programs of study Baptist colleges and seminaries offer? Plus, there’s an IBSA Dessert Reception in the exhibit hall following the Wednesday evening session. Yum!
  8. Women’s Ministry. Ladies, you’re not left out. The Ministers’ Wives’ Conference and Luncheon is Wednesday morning and will feature powerful testimonies. Come by the Women’s Ministry exhibit for all kinds of sweet treats and resources. Join the Women’s Ministry Sampling Party Thursday morning at 7:45 in Room S100. Plus, the LifeWay Bookstore will be right next door in Room S101.
  9. Participate in democratic process. IBSA is your association. Vote on new board members, budgets, and resolutions (you can even submit one!). Elect association officers and learn how your denomination works.
  10. Welcome newly affiliating churches. Established churches and some that have only recently constituted have gone through the credentials process and will be voted on during the meeting. There are 23 churches asking to join yours in IBSA.