A fresh wind for the Windy City

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By Tobin Perry 

CHICAGO –At one time this city launched the evangelistic ministries of D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday and Billy Graham. But today, Chicago needs new churches, say local Southern Baptists making plans to penetrate lostness in the Windy City through evangelistic church planting.

Currently, the Association for Religion Data Archives says only one in 10 residents of Chicago’s Metropolitan Statistical Area are affiliated with an evangelical church.  

Local Southern Baptists hope to change that in the coming years. Send North America is NAMB’s strategy to help churches and individuals become active in all regions of North America to lead people to faith in Jesus Christ and start new churches. Chicago is one of 30 highly influential urban centers throughout North America that NAMB is focusing the attention of Southern Baptists upon.

“With nearly 9 million people in the Chicago metro area, it is our largest, most influential city in the Midwest,” said Steve Davis, NAMB’s vice president for the Midwest region. “The task is enormous. A great strategy is being developed by the local team for Chicago. We will need committed partners, and lots of them, to change the spiritual landscape of Chicagoland.”

With 8.7 million people in the 10 Illinois counties surrounding the city, Chicago is behind only New York City and Los Angeles as the largest Send North America cities. Baptists have been in the city since 1833. Southern Baptists started working in the city in 1916 when a church in Southern Illinois began a new work in North Chicago. Most of the early SBC churches in the state began as Southern Baptists from elsewhere moved to the city and wanted to worship with like-minded believers.

Yet nearly a century after the first SBC church began in Chicago, Southern Baptists have only 275 churches engaging Chicagoland’s 10 counties. Local Southern Baptists say one church for every 31,791 people just isn’t enough. To date the local strategy team has identified a need for 161 new church plants in Chicagoland. 

Chris Wright, a North American Mission Board church planting strategist in Chicago, believes there’s reason for optimism about what God is going to do in the coming years through Send North America: Chicago.

“We have more planters on the ground now—healthy planters—than we ever have,” Wright said. “But many of these guys are just getting started.”

Churches from four northeastern Illinois associations and the Illinois Baptist State Association are working together to develop the strategy for Send North America: Chicago. The strategy team divided the work up into three areas—the city core, the suburbs and non-English speaking people groups throughout the city.

While local Southern Baptist churches are supportive, those involved in the local strategy team believe it’ll take outside help to get the work done.

“Because the lostness and the need to share the gospel in Chicagoland are so great, the people God has here already won’t be sufficient to get the job done,” said Van Kicklighter, associate executive director for missions and church planting at the IBSA.  “We need partners.”

For Southern Baptist church planters like Dave Choi, partners are crucial to fulfilling his church’s long-term mission of penetrating the lostness among multi-cultural students streaming into the city. Choi started Church of the Beloved last year after wrestling between opportunities to serve at existing churches and the call to start something new.

“I felt the Lord tell me, ‘I’m going to lead you to a place to plant and you won’t be alone because my presence will be with you,” Choi said.

His partnerships with five Southern Baptist churches—both locally and nationally— have played an important role in helping the new church succeed. One of those churches, First Baptist Church of Fort Smith, Ark., has sent resources and people and prayed for the new church plant on a regular basis. Last summer the church’s children gave more than $1,000 to the Church of the Beloved through Vacation Bible School offerings.

“While we can be involved in a lot of different types of ministry, our desire is to see fruit that lasts,” said FBC Fort Smith’s missions pastor, Greg Ford. “Similar to our efforts with the IMB and unreached people groups abroad, we hope to help start indigenous works that in turn continue to multiply.”

For more information on Send North America: Chicago, visit namb.net/Chicago.

Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board. 

Date Created: 10/5/2012 2:06:07 PM

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