By Tobin Perry
DETROIT—Ask most Americans what they know of Detroit and they’re likely to mention Motown music, cars or–more recently–bankruptcy. Ask them what they know of Columbus, Ohio, and they may mention Ohio State University.
A group of Southern Baptist leaders who visited both Midwestern cities recently to meet SBC church planters and see firsthand the cities’ spiritual needs now have a different answer.
“There is a tremendous need for new churches in these cities, but God is at work,” said Steven Holdaway, senior pastor of LifeSpring Church near Omaha, Neb., and the chair of the Midwest committee on the North American Mission Board’s trustee board. “I saw hope; I saw God at work. That’s all we can do as Christians is to find out where God is at work and join Him.”
NAMB’s Midwest Region vice president, Gary Frost, initiated the tour to bring attention to the region’s only Send North America cities without a primary or lead partnering church. Lead partner churches take the responsibility to mobilize people and churches to a specific Send North America city for kingdom expansion.
“The vision tour was an eye-opening and heart-stirring experience for all who participated,” Frost said. “This trip allowed us to see the wonderful opportunities before us, but we could also view the significant challenges that church planting in these cities present. I believe that taking this tour made it personal for our trustees. ”
The trustees met with nine church planters between the two cities, had a chance to hear their stories and were able to consider ways their churches might get involved in the work. According to Steven Mayes, a NAMB trustee and pastor of Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Amherst, Ohio, though the need for new churches was obvious throughout the tour, he saw many signs of hope as well.
“What we’re seeing is God calling out really sharp men who know they have a definite calling and the giftedness and skills to do church planting,” Mayes said. “I was overjoyed to see God at work in their lives—as He takes care of their families, their church needs and are seeing God do things in their community that can only be explained as a ‘God thing.’”
Detroit and Columbus are two of NAMB’s 32 Send North America cities. Send North America is NAMB’s effort to mobilize Southern Baptists to penetrate lostness in these 32 cities through evangelism and church planting.
Through Send North America: Detroit, Southern Baptists are focused upon reaching parts of a four-county area that currently has only one SBC church for every 36, 227 people. Just more than 10 percent of the population claim to be evangelical.
Despite a 60 percent jump in the number of churches in the Metro Columbus Baptist Association between 2005 and 2012, the metro area still has only one SBC church for every 17,890 people. Twelve percent of the metro Columbus population claims to be evangelical. Based on 2010 data, 10 states have better than one SBC church for every 3,000 people in population.
Holdaway referred to the church planters he met in the two cities as “points of light” in places in obvious need of the gospel. As an example, he mentioned Columbus church planter Nick Nye, who planted Veritas Community Church near the campus of Ohio State University. Holdaway said the church has started multiple worship services and has seen numerous people come to faith in Christ despite a challenging, pluralistic ministry context.
Tim Cotler, NAMB’s Midwest Regional Mobilizer, said the two cities need lead partner churches that will take the lead in helping the work. “There is too much at stake for the kingdom without a lead partner who will sound the charge and advocate for Columbus and Detroit. The time is now.”
“My strongest takeaway is if we have strong partnerships—and not just through money—but as far as prayer, manpower and dollars too, then we’re going to see these guys succeed,” Mayes said. “We need to make sure these guys have all the help they need in order to get their churches going.”
Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board. For more about Send North America: Detroit, visit https://www.namb.net/Detroit. For more about Send North America: Columbus, visit https://www.namb.net/Columbus.
Published September 26, 2013