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Tale of two cities

I’ve visited Phoenix a few times over the years, but attending the Southern Baptist Convention there recently reminded me again how much it differs from cities here in the Midwest. Of course, it’s a city in the desert, a reality that’s evident even from the sky as one’s plane lands. That difference is even more noticeable as you first breathe the dry air, touch the hot pavement or sand, or simply realize that, at least in the summertime, the brown of Arizona bears little resemblance to the green of Illinois.

In the short walk from my hotel to the convention center each day, I also noticed many different cultural influences, from Native American and Hispanic to the Old West. I saw colorful jewelry, pottery, and clothing in the store windows, and pragmatic architecture spread low across the skyline, all reflecting the unique beauty of the desert.

It wasn’t long, however, before I also began seeing similarities between Phoenix and cities like Chicago. For example, there is great wealth alongside great poverty. There are busy freeways, and constant traffic, and countless people in a hurry. There are many faces that seem sad, or angry, or just empty as they go about their routines. And there are relatively few Baptist churches, or visible evidence of Christian hope.

I’m taking time to paint this picture of Phoenix because I hope that by the time our IBSA Annual Meeting rolls around this November, we may be ready to invite many Illinois Baptists to return there. Discussions with Arizona Baptist leaders during the convention revealed several opportunities for partnership.

For example, there are currently only three African American Southern Baptist churches in the Phoenix association, while Chicago has dozens. On the other hand, Arizona Southern Baptists have been particularly effective in suburban church planting, an area of great need in Chicagoland. We began to see that a complementary partnership between churches in our states, focused especially on church planting in these two “Send Cities” of North America, could give each of them a needed boost in reaching people with the gospel and establishing new Baptist churches.

We also discovered that there are numerous natural connections between the mission field residents of Chicago and Phoenix. For example, according to recent census data, Chicagoans move to Phoenix more than any other metropolitan area except Champaign, Illinois. In fact, more move to Phoenix than to New York, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Atlanta, or even Indianapolis, which round out the list of top relocation destinations. And while Phoenix is a much smaller city, more than half the number of people that move from Chicago to Phoenix each year also move the other way, from Phoenix to Chicago.

Many Chicagoans “snowbird” in Phoenix. And the fact that both the Cubs and White Sox hold their baseball spring training camps in the Phoenix area is just one factor that keeps the airports full of tourists as well as business travelers. In fact, one travel writer recently referred to Phoenix as “Chicago West,” and commented on the numerous pockets of Chicago culture that can now be found in the desert city.

So, the tale of these two cities isn’t over with the conclusion of this year’s Southern Baptist Convention, at least as far as Illinois Baptists and Arizona Baptists are concerned. We are discussing a more formal partnership, with vision trips in early 2018, facilitated mission trip opportunities next year, and the matchmaking of several church-to-church partnerships. If all goes as planned, our desert partners may even provide Illinois Baptists with a welcome, new experience—the winter mission trip.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Phoenix map 2

People everywhere need the Lord, says IBSA’s Dennis Conner

In its first two years of production, “The Beverly Hillbillies,” topped the TV ratings in the U.S. It was so popular in those early years that nearly 40% of households that were watching television were watching the Clampetts. That’s a larger percentage of viewers than Game 7 of the Cub’s World Series Championship victory.

The basis for all the humor on the show was the fact that the principal characters were out of place. The family from deep in the hills of the Ozark Mountains discovers oil on their land and moves into a posh mansion in Beverly Hills. Hilarous hijinks ensue.

While not quite that extreme, a move from a small town in northeastern North Carolina to the western suburbs of Phoenix 11 years ago was a similar learning experience for my wife and me. Here are just a few of the things we learned:

People are open to the gospel. True, church attendance has declined substantially in the little more than half century of my lifetime. Yet, while people may not be going to a church gathering to hear the gospel, they are willing to hear it, discuss it, consider it, embrace it, or reject it in a park, a coffee shop, a work place, a restaurant, a classroom, a condo building, and a myriad of other places.

When we were planting Crosspointe, the Church at Tartesso, Arizona, most of the gospel conversations I had with those who became believers (and those who didn’t) were in one of the parks in our community.

In the three years I’ve lived in Chicago, I’ve learned people are open to the gospel here as well. And while I haven’t lived in the other cities, towns, villages, or farm communities that make up the varied mission field of Illinois, I’m confident that every place in our state has people who are open to the gospel, even if they might reject an initial invitation to church.

The fruit of the Spirit is effective in opening doors of opportunity for evangelism. When our lives are characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, we will never lack opportunities to talk about what produces those qualities in us.

Unbelieving people recognize the difference in us. They are drawn to the fruit of the Spirit. They will ask questions. Often, their desire to learn will be expressed in invitations to family or social events that welcome us into their lives and networks of relationships.

Effective evangelism often starts with open ears, eyes, and minds. Taking time to get to know someone is an expression of the value we place on them. Asking questions about a person’s education, family, work, or interests demonstrates a desire to know them. If that desire is genuine, it will communicate our value of others as human beings. Simply demonstrating care and concern for others earns us relational credibility and opportunities for relational influence. As Jesus-followers, our influence will lead others to go with us as we follow after him.

New people bring new opportunities for the gospel. Moving to a new place will often open people up to new relationships and new experiences. While planting a church in a brand-new planned community in Arizona, we hosted numerous community events that were intended to serve the community and gather new neighbors together.

Bringing people together at the common ground of a park or a school gave them an opportunity to get to know each other. Being a part of those networks of relationships gave the people of Crosspointe an opportunity to share the gospel with new friends.

People who are new to Chicago will often be ready to meet new people. A monthly weekend brunch for newcomers could be an effective tool in a condo building. While small towns in rural Illinois may not see as many new people as Chicago, the new people who do arrive are often even more open to new relationships because the established social networks can be hard to penetrate.

In just a few weeks, Illinois Baptists will have an opportunity to spend several days in Phoenix for the Southern Baptist Convention. Take some time to step away from the familiar crowd from Illinois. Engage some locals in conversation. If you encounter someone who is not a Phoenix native, ask them about how different it is for them. Their answer may just make you more aware of the people in your own town who need to hear and respond to the gospel.

Dennis Conner is IBSA’s director of church planting in northeast Illinois.

Welcome to our mission field

Elizabeth Young

Elizabeth Young

For the third time in 14 years, Arizona Southern Baptists will welcome the larger Southern Baptist family to Phoenix in June.

When Phoenix was chosen to host the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting the first time in 2003, we were more than a little surprised, given our reputation for high summertime temperatures. But with Baptists’ repeated visits, we figured the word must have gotten out that, given our low humidity, our average 102-106 degree June temperature isn’t as bad as “back home” for a lot of folks.

We’re delighted when the family comes to town. We hope, for many, it’s a reminder that Southern Baptist work does exist outside of the Deep South and west of the Continental Divide. Illinois Baptists may feel the same way about recognition of Southern Baptists north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

While we want to offer a warm welcome to the family, we sincerely pray that our guests will remember they are on a mission field. We pray for a quiet, peaceful annual meeting so that we don’t have to explain to our lost neighbors why feuding Baptists, or Baptists engaged in culture wars, made the local news. When you’re up to your eyeballs in lost people, it puts a different perspective on priorities of concern.

Illinois Baptists probably understand this, too. Although we have some differences, we seem to have a lot in common.

You have more people—almost 13 million to our 6.9 million—but we have more land—nearly 114,000 square miles to your almost 58,000. You have more churches—nearly 1,000 to our about 450—but we have similar church-to-population ratios—one church for every 13,000 people in Illinois and one for every 15,000 in Arizona.

Both of our states have one large metropolitan area that encompasses two-thirds or more of the state’s population. And whether it’s Chicagoland or greater Phoenix, also known as the Valley of the Sun, the city is a massive sea of people who don’t know Jesus as savior.

Whether on not you make the trek to the Grand Canyon State this summer, our message to you is the same. We’re drawing from Paul’s Macedonian Call in Acts 16:9 and inviting you to “Come over…and help us.”

Consider what God is calling you to do:
• Pray for God’s work in our vast state.
• Partner with an Arizona church.
• Plant a church in Arizona.

May God give all of us a “Macedonian” vision for Arizona—and beyond!

Elizabeth Young is director of communications for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention and the editor of Portraits magazine.

New IMB strategy targets cities and self-funded volunteers

london-table

This model of London fills a room at the New London Architecture Museum. The areas marked by white circles are near Underground (subway) stations. They are the focal points of church planting, making participation in worship and Bible study groups easily accessible to the city’s highly mobile population.

(Editor’s Note: The Week of Prayer for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and International Missions is Dec. 4-11.) Tourists from around the world flock to Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, The Tower Bridge, and other iconic English landmarks. Getting around via the Tube, red doubledecker buses, or those famous London black cabs is simple, and very British. It’s very easy to lose oneself in the surroundings. But the world is moving to London, and sharing its culture with it.

Across the street from the Royal London Hospital are rows of shops featuring Middle Eastern goods including halal meats, and just a few blocks away is the largest mosque in London. Other parts of the city are home to large Indian populations and curry has become a staple of the British diet.

Some 300 languages are spoken by its 8.3 million people within its 607 square miles. According to the International Mission Board, 37% of its residents come from outside the United Kingdom and one-quarter of its population arrived within the last five years. Forbes magazine named it “#1 City of Influence.”

London by the numbers

300 languages spoken

37% of population from outside the UK

¼ population arrived within the last 5 years

50 non-indigenous communities with populations of 10,000+

34 average age in London

44.7% profess no religion, “nones”

20 average church attendance

This diversity is why London was chosen as one of five cities the International Mission Board (IMB) has selected to be part of its Global Cities Initiative (GCI). In previous centuries most of the world’s population lived in rural areas. In this century, 54% of world’s population lives in urban areas and the Southern Baptist Convention’s missions sending agency has taken notice. The cities represent life-altering, world-changing, gospel-planting opportunities that can’t be missed.

The four other GCI cities are Dubai, where 80% of the population is foreign-born with more than 2 million residents from more than 200 nationalities; Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, home to 8 million people with 62% following Islam and 20% Buddhism; Shanghai, the largest city in China with a population of more than 24 million people, most of whom claim to be nonreligious or atheist; and an unnamed Southeast Asian city that’s home to nearly 17 million people with large populations of Hindus and Muslims and very few Christians.

“Every people group is represented in London. This is what heaven will look like,” said James Roberts, the IMB London city manager.

He described the economic conditions of the people living in the city, “There’s a wide gap financially, the poorest of the poor and the super wealthy, very little middle class. We’re trying to work together more across affinity groups.”

london-bridge-station

Exit signs in the London subway system read “Way Out.” For Southern Baptists sharing Christ in this bustling multi-cultural melting pot, the phrase speaks of opportunity the gospel offers for more than half of Londoners who claim a non-Christian religion or no religion at all.

Where do you even begin to start in such a large city?

Victoria. Paddington. White Chapel. They’re all stations in the London Underground subway system where up to 4.8 million passenger journeys take place each day, according to Transport for London. There are 280 stations along the 11 lines of the Tube, as it’s commonly called. The stations are the key to IMB’s outreach here.

“The goal is to have a missional community in each area,” Roberts said, describing a map-driven analysis of the entire city. “A missional community is a group that discerns how God is moving and tries to gather to share community—mom’s groups, small groups, men’s groups.”

The team in London knows it won’t be easy. “It’s a lot of networking, coffee, work, limitless streams of people coming in,” Roberts said. “We try to connect, catch people as they come with the goal of starting new groups and church work. It takes a village to pull this thing off and courage to pull this together.”

Shane Mikeska is a student mobilizer on the London team. Before coming to England, he and his family lived in Asia, but illness forced a move from the tropics. “Western Europe is the hardest place to engage the population. In Asia it’s easier to have a spirited conversation. Here in this context most (people) are apathetic.”

On campuses, he said, “the students most open to new things are internationals. There are opportunities to connect to hold worship and Bible study.” Reaching them is a focal point in the cities initiative. “They can go home and go into their culture and share boldly.”

About 50,000 Americans study abroad each year and many are Christians. “We want them to come and plug into the local church and ministry, not just travel and experience things.”

You are here
The Global Cities Initiative allows people who feel called to go—but not in the traditional career-missionary way.

D. Ray Davis is part of the IMB mobilization team. “We used to say God is calling and people aren’t listening. Now we’re saying God is calling and more people are listening than we can send.”

IMB President David Platt uses the word “limitless” to describe his vision for reaching the world: limitless numbers of missionaries utilizing “multiple pathways” to the mission field. GCI is one of those pathways to “send limitless missionaries to engage lostness all over the world,” Roberts said. “Business professionals, students, retirees—a GCI person raises their own support.” Groups and individuals are also invited to come serve on short-term projects. “There’s no language barrier to overcome,” Roberts said of his London mission field.

After getting to know the city, Mikeska has grown to love London and thinks others will too. “Now, I look at this vast city and wail over it and cry over it, like in the Bible. God’s done a transformational work in my heart,” the young missionary said. Even as he weeps for the lost, Mikeska concludes, “We’re excited about the future, being part of this team.”

To learn more, visit IMB.org. All statistics, unless otherwise noted, are from the International Mission Board.

– Lisa Sergent recently traveled to London to meet with members of the International Mission Board’s communications team. With staffing changes abroad and at the Richmond, Virginia headquarters, IMB is implementing new mission strategies. The goal is to multiply the number of missionaries on the field, especially short-term and volunteer workers who will practice their professions and their faith among the world’s lost people. Targeting huge cities in five regions of the world is one of those strategies.

A popular hotel chain is running a television commercial that cleverly depicts several groups of people trying to decide whether or not to attend a wedding. One is a group of bridesmaids, who clearly aren’t thrilled about the turquoise dresses the bride has chosen. Another group is former boyfriends of the bride, wondering why on earth they all got invited. And one sad lady simply doesn’t want to see Uncle Joe dance in public again. I think it might be Uncle Joe’s wife.

The musical background for the commercial is a rock song from the 1980’s. Over and over that song chants the simple question, “Should I stay, or should I go?”

Because Chicago is our state’s largest and most diverse mission field, we all need to get more familiar with, and comfortable in, this world class city.

As the November 2-3 IBSA Annual Meeting approaches, I imagine there are Illinois Baptists asking themselves that same question. For the first time in several years, the meeting is being hosted near Chicago, at Broadview Missionary Baptist Church. The drive will be quite a distance for those in other parts of the state, just as last year’s location in Marion was a long drive for northern churches.

And of course some will not want to brave the congestion and the traffic. In fact, I don’t know any Chicagoland natives who look forward to that part.

The message of the hotel chain’s commercial is that their comfortable, affordable hotels give even reluctant travelers reasons to go, rather than stay home. So let me suggest some reasons to go to the IBSA Annual Meeting this year.

We need to see and care about and partner with its churches.

First, the challenging theme of this year’s gathering is “Cross Culture.” The program will intentionally showcase the diversity of Illinois Baptists and also point to multiple cultures in our state that desperately need the gospel. There’s no better place in Illinois to receive the challenge to “cross culture” than in Chicago.

Second, because Chicago is our state’s largest and most diverse mission field, we all need to get more familiar with, and comfortable in, this world class city. We need more practice going there. We need to better understand its neighborhoods, its problems, its needs, and its people. We need to see and care about and partner with its churches.

Third, a lot of advance preparation has already gone in to making your stay in Chicagoland as easy as possible. Broadview is a wonderful, generous church, with lots of parking and lots of practice hosting large events. Catered meals have been arranged on site at the church to make the dinner hour easier and more convenient. Nearby hotels have provided very reasonable rates that include breakfast. And Broadview’s near west suburban location makes it a wonderful home base for seeing more of the city, either on your own or as part of two pre-planned vision tours.

Should you stay or should you go?

I could go on and on, but let me cite just one more reason, one that really applies to every Annual Meeting, regardless of location. It’s just very, very good for our Baptist family in Illinois to be together. Throughout the year, we as pastors and leaders and devoted church members work hard in our various local contexts to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission of Jesus. As the year draws to a close, it is good for us to assemble, and network, and be inspired, and remember that we are not alone in this mission.

Should you stay or should you go? If at all possible, you should go. It may surprise you what the Lord has done across our state over the past year. And it may surprise you how he and the fellowship of your brothers and sisters in Christ will inspire you for the year to come. I look forward to seeing you there.

For more information about the IBSA Annual Meeting and Pastors’ Conference, visit www.IBSAAnnualMeeting.org.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Mission Illinois Offering Day 1 Devotion

MIO-box-smallIgnite Church is a brand new congregation in Breese. In its first three months, more than 20 people accepted Christ and many were baptized in a horse trough, inside the bar where they meet on Sunday mornings. After years of alcohol and drug abuse, Levi Hart encountered Jesus, and now he and his wife are committed to bringing the gospel to where people are. Against a backdrop of neon signs, Christ is preached and lives are changed.

More than 8 million people in Illinois don’t know Jesus. The IBSA church planting team is committed to working with planters like Levi to reach those people in their unique context. IBSA started 23 churches last year, and about 80 total are in process.

Pray for church planters and partner churches, church planting leader Van Kicklighter, strategists Eddie Pullen and John Mattingly, and the rest of the IBSA church planting team.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering

Watch Levi Hart’s story, “Planting churches in Metro East.”

Investing in churches

ib2newseditor —  September 5, 2016

MIO-box-smallNow is the time of year when most Illinois Baptist churches are preparing to promote and receive the annual “Mission Illinois Offering,” which is devoted to advancing the gospel among more than eight million lost people, right here in our state.

Most of the time when we describe our mission priorities here in Illinois, we talk about the desperate need for new churches, especially in northern Illinois, and in large, lost cities like Chicago. And indeed, the MIO is helping start about 25 new churches every year.

And many times we talk about the vast and strategic mission field of Illinois college campuses, where thousands and thousands of tomorrow’s American and international leaders are being trained, often with little or no exposure to the gospel. The MIO supports collegiate ministries too, on more than two dozen campuses.

MIO supports our greatest missionary asset: the local church.

Your gift through the Mission Illinois Offering also helps support the Christian Activity Center in East St. Louis, and human need ministries like disaster and hunger relief, and IBSA-coordinated mission trips from Illinois to the ends of the earth.

But I received a promotional e-mail the other day that reminded me we often don’t talk enough about one of the most important ministries that the MIO makes possible—the ongoing investment of our missionaries and staff in the health and evangelistic growth of IBSA churches. Local churches are our greatest missionary asset as Illinois Baptists, and our investment in their health, growth, and leaders is as important as planting new churches, reaching college campuses, or meeting human and spiritual needs.

Watch the video, “Turn on the Light,” to learn more about why Nate Adams supports the Mission Illinois Offering.

The e-mail was from a church consulting firm. It offered training over a 3-day period on topics like church health models, conflict resolution, overcoming barriers to church growth, and individual church leader development. I thought to myself, ‘That’s what our staff does all the time!”

IBSA carefully measures our staff’s time investment in training and consulting with local churches. Consistently we have had direct consultation with 750-800 churches each year. Considering that ministry is delivered primarily by about 20 traveling staff, that means each staff member is serving an average of 40 churches, all year long!

But what really caught my attention about the church consulting firm’s letter was the cost of its 3-day training—$950 per student, with a minimum of 15 students. That would be over $14,000 for three days of help. To do that for 800 churches would cost more than $11 million. Our Mission Illinois Offering goal this year is $475,000.

I realize that’s not a precise apples-to-apples comparison, since Cooperative Program giving also funds our state mission work, and since IBSA does far more than training and consulting. But I hope it makes the point for you that it made for me. Every IBSA church has a staff of church health and growth consultants at its disposal, and their help is valuable! Your church’s gifts through the MIO and CP enable that staff to be available for your and hundreds of other IBSA churches—week in and week out.

Sometimes it’s awkward to ask for financial support. And maybe it’s a little easier to ask churches to support church planting and missions than to point to the “return on investment” that churches also receive through training and consulting. But if you stop and think about the value of what your church both receives and provides for other churches through your state missions giving, I hope it will make you want to give a truly generous gift through the Mission Illinois Offering this year.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering and Week of Prayer September 11-18 at MissionIllinois.org.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.