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By Tobin Perry
FRESNO, Calif. – As the nation prepares for the first Super
Bowl in the Bay Area in nearly three decades, Southern Baptists will turn their
eyes to a changing mission field—but one with a
consistent need for new churches.
“Things are booming economically in the Bay Area,” says Rich
Johnstone, the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Send North America city
missionary for San Francisco. “At the same time, there’s not a corresponding
boom spiritually—just yet. However, we are starting to see some momentum.”
Only 7 percent of metro San Francisco residents affiliate with an evangelical church—one of the
lowest percentages of all of North America’s large cities. The region has only
one Southern Baptist church for every 17,139 people. San Jose, the site of
Super Bowl 50, is about 50 miles from San Francisco and the home of the San
North America: San Francisco, Southern Baptists have been working together
the last few years to impact the spiritual destiny of the area by starting new
churches. Though Southern Baptists have been in the Bay Area since the days of
the Gold Rush (First Baptist San Francisco was the first Protestant church in
California in 1849), it has always been a tough mission field—particularly
during the last few decades, according to Johnstone.
A new generation of Southern Baptist church planters is trying to change that. Johnston notes that
Epic Church—planted in the heart of the city’s financial district—has
celebrated its 5-year anniversary.
Johnstone also points to new church planters that are just
beginning evangelistic works throughout the metro area. Brett Butler, a church
planting apprentice in Redwood City, Calif., first felt called into missions a
decade ago, not long after he became a follower of Jesus. Yet for eight years, God left an important part
of the family’s mission call unknown—where He was sending them.
Two years ago, while sitting in Buck Run Baptist Church in
Frankfurt, Ky., Butler started reading Annie Armstrong Easter Offering®
materials that featured Epic
Church and its pastor Ben Pilgreen. Almost immediately, God began to pull
Brett and his wife, Patti, toward the Bay Area. Butler had attended college at the nearby University of California at Berkley, and his parents lived in Southern
“The whole Bay Area just made a ton of sense, looking back
at our lives,” Butler said. “So we went back home and clicked the ‘Mobilize Me’
button on the NAMB website. And they had
a great system—people emailed us and called us. We had trips out here. Some amazing
God-things happened while we were out here. It just became really clear that this is what God wanted us to
One of those “God-things” led to the couple leading their
first person to faith in Christ before they even arrived on the field full-time.
While visiting Redwood City, they met Gina Plute, who asked them why they were
there. When the Butlers told Plute they were interested in starting a church,
she told them she thought they should start one in Redwood City. Although she
had experienced much success in life, she felt like something was missing.
Finding out more about God, she thought, may be that missing link.
“So when do we get started?” Plute
The Butlers then had to tell her that they lived in Kentucky, and it would take them some time to
get started. Still they offered to do a Bible study with Plute over the
Internet. Starting in December of 2014, the three of them studied the book of
John together. Last February, as the three studied
John 3:16, Plute committed her life to Christ. Three others have come to faith
in Jesus since the Butlers arrived in the Bay Area in May of 2015.
Redwood City is about halfway between San Francisco and San
Jose. The county seat of San Mateo County, Redwood City, has about 76,000 people and a
small evangelical presence,
according to Butler.
Butler says his partnership with California Southern
Baptists—and Southern Baptists in general—plays a crucial role in his church
planting efforts. Besides the financial resources through the Cooperative
Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering that make it possible to live
in one of the most expensive areas in the country, he points to the relational support provided by Southern
“We’ve gotten hand-written encouragement cards in crayon
from third-grade Bible study classes in Florida that we’ve never met,” Butler
said. “It just brings tears to your eyes. We have people write us from
Virginia, Ohio and Texas and places like that.”
Noting the significant spiritual need in the Bay Area,
Johnstone says partner churches from outside of the region play a critical role
in reaching people there. Because of the area’s diversity, many of the Bay Area
church planters lead language churches or culture-specific churches.
“We love to partner with traditional large-launch church
plants in the area, but we also have a corresponding need for churches who will come alongside these
planters who speak a different language or come from a different culture,”
For more information about Send North America: San Francisco,
Learn more about the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering at AnnieArmstrong.com.
Tobin Perry writes for
the North American Mission Board.
Date Created: 2/5/2016 11:53:43 AM
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering®© Copyright 2016 North American Mission Board, SBC