Metro East prepares for the Southern Baptist Convention | June 14-15, 2016
People from elsewhere are confused when I say I am from Illinois, near St. Louis. For many, Illinois means Chicago. But our state is much bigger than that.
When James Eads built the first bridge across the Mississippi in 1874, downtown St. Louis was connected to Illinois as never before. We love our giant city to the north, but much of our state is closer to St. Louis.
If you live near enough to the S-T-L, you know that our region is called Metro East. Let me tell you some of the Metro East story.
The Metro East is five counties on the Illinois side of the river. With 700,000 residents, it’s about one-fourth of the population of metropolitan St. Louis, which comes in at 2.8 million. It includes places like East St. Louis, Alton, Belleville, Edwardsville, Columbia, Collinsville, Fairview Heights and, yes, my town of O’Fallon.
We are diverse, but sometimes segregated. For example, East St. Louis is 98% African American, while O’Fallon is 82% white.
We are old towns, but there is a lot of new growth. Many of us work downtown, but new jobs are being created on our side of the river as well. And Scott Air Force Base has a large influence here. We have poverty and wealth. We have struggling churches and churches that are growing rapidly. We have challenges and opportunities.
Our relationship with St. Louis is complex. We love the city, the sports teams (at least those who don’t move away!) and the many things to see and do there. But we feel forgotten by the Missouri side. We go to the west side of the river often. They rarely come to the east side. We love and need St. Louis, but we identify closely with our own towns and schools.
Our area has many Catholics, but Baptists have a strong influence as well. St. Louis was founded by French explorers and Catholic missionaries. About half of the people in St. Louis consider themselves religious because they have a Catholic background, but the other half don’t claim to be anything.
The first Baptist church in the state of Illinois was in a community called New Design. It was formed in 1786 near the Metro East city of Waterloo. Colonists traveled from Virginia and Kentucky to that spot near the Mississippi River. Among their number were two preachers, James Smith and David Badgley, who preached at New Design. The colony had more than 200 residents by 1800 and was the largest settlement in Illinois at the time.
Since that day, Baptists have impacted the region with the message of the gospel. Many of the strongest churches in IBSA are in Metro East and there are numerous new church plants here.
When the Southern Baptist Convention comes to St. Louis this summer there will be many Metro East Baptists in attendance. We will work and host many of the events that precede the convention. Our churches are planning to host and participate in Crossover events during the weekend before the convention. And my wife is president of the Ministers’ Wives luncheon that will be held on Tuesday of the convention week. She will be very busy!
Okay, we get it. Metro East isn’t Chicago. It isn’t even St. Louis, exactly. But it is a great place to live and we have a great view of the Arch. And God is at work here. And that makes it pretty great!
Doug Munton is pastor of First Baptist Church of O’Fallon. (Illinois, that is, not the one on the Missouri side of the river.) This is part of a series of articles on the Illinois side of the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in St. Louis.
Come to Metro East for Crossover
What do you get when 5,000 or more Southern Baptists descend on your town for a week? Outreach partners!
Crossover is the SBC’s concentrated evangelistic effort in the days just before each Southern Baptist Convention. Often, it’s a focused outreach day on the preceding Saturday. Churches from all across America bring workers and witnesses to meet needs and share Christ.
And local churches and new church plants find a ready supply of helpers, if they will simply put them to work.
Matt Burton, associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Mascoutah says they have a “two-fold Crossover plan.”
- Tuesday through Friday of that week we will be doing a “Mascoutah Changers” where our students will use the skills they’ve learned in four years of World Changers to make an impact on the community. Included in our light construction or clean-up projects will be evangelism training and prayer walking.
- Then on Saturday, the actual Crossover day, the church is planning a block party. We will host a health fair offering such things as school health exams, pregnancy screenings, blood pressure checks, eye exams, etc. And during the day, we will separate out adults from children and give each a clear gospel presentation with an intentional follow-up plan, Burton said.
What to do now:
For Metro East churches, start planning your strategy. Either host a Crossover event or make plans to support another church with theirs. Partnerships formed now can last for years, and advance the gospel in many communities.
For churches outside Metro East, now is the time to make contact with a church in the St. Louis region and form a partnership. Churches will offer different types of ministry events, depending on the demographics and needs of their communities.
Illinois Crossover projects are listed on the Metro East Baptist Association website—meba.org/crossover-st-louis-2016. Most of the projects are scheduled for Saturday, June 11, but some, like the week-long construction initiative in Mascoutah, start earlier.
Go to meba.org and click on “Crossover St. Louis 2016” in the right column for more information, or contact the association at (618) 624-4444.