Archives For Phoenix

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.