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Illinois Baptist State Association

The power of one

ib2newseditor —  February 13, 2017 — 1 Comment

red leaves church steeple

This is a time of year when we at IBSA do a lot of evaluating, not only of our staff’s efforts, but also of the overall health dynamics of churches. An outstanding 95% of IBSA churches completed annual church profile reports for 2016, and this gives us a wealth of information to study.

Like every year, some churches thrived last year and others struggled, so it’s possible to overgeneralize. But looking at the broad stroke data for 964 churches and missions (up seven from the previous year), it’s reasonable to say that some ministry areas such as leadership development and Sunday School participation were up, while others such as church planting and missions giving were down, at least compared to the previous year.

Of all the “down” areas, though, none concern me more than our churches’ overall baptism number, which dropped more than 11% in 2016, to 3,953. The number of churches reporting zero baptisms increased by over 10%, to 352, meaning that more than a third of IBSA churches did not baptize anyone last year.

Just one voice, one commitment, one resolution of faith can turn things around.

A few days ago, one pastor asked me how things were going, and the first burden I found spilling out of my heart was the decline in church baptisms. He nodded his head in empathy and agreement. “I know we were down in our church last year,” he acknowledged.

But what he said next truly encouraged me. “So we are really getting after that this year. We have set a baptism goal, and we have evangelism training planned. But we also have set goals as a church for the number of gospel presentations we will make, and the number of spiritual conversations we will seek to have, believing that those will then lead to gospel presentations.”

He went on to tell me how each leader and church member was being challenged to look for these opportunities, and that they were reporting them through Sunday school classes and other ways.

That same week, a young pastor wrote me an e-mail, thanking me for how two of our IBSA staff members had specifically helped and encouraged his small church. He admitted that in the past he had questioned how much his church’s Cooperative Program giving helped struggling churches, compared with church plants. Now, in his first senior pastorate, he had experienced firsthand the practical ministry support that state staff provide. Others in his association felt the same, he said, and were planning to join him in increasing their Cooperative Program giving this next year.

What struck me about both these conversations, and both these pastors, was the positive power of one voice, one commitment. One pastor looked at a lower baptism number and said, “We will not be satisfied with that. Here’s what we’re going to do.” Another pastor took a fresh look at the value of cooperative missions giving and said, “We can do more.”

So often it just takes just one voice, one commitment, one resolution of faith to turn things around. I think of Noah, and David, and Elijah, and Nehemiah, and other Old Testament heroes. I think of Peter’s boldness and Paul’s resilience in the New Testament. And of course I think of Jesus, not only on the cross, but also in eternity past, saying to the Father, “This shall not stand. I will do what it takes to make this right.”

Today, each of those pastors is using his own power of one to lead and inspire his church to a better place, regardless of the past, or what happened last year. In doing so, they reminded me how much can change when one person simply refuses to accept the status quo.

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

The Faith Frontier

ib2newseditor —  October 24, 2016

Illinois has come a long way, but we still have a way to go

Illinois IL State United States of America 3d Animated State Map

When Illinois became a state in 1818, fewer than 100 people lived in Chicago, and less than that at Calhoun. The hubs of activity were places such as Kaskaskia, on the banks of the Mississippi River. The town swelled to 7,000 when it became the first state capital for one year. Then bustling Vandalia was the capital for 20 years, until Abraham Lincoln and a few others had the capital moved to Calhoun in 1839. Calhoun had been renamed after Springfield, Massachusetts, a center of trade, creativity, and innovation. They had high hopes for their new Springfield—and for all of Illinois.

Catholic priests came to the area early, following French trappers and traders into St. Louis and later Chicago, building a few churches and converting a few Native Americans. The trappers were largely unconverted. Baptists and some Methodists were on scene by 1781, starting the first Protestant congregation in Illinois and building a Baptist meeting house at New Design, across from St. Louis on the river.

Illinois was a frontier state 200 years ago. Today, in many ways, it still is.

Almost 13 million people live in Illinois. But in terms of faith, the state is wild and untamed. At least 8 million residents do not know Jesus Christ. As the population grows, the percentage who identify with any religion at all continues to decline.

The state’s population hubs are our largest mission fields, especially metro Chicago and metro East St. Louis. Our cities are teeming centers of commerce and education, with growing populations of immigrant peoples.

The last census showed Hispanic and Asian populations are the fastest growing ethnic groups in the state. In fact, the Hispanic population grew in all but one of Illinois’ 102 counties.

In Illinois, nine people groups are unreached with the gospel because of language and cultural barriers, but literally millions of English-speaking and culturally mainstream people have never heard the message of salvation in a way they have understood and believed.

On our college campuses, for example, almost 900,000 students represent a mission field with enormous potential, and historically the lowest percentage of believers among young adults ever.

The cultural withdrawal from the Christian faith is felt all across Illinois—in cities and university settings, in small towns and crossroads communities. The northwest quadrant of Illinois is one of the least-Christian areas in the nation. And scattered across the state, there are nine counties that have no Southern Baptist congregation, 12 counties have only one, and many more have minimal evangelical presence.

In 40% of Illinois counties, less than 1% of the population identifies as Southern Baptist.

By faithful, regular, systematic giving to missions through the Cooperative Program, Baptists together serve as missions pioneers, in our frontier territory in Illinois and around the world, wherever the gospel is needed.

Offering Day

ib2newseditor —  September 18, 2016

Mission Illinois Offering  Week of Prayer Day 8

MIO-box-smallToday many churches across the state will collect the Mission Illinois Offering. With a goal of $475,000, the ministries in this prayer guide depend on faithful giving in order to continue reaching people for Christ. The Mission Illinois Offering is the most direct channel through which Illinois Baptists can fund mission work close to home and really invest in the things important to us here.

Mission Illinois encourages the work of local congregations, is built on solid Baptist doctrine, and helps share Christ in every setting where IBSA missionaries serve. Missions giving through this offering helps equip and mobilize people to reach our specific mission field—the lost and unreached people in Illinois.

Pray for IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams and all the missionaries and staff of IBSA. Pray for generous giving during your own church’s offering for state missions.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering

Watch Nate Adams’ video, “Turn on the light.”

Raising the bar

ib2newseditor —  August 8, 2016

A pastor with a past returns home to share the good news that changed his life. But, where will his new church meet?

Ignite Church

Ignite Church gathers for Sunday morning worship.

On Sunday morning, Leah Hart is on a brightly lit platform singing a current praise song in a strong voice, backed by guitar, keyboard, and drums. A crowd of about 60 people singing with her picks up on the lyrics which are new to many of them. Some are seated on high stools at pub tables, and no one seems to notice the neon beer signs on the walls or the giant horseshoe-shaped bar behind them.

“I can’t believe how well a bar is set up to be used as a church,” said Levi Hart, Leah’s husband. “It’s a sports bar/concert venue. You see the bar and all the liquor bottles and all that, then all over the place you see things saying ‘Ignite Church.’”

Levi is describing Big Stix, the establishment in his hometown where he and Leah are planting a church. “And you see a bunch of people there for a completely different purpose than the night before, when it was packed full of people getting drunk.”

Levi nods and chuckles a little. He’s still amazed that it’s working, this new church plant that turns a bar into a sanctuary on Sunday morning. It’s working very well.

Since the Harts began holding services in March, more than 20 people have accepted Christ. The church has held two baptism services using a horse trough on the concrete floor in front of the stage.

“I said, ‘Ah, that’s not gonna work. My house got raided in Breese.’ I thought there’s no way, you know.”

Ignite Church is one of 17 new churches started in Illinois so far this year. IBSA helped plant 23 new churches in 2015, and at any given time, there are as many as 80 church planters in the process of starting new congregations in the state. Their work is supported in part by giving through the Mission Illinois Offering.

While national partners target the cities in particular, IBSA also is planting outside the large metro areas.

“We are finding that many of the smaller and more rural communities in Illinois have less gospel presence now than they did 20 or 30 years ago,” said Van Kicklighter, head of church planting for IBSA. “In many places, the mainline churches that once served these communities are closing their doors, leaving a real void and opportunity for gospel-preaching churches to be planted.”

At issue is having planters and funds to support them, Kicklighter said. “We have far more opportunities for planting churches in the smaller communities of Illinois than we have leaders and churches willing to go there and plant their lives.”

And that makes Levi Hart’s story even more special.

What about Breese?
Levi wasn’t sure his idea would work—and for good reason. “I asked my wife, ‘Leah, do you think we should plant a church?’” Levi was serving as a youth minister in a nearby town at the time and feeling a call to something more.

“She said, ‘Yeah, yeah, absolutely. What about Breese?’”

“I said, ‘Ah, that’s not gonna work. My house got raided in Breese.’ I thought there’s no way, you know.”

No way, because it was in Breese that Levi fell into alcohol and drug abuse as a teenager. It was in Breese that Levi was arrested for selling drugs. And it was in Breese that Levi earned a reputation.

But jailed and facing up to five years in prison, Levi entered rehab and started attending a Bible study. There he heard the gospel. The Bible study leader confronted him.

“I hit my knees and asked for forgiveness for everything for the first time in my life,” Levi said. “I woke up the next day a new creation!”

“I hit my knees and asked for forgiveness for everything for the first time in my life,” Levi said. “I woke up the next day a new creation!”

Now 26, the young man grins and nods as he says the words. Levi is still amazed that God would call him back here to be a pastor and plant a church.

Hometown heroics

Hart Family

The Hart Family

Breese is a small town of about 4,500 about 30 miles east of St. Louis. In the surrounding area, there are almost 20,000 residents, but only a handful of churches. Breese has two Protestant churches. For such a small place, it’s a party town, according to Levi. For the young people, there’s not much else to do.

“What’s missing in Breese is the gospel,” he said. That’s why he’s burdened for the people who live there. “It’s basically an unreached people group. There’s like 98% of the people here who don’t know Jesus.”

So a church that meets in a bar shouldn’t be a surprise.

“He’s going where the people are, going to his context,” said Eddie Pullen, IBSA’s church planting strategist in the Metro East region. “He’s reaching people who have no exposure at all to the gospel.”

As an IBSA specialist in church planting, Pullen helps new pastors navigate the challenges of starting a church. Pullen draws from his own experience.

He planted Mosaic Church in nearby Highland and serves as its teaching pastor. Mosaic is the sponsoring congregation for the Harts’
ministry.

“We’re grateful to be a part of it,” Pullen said, getting misty-eyed. “He causes a thirst for people who may not know they’re thirsty.”

Or, amid the bottles and signs, what they’re really thirsting for.

Living water and holy fire
The bar is closed on Mondays. That’s when Levi leads a Bible study.

After a family-style dinner, the children go next door to an area the bar’s owner has allowed them to renovate for nursery, classroom, and office space. Leah and several of her family members teach the children’s Bible study in rooms painted with animals parading into Noah’s Ark, while Levi opens the Scriptures for their parents.

On this night, one man asks a couple of questions revealing this material is new to him. Levi lays aside his teaching plan and for nearly an hour shares a clear presentation of the gospel, focusing on sin, the cross, and salvation in Jesus Christ. He shares some of his own story along the way. The man listens attentively.

Levi expected to reach people his own age, but “what happened is we have a large group of 35- to 55-year-olds. A lot of people that age around here are hungry for something more.”
Today in Breese, Levi and Leah are fanning the flames of the gospel through their ministry at Ignite Church. “You know,” he said, “that’s what I want our church to do…ignite a fire…and see lives changed.”

Watch Levi’s story at missionillinois.org.

It’s time to speak up

ib2newseditor —  August 3, 2016

Adron RobinsonThe week of July 4, 2016, was a very dark week in America. It began with my wife and me celebrating Independence Day with our family and watching the local fireworks display. But there would be a different type of fireworks in the days to come.

On July 5, a Baton Rouge police officer pinned down Alton Sterling and shot him several times while he was on the ground, killing him in front of witnesses.

The very next day in Minnesota, Philando Castile was pulled over in a routine traffic stop and shot multiple times by a police officer. Castile’s girlfriend videotaped the aftermath of the shooting and broadcast it live on Facebook for the world to see.

If those incidents weren’t enough, on July 7, at the end of a peaceful protest of these killings, an armed gunman ambushed Dallas police officers, killing five and wounding seven others.

How can the church remain silent when the sin of racism is screaming so loudly?

It truly was a dark week in America. As I sat at my desk praying about how to process these events and address these issues with my congregation, God led me to Matthew 5:13-16.

We live in a dark and decaying world, and the darker the world gets, the more it needs the church to be salt and light. Light shines brightest in darkness, and God has providentially placed the local church in the community to shine the light of the gospel to a world that desperately needs that light.

The killings of African Americans at the hands of police officers, and the denial of justice to the families of those slain, reveal the high level of personal and institutional racism in America.

The truth of the matter is that an encounter with the police is a life or death matter for many people of color in America. We pull over praying. Praying that the officer who stops us will uphold the law and not manipulate it to cover up his own racial prejudice. Praying that we will be treated the same way every other citizen of this country is treated. But most of all, we are praying that we are not killed by the very people our taxes pay to serve and protect us.

This is not the experience of my non-minority brothers and sisters. And it should not be the experience of anyone created in the image of God.

My question is, how can the church remain silent, when the sin of racism is screaming so loudly? How can we stand by as injustice continues against those we say are our brothers and sisters in Christ?

We cannot remain silent. In order for there to be change in our culture, the church must stop being silent and step up and be the church. In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus calls us to be counter-cultural Christians. This means the church is called to influence our culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Christians and only Christians are the salt of the earth. Christians and only Christians are the light of the world. Christians and Christians alone are responsible for stopping corruption and slowing down the decay of this world.

Notice Jesus did not say “you and the government,” “you and the police department,” or “you and the Supreme Court.” There is only one hope for this world, and that hope is in people of God preventing decay and penetrating darkness.

We need to stop making excuses, stop being divided, stop being deceived by the darkness of this culture, and begin shining the light of righteousness and loving our neighbor as ourselves. We will never overcome a hateful world unless we learn to love one another.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” If we love our neighbor as ourselves, we cannot remain silent as our neighbors are being slain in the streets. And we must address the racism in our world, even if it is in our own hearts.

In Acts 10:34, Peter says, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality.”

I pray that soon and very soon, the church would do the same.

– Adron Robinson is senior pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and vice president of IBSA.

See you in St. Louis?

ib2newseditor —  April 25, 2016

St. Louis map pin2

What takes place at the convention is important—in the meetings and in the streets.

When the national Southern Baptist Convention convenes in St. Louis on June 14, I’m hoping there will be a record number of messengers from Illinois churches present. Among the cities where the SBC has met in recent years, St. Louis is certainly the most accessible to a majority of Illinois churches. But convenience isn’t the main reason I’m hoping to see hundreds, even thousands of messengers from Illinois.

First, this is an important SBC presidential election year. As President Ronnie Floyd is completing his second one-year term, three pastors have announced their intent to be nominated. As in the campaign for U. S. President, there are clear and important differences to be found in the leadership records, public statements, and declared priorities of each person seeking to lead the SBC into the future.

In fact, this year’s candidates have notable differences, not just in ministry experience, but in doctrinal conviction and missions cooperation. Messengers will want to study these in advance of the Convention, and arrive prepared to support the nominee who best represents not only their own churches’ practices and convictions, but also the direction they feel is best for our Great Commission cooperation as Baptist churches in the future.

Through the Illinois Baptist, IBSA.org, and other channels, IBSA is providing churches with objective information about and from the SBC President nominees and other issues anticipated at the Convention. IBSA will host a reception for Illinois Baptists at the St. Louis convention center on Monday night following the Pastors’ Conference and just prior to the convention’s start on Tuesday morning. So please, stay engaged and informed!

It’s also important that representatives from your church arrive as registered messengers, and not just as guests. Remember to elect messengers in advance at a church business meeting and register them online if possible. If you need help with this process, contact us here at IBSA.

A second important reason for coming to St. Louis is the evangelistic opportunity called Crossover that takes place just prior to the Convention. In fact, many Illinois churches could participate in Crossover on Saturday, June 11, return to worship in their own churches on June 12, and return for the Pastors’ Conference and Convention the following week.

Metro East Baptist Association Director of Missions Ronny Carroll and others have been representing the Illinois side of the river in planning this emphasis, which includes a variety of volunteer opportunities. You can find a complete listing online at meba.org/crossover-st-louis-2016/.

The people of the cities where the annual SBC is hosted certainly notice when Southern Baptists come to town. The Southern Baptist Convention is a major event, often covered in the news. Church messengers saturate the convention center, hotels and restaurants, and sometimes outside protesters try to step into the spotlight to advance their agendas.

This very public setting provides a wonderful opportunity for thousands of evangelistic volunteers to come and bring the host city both sacrificial service and the good news of the gospel. What takes place in the reporting, worship and business sessions of the SBC meeting itself is vitally important, and worth our time as messengers from Illinois churches, especially this year. And what takes place out in the streets at Crossover can be eternally significant to those who may meet Christ there. It’s well worth our time, both in St. Louis and in our own communities. And these are two very good reasons why I hope I will see you in St. Louis.

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

Stirring the Waters

After three years of declining baptisms, SBC leaders are calling it what it is—an evangelism crisis.

What happened to evangelism in the Southern Baptist Convention?”

The question, posed by SBC President Ronnie Floyd, came after the Annual Church Profile reports completed by Southern Baptist churches showed a third consecutive year of declining baptisms.

In fact, the total for 2014 (the most recent year for which national statistics are currently available) is the lowest number of baptisms since 1947. Southern Baptist churches baptized 305,301 people, a 1.63% decrease from the previous year. An in Illinois, the annual number of baptisms, which has hovered around 5,000, dropped to 4,400 in 2015.

“Deplorable” is how Floyd described the reality that even though there are more SBC churches than ever, and an ever larger population to reach with the gospel, it’s simply not happening—at least, not according to the baptism numbers.

Recently, Floyd and other SBC leaders have been increasingly vocal about how the numbers reflect an even bigger problem: an evangelism crisis.

“Lostness in North America is having a bigger impact on Southern Baptists than Southern Baptists are having on lostness,” New Orleans Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley said at a recent chapel service.

The picture is bleak, but all is not lost, SBC leaders seem to agree. A turnaround is dependent on renewed appreciation for and dedication to evangelism in the Southern Baptist Convention and in individual churches. Church members need models, leaders who are soul winners themselves and can train people in the pews to share their faith.

“Let’s not be paralyzed,” Floyd wrote on his blog, urging Baptists to action. “Do something. Do more than you are doing now. Take a risk.

“Return to the importance of reaching and baptizing people.”

Mission drift

One reason some leaders cite for the SBC’s decline in baptisms, and overall in evangelism, is a culture that sidelines those things. In an address to the SBC Executive Committee in February, Floyd spoke about a critical shift that has brought the denomination to this point:

“Years ago, something happened where pastors and churches that reached and baptized people effectively came under the microscope of other Baptists who oftentimes did not have a heart for evangelism themselves. A culture of skepticism about evangelism began to creep into our convention. Evangelism began to die.”

Even the way we talk about evangelism is different, said IBSA’s Pat Pajak. The weekly opportunity to go out “soul winning” has been replaced with more politically correct titles such as outreach, or more often the practice has been lost altogether. “In the process, born-again believers have lost the passion and emphasis on reaching into the pagan pool and bringing the lost to Christ,” said Pajak, who leads the Church Consulting Team.

Recent research supports this: A 2012 study by LifeWay Research found that while 80% of Protestant church-goers believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith, 61% hadn’t told anyone how to become a Christian in the previous six months. Nearly half (48%) hadn’t invited an unchurched person to attend a church event or service in six months.

LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer broke down the research this way: “…The typical churchgoer tells less than one person how to become a Christian in a given year. The number for more than half of respondents was zero. The second most frequent answer was one.”

The shirt says it all -- Emily Zimmer is baptized by Pastor Tracy Smith at First Baptist Church in Mt. Zion.

The shirt says it all — Emily Zimmer is baptized by Pastor Tracy Smith at First Baptist Church in Mt. Zion, one of many congregations in Illinois that experienced large increases in baptisms in 2015.

To right the ship, SBC leaders have pointed first to the need for spiritual awakening—first in churches, then in the culture at large. But there are also solutions to be found at the denominational level and in local churches, starting with leaders.

Floyd recalled a time when only preachers who led strong evangelistic churches were invited to speak at the SBC Pastors’ Conference and annual meeting. Those leaders were also the ones nominated for denominational offices. In his November blog post about the state of evangelism in the SBC, Floyd seemed to call for a return to those principles.

“Quite honestly, I am not impressed by how many books a pastor sells, how many Twitter followers he may have, at how many conferences he speaks, how great of a preacher he is, or how much his church does around the world if he pastors or is associated with a church that has a lame commitment to evangelizing and baptizing lost people and reaching his own community with the gospel of Christ.”

At the local level, too, leaders can help reverse the decline by creating an environment that is conducive to evangelism, said IBSA’s Mark Emerson.

“The pastors who are effectively reaching people for Christ are creating an environment of evangelism in their churches,” said Emerson, whose Church Resources team equips churches in evangelism.

“They are making sure every ministry has an evangelistic purpose, they are designing their worship services to communicate the gospel and offer an opportunity for people to make a decision. These churches are training their members to effectively enter into gospel conversations.”

Modeling evangelism

Scott Foshie is one pastor currently training his congregation to have those gospel conversations. Steeleville Baptist Church will start evangelism training in April, based on the “Can We Talk?” program created by Texas pastor (and FBC Pastors’ Conference President) John Meador.

“When it’s time to bridge a conversation from small talk to gospel talk, that’s an awkward transition for people to make,” said Foshie, who has pastored the church since early 2015. The six-week curriculum combines training with practical experience; teams of three people go out into the community, visiting neighbors and practicing gospel conversations.

Foshie’s personal stake in the training goes beyond the fact that it’s happening at his church. As a student of the F.A.I.T.H. evangelism training tool, he led his future wife, Audra, to faith in Christ.

“Personal evangelism training is very important to me because it changed my life. So, I want people to experience that. Personal evangelism training unleashes the army of the Lord, (it’s) what God has called us to do.”

But first, people have to face down a common obstacle: fear. The pastor likened sharing the gospel to someone handing you the keys to their sports car and telling you to take it around town.

“What we need to teach them is, hey, you step out in faith, you begin to learn to share, you simply share, and the Holy Spirit’s going to help you,” Foshie said.

“Once people learn to share the gospel, it changes their life completely.”