Archives For church planting

By Meredith Flynn

On our state’s bicentennial, the resolve of its early settlers has new meaning for Baptists.

Settlers arriving in the Illinois territory in the early 1800s didn’t know what to make of what they found. History tells us many of them moved north from areas that were heavily wooded. They trusted land that could support so many trees. The Illinois prairie offered no such reassurance.

“The prairies posed a new set of problems for farmers,” writes historian Pamela Riney-Kehrberg. “Below the land’s surface were tough, fibrous roots of tall prairie grasses, extending downward a foot or more. A simple wooden plow could hardly penetrate the surface.”

The pioneers made do by settling mostly in the southern part of the state, where ready access to water and trees made constructing their homes and farms more feasible. Some, though, eventually headed north, and found a way to work the hard prairie soil. It was richer than they thought, historians say. They just needed different tools. Steel, instead of wood.

Industrial pioneers John Deere and Cyrus McCormick developed tools for farming the prairie lands. And Illinois boomed. Its statehood population in 1818 was 35,000. By 1830, it had grown to 157,000, and would triple over the next decade. Still, tending the land was expensive. Families sacrificed much, Riney-Kehrberg notes, to run even a modest farm.

Two hundred years later, the challenges of tilling the soil in Illinois are different. But they still exist, especially in spiritual terms. More than 8 million people in Illinois do not know Christ. Many churches are struggling against the cultural tide to see real transformation in their communities.

Blue map copy

“I have often said that even though Illinois is the second flattest state in America, being Baptist here is an uphill climb,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams. “Baptists have always been somewhat counter-cultural and a minority in Illinois, but that used to be because larger groups of people from different religious cultures had settled the state.

“Now it’s because the culture overall has become less and less religious, and arguably more hardened to the gospel message.”

Like Illinois’ early settlers found years ago, sometimes hard soil calls for new tools. Last year, IBSA presented four challenges to renew “pioneering spirit” among Baptists in Illinois. (Read more about the challenges at pioneeringspirit.org.)

These “new tools” are actually tried-and-true church practices: evangelism, church planting, sacrificial giving, and raising up new generations of leaders.

“The widespread and growing lostness of our state compels us to think in new ways. Maybe old ways,” said Van Kicklighter, IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Planting Team. “The pioneers of Illinois and parts west came to those territories knowing that if they didn’t bring the gospel with them, it just would not be present. We need that same kind of spirit and thinking today.”

‘Time to do something’
After the 2017 IBSA Annual Meeting, David Starr led his church to tackle all four of the Pioneering Spirit challenges. His congregation, Community Southern Baptist Church in Clay City, is employing these new tools to make a difference in Illinois, especially in places where there is no IBSA church.

Starr approached Joe Lawson, director of missions for Louisville Baptist Association, about starting an association-wide prayer emphasis for the 10 counties in Illinois without an IBSA church. Community Southern, which averages around 70 in worship attendance, was assigned Carroll County in northwest Illinois. They started praying. Then, they took action.

“There’s a time to pray, and there’s a time to do something,” Starr said. He spoke with IBSA staff in Springfield and leaders in northwest Illinois, planning a mission trip that would be focused on assessing needs in the region. In July, Starr and his wife and another couple from their church traveled more than 300 miles along a diagonal line from Clay City to Savanna, Ill.

During their trip, they met with a church planter in Galena for a Monday night Bible study. Then, they knocked on doors. Starr said the small team visited 70% of the homes in the focus area, and found 21 people or families who wanted to commit themselves to seeing a Southern Baptist church planted there.

“We watch God,” Starr said. “He’s done everything.”

The team also saw physical need in Carroll County. The region has lost jobs in two big industries—railroad and lumber. There’s poverty and hunger. A woman who the team encountered ran into them later at a local store. “Don’t forget us,” she said.

Starr’s team went back home to Clay City, but they’ve continued to pray. There’s a map on the church bulletin board showing the streets they visited, and printed prayer reminders for the congregation.

Along with the challenge to go new places with the gospel, Community Southern is keeping up with the other Pioneering Spirit commitments. They increased missions giving through the Cooperative Program, are working to enlist new leaders, and celebrated one baptism on One GRAND Sunday, a statewide baptism emphasis in April.

“Here is a pastor and church that captured the pioneering spirit,” Kicklighter said. “They heard about a place where there was a compelling need, and they decided to do something about it.

“We need lots of Illinois Baptist churches with this kind of passion and willingness—a pioneering spirit.”

Starr said he’s never seen anything like it in his years of ministry. His church is investing willingly in other people and places. Like Illinois’ early settlers, they’re tilling the hard soil, and using less familiar tools to do so.

“We watch God,” Starr said. “He’s done everything.”

– Meredith Flynn, with info from History.com and “The Historical Development of Agriculture in Illinois” by Pamela Riney-Kehrberg

Lincoln and HomeThe Illinois territory became a state in 1818. Now 200 years old, the bicentennial of statehood serves to inspire IBSA’s 2018 Annual Meeting. With the theme “200 & Counting,” the meeting will focus on the Pioneering Spirit commitments made by IBSA churches since the emphasis was unveiled at the 2017 meeting.

The yearly gathering, scheduled for November 7-8, will be hosted by First Baptist Church of Maryville. Tom Hufty, pastor of the host church, will bring the annual sermon, and IBSA President Adron Robinson, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in the Chicago suburb of Country Club Hills, will bring the president’s address.

Pioneering-200-logo-layers-260x300Worship will be led by Sixteen Cities, a professional musical group comprised mostly of Southern Baptist worship pastors and leaders. And a special appearance by Abraham Lincoln is expected, in the person of Fritz Klein, well known in the Springfield area for his remarkable interpretation of the sixteenth president.

With the meeting’s “200” focus, IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams pointed out that the state’s bicentennial will be celebrated, but the real emphasis is the IBSA churches that accepted the challenges in church planting, evangelism, missions giving, and leadership development over the past year. The courageous spirit of Illinois’ pioneers is alive on the spiritual frontier today.

Dinner is available for IBSA Annual Meeting attenders on Wednesday evening. Tickets are $12; to reserve a meal, go to IBSAannualmeeting.org.

IBSA Pastors’ Conference
The IBSA Pastors’ Conference Nov. 6-7 will feature messages from four preachers on “Blazing New Trails.” The theme is from Rev. 2:1-5, which urges the early church at Ephesus to persevere in their commitment to Christ.

Urban church planting specialist Darryl Gaddy and St. Louis pastor Noah Oldham will join IBSA pastors Matt Crain and Ted Max as Pastors’ Conference speakers. The conference will also feature breakout sessions on racial unity, engaging cultures, and church planting, among other topics.

The Pastors’ Conference begins at 1 p.m. Tuesday at FBC Maryville and concludes at noon Wednesday, prior to the start of the IBSA Annual Meeting. Dinner is available onsite Tuesday for $10. To reserve a ticket, go to IBSAannualmeeting.org.

And a special preview of all the festivities, with times and locations, will be included in the October 8 issue of the Illinois Baptist.

Learning to lead

Lisa Misner —  September 20, 2018

Armed with resources, time, and friendship, IBSA zone consultants equip leaders across Illinois

Jason Vinson.jpg

With help from IBSA ministry specialists, Pastor Jason Vinson (pictured above with his children) and Charis Baptist Fellowship overcame challenges and are working to meet needs in their community of Collinsville.

By Meredith Flynn

MIO Logo 500pxIn a season meant for gratitude, Jason Vinson didn’t feel much. It was Thanksgiving when years of discouragement over his church led the pastor to the point he now calls rock bottom.

“Lord, this is not what I signed up for,” he prayed back then. “Please get somebody else. Can I have a way out? Would you please do something different, because this is killing me.”

For several years, Vinson and his church had faced internal challenges as they struggled to find effective ways to minister in their community. It was a lonely time, he said, a period when he questioned what God was doing, or whether he was working at all.

Finally, in 2016, the church decided they needed a new start. They moved forward under a new name—Charis Baptist Fellowship—with Vinson still serving as pastor. He looked for partners to help his church, and found one in Larry Rhodes, an IBSA zone consultant in the Metro East region.

“We set a date to have lunch together, and heard the story of their church—the challenges they’ve been through, and how they met those challenges through prayer and fasting and consultation within their body,” Rhodes said.

“I was so excited to hear about how God was bringing healing and new life to that fellowship.”

As a consultant in one of ten zones in Illinois, Rhodes connects resources and training with pastors, who in turn help their churches engage their communities with the gospel. In Vinson’s case, he first needed someone to listen.

Larry Rhodes

Larry Rhodes

The Mission Illinois Offering supports the ministry of zone consultants like Rhodes, who serves as a sounding board and resource for pastors and churches in Metro East St. Louis. Rhodes and his fellow consultants seek to serve on the front lines alongside churches that are seeking community transformation, through the power of the gospel.

 

“Just the fact that Larry really believed in us was incredible,” Vinson said. “He really believed that God had a good work here, that God wanted me to continue in the work here.”

The summer after their restart, Charis hosted two Bible clubs for children, using a kit provided by Rhodes through IBSA. They hosted the clubs in a local park and in a nearby trailer community with the help of visiting mission teams—partnerships Rhodes helped forge.

Charis has fostered the relationships built through the clubs in a new Sunday morning Bible study for children, and a bi-weekly family discipleship time where dads teach their children from God’s Word. Two years after God started something new in Belleville, he’s still on the move, Vinson said.

“There’s an excitement, a joy, and an expectation that God is at work in this place.”

Together in the trenches

Rhodes makes it a point to meet with each pastor in his zone, which includes the Gateway and Metro East Baptist Associations. (Local associations are networks of Baptist churches that often cooperate for ministry efforts like mission trips.) At those meetings, he wants to hear the pastor’s story, and help connect him with resources that can help the church in its big-picture mission.

Bermayne Jackson

Bermayne Jackson

For Calvary East St. Louis, that mission is to engage young people who have moved away from the church. “Our church started primarily with the concept of getting youth involved, getting them to know Christ, and keeping them involved and active in the process,” said Pastor Bermayne Jackson.

 

Rhodes came alongside the young church with resources to fulfill their mission, including a Vacation Bible School (VBS) resource kit and an evangelism training resource called “3 Circles.” Calvary used both kits last summer, hosting VBS for kids and teaching “3 Circles” to their parents.

The value of their first VBS was to show the church they could do it, their pastor said, that even a small church can be very effective. “We can make an impact,” Jackson said. “We can change lives. And it doesn’t take a hundred, 200, or 300 people to do it.

“We’re a church that has 46 members on the books. Average attendance is 30 a Sunday. But we feel confident in the fact that we can go out and make changes in our community.”

Jackson is a bivocational pastor, spending his days working as a sales manager and his evenings and weekends at church. He’s surrounded by a great leadership team at Calvary, but acknowledges pastoring can be lonely. Friendship and encouragement from experienced leaders is a key factor in being able to stick with the mission.

“Personally, (I) get an increase in energy by knowing that you have a support system there,” Jackson said of relationships he’s built with Rhodes, others from IBSA, and leaders from his local network of churches, Metro East Association. “Sometimes (Larry) is talking, and he doesn’t know how much encouragement he’s giving to me.”

Rhodes knows how difficult it is for pastors to find time to meet with him, especially when so many are working at other jobs during the week, and balancing work, family, and church responsibilities. On top of all that, they want to see their communities transformed by the gospel.

“That’s why we’re here, to serve them, and resource them, and encourage them in ways that we can, to push back the lostness in our state, which is vast,” Rhodes said.

“It’s critically important that IBSA realizes the people ‘out in the trenches,’ as I like to say, are crucial to evangelism and to discipleship in the state of Illinois. We’re fighting an uphill battle all the way, but we’re still fighting, and we should.”

Here to help

Andre Dobson

André Dobson

André Dobson has pastored churches for 44 years. Still, he said, he needs people like Larry Rhodes to come alongside him and help him be better.

 

“He went out of his way to stop by the church to introduce himself and inform us about things happening with IBSA,” Dobson said. Rhodes also offered friendship. “It was really out of that relationship, knowing that here was someone that I could trust…that I asked him to begin to get involved in helping us as a church be able to minister in the way that we needed to.”

The long-time pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Alton is mindful of the DNA he’s building for the next generation of leaders at his church. He wants to establish strong, effective, meaningful practices in areas like worship, discipleship, and evangelism.

Armed with resources, zone consultants stand ready to help churches do more effective ministry in their communities. They also serve leaders like Dobson, who are deeply invested in seeing their congregations embrace the gospel and the call to share it. Because of their visibility and partnership with churches, zone consultants often serve as the faces of IBSA, Rhodes said.

“I don’t think this face ought to represent anything,” he said self-deprecatingly, “so I call it ‘boots on the ground.’ I think it’s a tremendous way to let our churches know that we’re here. That we’re here to help them. And we’re here because of them.”

Call to prayer

Please pray for IBSA’s zone consultants and the churches they serve. Pray for stronger churches across Illinois that can build up disciples and share Christ with lost people. Pray for the Mission Illinois Offering, that many more churches will support the annual collection for state missions, which helps fund the work of Larry Rhodes and IBSA’s other missionaries and ministry staff.

Our journey together

Lisa Misner —  September 13, 2018

MIO Logo 500pxBy Nate Adams

I suppose the most self-indulgent car I’ve ever owned was one we purchased just after Beth and I were married. It was a sporty little Honda Prelude, with barely any back seat and just enough trunk space for the two of us.

Then, as our family grew, we found we needed cars with bigger back seats and more trunk space. The arrival of our third son pushed us into a mini-van, and longer trips even required a cartop carrier for all the stuff that tended to go with us. Last spring, with two daughters-in-law now in our family troupe, our family vacation required the rental of something called a “people mover,” with nine seats plus cargo space.

Yes, it costs more and more and takes extra effort for a growing family to travel together. But it’s worth it. Sure, things like your destination and everyone’s comfort are important. But just as important are the relationships that grow, and the experiences you share, as you travel together.

Our journey

That’s also how I feel about our journey and mission together as churches, here in Illinois. Sure, where we are going together is important: We want to reach people with the gospel, and to develop disciples and leaders who can help our churches grow, and start new churches, and go to the mission fields of the world.

But the relationship between and among churches and leaders is important too, and somewhat unique to state and local missions. Here we are close enough, not just to do missions together, but to grow together, and sometimes hurt together, as family.

State missions isn’t only about evangelism and church planting and training leaders, though we certainly invest a lot in those priorities. It’s also helping one another through pastoral transitions, or church conflict, or legal issues. It’s doing camps together. It’s planning mission trips or experiences for multiple leaders, or kids, or students, or churches, when one church can’t do that alone.

It’s answering the phone when a church has a need, and sometimes jumping in the car to bring some help or encouragement or resources. It’s celebrating big church anniversaries together, or the long tenure of a devoted pastor. Sometimes it’s crying together at a funeral.

When churches throughout a state decide not to travel alone, but to band together, and work together, and put a state staff and ministries in place, they are doing more than giving money to send missionaries, as important as that is. They are deciding to journey together in a shared mission field, and to do life together, for better or worse, in a way that isn’t really practical in North American missions or international missions.

I would never take anything away from the challenges that our sister, southern state conventions face. But I will say that when a few hundred Southern Baptist churches that average 75 in attendance take on a northern state like Illinois, with mammoth cities like Chicago and St. Louis, and with a population that is 175 times the total worship attendance of our churches, our journey together is a little more uphill than most.

But this is our mission field. This is where we journey together. It’s not always easy or comfortable. But it’s worth it.

This week, churches across our state will receive a special offering, the Mission Illinois Offering. It helps provide what we need for the journey together. Please consider a generous gift, through your church or through the IBSA.org website, if your church isn’t receiving the offering. Every year we travel together brings new challenges. But, for the sake of the lost here, and the glory of our God, our journey together is worth it.

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

By Andrew Woodrow

Pingree Grove prayerwalking

Pingree Grove,” Tim Bailey said, “is a small town in desperate need of a church.”
Situated in the far western suburbs of Chicago, just west of Elgin, Pingree Grove was once a small farming community with less than 200 residents. The markers were a tiny white clapboard church that would close, and a cemetery. That was in the year 2000. Now, this rapidly developing city is expected to grow to over 15,000 people by 2020. The residents live in neighborhoods sprawling across what were once cornfields, and they commute to work in the suburbs and the city.

But this burgeoning bedroom community had no church.

“During a visit to Pingree Grove, I recognized there was nothing of a spiritual nature there,” said Bailey, an IBSA church planting catalyst in northern Illinois. “But as I prayerwalked in that community, I recognized that there was something special there—something that God wanted to do.”

Bailey was praying and walking the area last summer when he had an idea. Several groups of teens from all over Illinois were coming to Chicagoland for a week in July to assist church planters. Calling on Ken Wilson, his IBSA counterpart from southern Illinois, Bailey put forth his plan.

“He said, ‘I want to plant a church in four days, and they say that we can’t do that,’” Wilson recalled. “And the last thing you want to tell a southern Illinois redneck is that you can’t do something. So, I wanted to be part of something that only God can do.”

“For the first time we decided instead of going and helping a church planter,” Bailey said of the usual summer projects teaming teens and planters in Chicagoland, “we were going to attempt to plant a church with just 11 people in four days.”

The 11 people included several teens from First Baptist Church in far south Metropolis, led by associate pastor Cliff Easter, and the students from Clarksville Baptist Church in central Illinois with their youth leader, Leslie Propst.

The group divided into groups of two and prayerwalked Pingree Grove, knocking on more than 650 doors in those four days. They prayed for the people in the community, asking the Lord to save the lost, connect them with people looking for a church, and to help develop friendships in Jesus’ name. And they invited the people to a Bible study on Thursday night.

MIO Logo 500pxAs church planting catalysts, Wilson and Bailey are part of a partnership between IBSA and the North American Mission Board. Gifts to the Mission Illinois Offering help provide support services for these church planting missionaries, allowing them to recruit and train men who will plant and pastor new churches in some of the 200 places in Illinois where IBSA has identified the need for new congregations. With Mission Illinois as both a goal and a calling, IBSA seeks to establish evangelistic, gospel-teaching churches within easy reach of every lost person in Illinois.

“The Lord granted us immense favor,” Wilson said. “We met many people interested in knowing more about a church plant possibility, and a few more who even recommitted their lives to Christ.” The superintendent of a local school gave them permission to have a meeting there. Four families attended, Bailey said, and that was the start of a church.

But we need a leader
“We were far from finished,” Wilson said, “We prayed for Pingree Grove, that God would send a church planter to lead where we began.” Little did they know, God had begun his work in Pingree Grove three years earlier.

R. T. Maldaner and his family of eight had moved to Illinois from Idaho. Maldaner was serving in a church staff position in Elgin, but he sensed the Lord leading him to plant a church. “But we really didn’t know where,” Maldaner said.

His desire for church planting was encouraged by a mentor who told him that he had the DNA of a church planter. “He told me of IBSA’s need for solid, gospel-centered men to plant solid, gospel-centered churches,” Maldaner said, “and he then connected me with a gentleman from IBSA by the name of Tim Bailey.”

In January, six months after that summer outreach, the two met at Starbucks in South Elgin. “Tim and I were sitting down drinking coffee,” Maldaner said, “talking about my desire to church plant when he asks me his final question for the interview: ‘Where do you live?’”

When Maldaner said, “Pingree Grove,” Bailey pounded the table and yelled, “Praise the Lord!”

“R.T.,” Bailey told him, “we have been walking around Pingree Grove, and driving around Pingree Grove, and praying around Pingree Grove for a year that God would send us a church planter for Pingree Grove.”

One month later, Maldaner started a gathering. Since that Sunday, 150 people have attended faithfully, Bailey said, “and we have yet to begin the major push in encouraging people to come.”

Maldaner recognizes that the “Lord has orchestrated a miraculous thing….Knowing that our church isn’t a church plant in isolation, knowing that we have IBSA and a plethora of other brothers standing alongside us and helping us is a very liberating feeling.”
The church, called City of Joy, is set to launch officially on September 9.

“It is nothing we did,” Bailey insists, “It was only because of prayer, and more prayer, and even more prayer, that God decided to open the door to this church.”

Wilson remains invigorated by the experience of prayerwalking for a church plant. “I see God wanting to do this in multiple places, even rural areas across Illinois…Because he wants to touch Illinois (even more) than we want to reach it.”

A call to prayer
Please encourage your church to pray for state missions during the Mission Illinois Offering & Week of Prayer, September 9-16. Pray especially for church planting across the state, to reach more than 8 million people here who do not know Jesus Christ as Savior. Pray for Church Planting Catalysts Tim Bailey, Ken Wilson, and other members of the IBSA Church Planting Team. And pray for R.T. Maldaner as he leads the new City of Joy Church in Pingree Grove.

‘To see the gospel carried through Baptist churches generation after generation’

Essentials MIO

MIO Logo 500pxSharing the gospel with at least 8 million people is a daunting calling, especially as the cultural opposition churches face continues to grow. But that is our calling here in Illinois. And each year in order to fulfill that calling, Illinois Baptists gather resources to fund ministries for evangelism, discipleship, and church planting.

How’s that working?

Gathered in the chapel of Broadview Missionary Baptist Church following a meeting of pastors, four IBSA leaders discussed the mission field and the future of ministry partnership through the Illinois Baptist State Association. In the discussion were:

• Nate Adams, IBSA Executive Director
• Mark Emerson, IBSA Associate Executive Director of the Church Resources Team
• Adron Robinson, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills, and serving his first term as IBSA President
• John Yi, IBSA Church Planting Catalyst focused on second-generation ministry in the Northeast region

How does our view of Illinois affect our churches’ commitment to partnership in state missions?

Nate Adams: I think a lot of people don’t think of Illinois as a mission field, because their community is reasonably churched and they’re reasonably happy in their church environment. But Illinois has 13 million people. At least 8 million of them don’t claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And a lot of those who do say they are Christians have just nominal church relationships.

John Yi: And there are many people groups that don’t have a single church that serves them. In Chicago we see so much diversity—people from all over the world speaking all kinds of different languages. There are about two million immigrants in Illinois.
And there are at least a half-a-million young people who have come to Illinois to study, and a large portion of them have come from overseas. We really have a unique opportunity to reach people with the gospel—in our cities and all over the state.

Adams: Illinois is very much a mission field. In Acts 1:8 terms, where Jesus said, “You’ll be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth,” Illinois is the “Judea” part of that mission field. In this environment, Illinois Baptists are missionaries, going to places like college campuses and large cities and rural areas, bringing the gospel there as if it had not come there before. Because for a lot of people, they’ve never heard the gospel in a way that they can really understand, even here in Illinois.

Seeing the needs, some churches have noticeably raised their support for state missions. Yours is one of them, Pastor Robinson. Why?

Adron Robinson: My congregation recently increased its Mission Illinois Offering giving because we saw the work that was going forward because of last year’s offering. We were able to see the money that we invested going to reach lost people in Illinois—going to help us reach our Judea, you know. Hillcrest can’t reach the entire state, but by giving through the Mission Illinois Offering, we can help other Illinois Baptists reach other lost people in their areas. We can join in our part of fulfilling the Great Commission.

Adams: IBSA is helping churches think about the mission field that is most accessible to them. Even though it’s a wildly diverse mission field, it’s the one that’s near enough where they can go there themselves.

Illinois is a very diverse state, both ethnically and in spiritual need. And John, you serve among people who exemplify both needs.

Yi: Chicago is a landing spot for so many immigrants. And because that’s the case, we can’t stop planting churches for our first-generation folks. But as soon as they arrive, a cultural gap starts to form between the generations almost immediately. And so the challenge is two-fold—that we reach immigrants in their own language, but also reach their children with the gospel in English, which the parents are unfamiliar with, in a meaningful way that’s going to bring them to Christ.

What can our churches do together that they could never accomplish alone?

Robinson: I’m grateful for our partnership with IBSA, because it gives the local church the resources and the connections to do statewide ministry that we can never accomplish as one small local congregation. Through Disaster Relief, evangelism training, equipping of our local church body through IBSA staff, we are able to reach people all around the state.

Mark Emerson: As Pastor Robinson points out, missions is part of our work, along with evangelism and discipleship. And we help churches do this by equipping them for leadership: IBSA develops leaders.

I think back to several of the guys who were on the IBSA staff when I was a new pastor and church planter almost 30 years ago, how they took me under their wings and mentored me. Today, I’m thinking how great it would be if every Illinois Baptist pastor had that kind of connection.

Adams: I think the advantage that IBSA has, that allows us to create that kind of opportunity, is proximity to the churches. Southern Baptists have an International Mission Board helping churches go around the world, and a North American Mission Board focusing on some of the great cities in North America. But the Illinois Baptist State Association is the nearby partner. They’re the guy nearby to the church who equips the church to reach its own mission field right here in Illinois.

Emerson: As a pastor, I recall how I looked at a lot of different things in our organization and thought, “Well, our church is not growing because we have a community problem. Or an organizational problem. Or a financial problem.” What I learned is that our ministry really had a leadership problem. And if the church was going grow, I was going to have to grow.

So, we are developing leaders by providing the same kind of experience that I had through the state association—creating cohorts where leaders come together and learn to lead. We have about 40 of these groups all over the state now.

In addition to cohorts, the Church Resources Team equips 6,500 leaders from almost all of our 1,000 IBSA churches and church plants in all aspects of ministry in statewide and regional training events. And we train kids and students in missions and leadership with camps each summer and evangelism events in the fall.

Robinson: Our church has hosted youth events for the northern region. Without our IBSA connections, these things would never happen—praying together and serving faithfully, partnering together—

The key word is partnership.

Adams: I hope our young people won’t lose the vision of partnering with others who believe Baptist doctrine to send missionaries into places that no one church could send by themselves. But that working together as Baptist churches we can send reliable missionaries to places that will deliver the gospel and start New Testament churches that are relevant to that community. And I hope that’s something that will happen for generation after generation.

Emerson: That our work is handed from one generation to another.

So how do you see state missions in the future?

Adams: For me personally to see the gospel carried through Baptist churches generation after generation is a continuation of what my dad started when he was a pastor and a director of missions in Illinois. I want to see that happen in the generations of my kids and their kids—a stewardship of faithfulness, that we believe the Bible, that we believe the gospel, that we believe the mission of God is the most important thing in our lives.

By Andrew Woodrow

Classic Outreach

In a town proud of its Route 66 heritage, thousands gather every year to celebrate what John Steinbeck called “the Mother Road.” For more than 20 years, Edwardsville’s annual Route 66 festival at City Park has offered visitors fun, food, and classic cars. What was missing, realized church planter Rayden Hollis, was a gospel opportunity.

Hollis is the planter and lead pastor of Red Hill church in Edwardsville. The church isn’t quite three years old, and they don’t have their own building yet. But Hollis is passionate in leading his church by a missions strategy based on Jeremiah 29:7.

“Just as the Israelites, exiles in their community, were commanded to seek out the welfare of the city they were living in,” Hollis said, “it’s our philosophy that we too, as exiles, need to seek out the welfare of the city we live in and pray for it.”

That philosophy is at the core of Red Hill’s presence at their city’s summer festival—and it’s a noticeable presence. At this year’s event June 8-9, park visitors stirred the humid air with hand-held fans emblazoned with Red Hill Church. Diners at picnic tables ate under misting fans donated by the church. Dog walkers at the festival discussed their pets with dog walkers from Red Hill. Church members brought a bean bag set and played alongside park visitors.

Church Hits the ‘Mother Road’ from IL Baptist State Association on Vimeo.

And showcased just outside the church’s two tents at the festival: a 1955 Chevy Bel Air. The gleaming red and white car—made even more vibrant by the sun’s glare—attracted visitors to the Red Hill display.

To Hollis, Red Hill isn’t just about gathering for their Saturday evening worship, it’s about the church going out into the community and making the city better.

“I’ve been a part of churches where if the Lord removed that church from the community, the community wouldn’t even notice,” Hollis said. “We don’t want to be that church.

“We want to be so deeply integrated into the life of our community that if we were pulled out, it would have a devastating effect upon the regular rhythms that people engage in inside of our cities. So, we’re trying to find ways that we can step in and make an immediate impact and difference in the life of our city, just by observing what’s naturally happening in it.”

Nothing in return

Early on, Red Hill began to observe the rhythms and patterns of Edwardsville, seeking out ways to serve at city events with a focus to “breathe even more life into it,” Hollis said. “We want to be given an opportunity to show the city how much our church cares for it.”

Once Hollis learned of the success of Edwardsville’s Route 66 Festival, he knew he needed to get involved.

But at first, it wasn’t easy. Katie Grable, assistant director for the Edwardsville parks department, was uncertain about allowing a church to actively participate in the festival. “Initially I was a bit skeptical,” she told the Illinois Baptist. “Not because I was against a church partnership, but rather, I was nervous that their angle would be vocally evangelistic.”

Still, in 2015, Red Hill was granted permission to set up a photo booth tent in the far back corner of the festival. They provided props and space for festival-goers to pose for photos. “We wanted to do something that added to the festival’s success,” said Sarah Hollis, Rayden’s wife. “And through that, begin those gospel conversations with the park visitors.”

Realizing the potential to reach up to 10,000 people in one weekend, Rayden Hollis was eager to do more the next year. He asked Grable how Red Hill could best contribute to the festival, and the city’s success, from Red Hill’s own budget. His requests puzzled Grable, leading her to eventually ask Hollis what was in it for his church.

“Nobody just gives freely without wanting something in return,” Grable said. “And they were just willing to offer so much I eventually asked what Rayden wanted, and we would see what we could do to help.”

To Hollis, Grable’s question came as a surprise. “At first I didn’t know what she was talking about,” he said. “But then something really awesome happened.” Hollis was able to explain to Grable that what Red Hill was doing was meant to be a reflection of God’s love. Hollis further explained there wasn’t anything he needed but rather that the opposite was true. “I told her I had something that she desperately needed,” Hollis said. “And I got to share the gospel with her.

“Now the unfortunate news is that she didn’t receive Christ, but because of what we’re doing as a church, I got the opportunity to share with someone why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Grable wasn’t yet ready to receive Christ, but she understood Red Hill’s genuine intent in giving. And a partnership blossomed between the Parks and Recreation department and Red Hill.

“It was through that experience that I finally realized this was just an honest willingness in wanting to help,” Grable said. “They’ve been our most frequent partner since then and are the only organization that is coming out to basically anything that we do in the city.”

Valued partners

Since their first involvement with the Route 66 Festival in 2015, Red Hill has come a long way at the event. Their photo booth tent is no longer in the far back corner of the park. It has instead been moved to the front.

“We even have a second tent where we pass out handheld fans,” said church member Casey Elmore. “And we do almost all the volunteering for the kids’ activities.”

Elmore emphasized Red Hill’s devotion to the city as a “heartbeat to serve and build relationships within our community. And through that, crack open those opportunities to share the gospel.”

The church is also fostering its relationship with the Parks and Recreation department, who has called on Red Hill to help open their newest park, and even made Hollis an administrator on their Facebook page.

The pastor thanks Illinois Baptists for giving through the Cooperative Program to help make his church’s outreach possible. 

“Events like this would never happen unless Southern Baptists of Illinois continued to give to the Cooperative Program, to the Mission Illinois Offering, and other Illinois Baptist offerings. So, to every pastor, thank you for inspiring and encouraging your church to give. And to every Illinoisan who’s given over the course of their lifetime, thank you.

“Your generous gift helps make this moment possible for us to be a gospel witness and to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this city.”