FROM THE STATES: Va., Calif. and Fla. evangelism/missions news; '... [T]he watching world will take notice and come and see'
Today's From the States features items from:
The Proclaimer (Virginia)
California Southern Baptist
Florida Baptist Witness
Community takes notice of
Va. church's revitalization
SHENANDOAH, Va. (The Proclaimer) -- In the small town of Shenandoah, Va., people are asking, "What is going on at Shenandoah Baptist Church?" This little church in the middle of town had declined to the point of nearly dissolving. Now it is experiencing a life-giving, transforming work of God!
In 2015, Shenandoah Baptist Church was at a crossroads whether it would live or die. God used the surrendered and willing hearts of a small remnant of members to keep hope alive, and He brought Dr. David Johnson to serve as interim pastor.
According to new pastor Paul Strassner, "Pastor Dave laid the foundation to prepare Shenandoah for what God was going to do. He brought to the church a hunger and thirst for God and for reaching people with the Gospel."
After nearly one year of serving Shenandoah and many years struggling with his health, Pastor Dave went home to heaven. Like their former interim, this small congregation had a feisty spirit. They were not going to quit but were ready and willing to move forward with God.
In 2017, God brought Paul Strassner, a mentee of Pastor Dave's, to become the next interim pastor and eventually the senior pastor. Pastor Paul's authentic leadership has brought a renewed excitement and has led to a strategy of growth for Shenandoah Baptist Church.
He has received tremendous support from church leaders as he has encouraged and equipped them. He began his ministry at Shenandoah by leading the church to partner with Harvest North America, a ministry that helps churches grow. God used this evangelistic strategy to revive the church with a renewed love for the Gospel and for people.
Before long, six people surrendered to Jesus and professed their faith publicly through baptism. These were the first baptisms the church had experienced in years. Four of these new believers were couples living together outside of wedlock. They requested that Pastor Paul perform their wedding ceremonies and, by doing so, welcome them into the fellowship of Shenandoah Baptist Church. A church that had dwindled to less than 10 people in 2015 saw an attendance of over 80 just two years later, Easter Sunday 2017.
With renewed excitement, church members have worked together to remodel their building (for which they received the Community Enhancement Award from the town of Shenandoah); begin a youth ministry; host a community block party; and reach local children through Vacation Bible School (with Rileyville Baptist Church).
Town leaders recently invited Pastor Paul to their vision team meeting, and the mayor asked him to offer a prayer at the town's Memorial Day ceremony. People in the town are taking notice of what's going on. A man who lives next door to the church said he senses the presence of the Lord each time he walks into the church.
"When the church becomes the church and does what it is supposed to do," says Pastor Paul, "the watching world will take notice and come and see."
This article appeared in The Proclaimer (sbcv.org/proclaimer), newsjournal of the SBC of Virginia.
Church plant bringing Good News
to the L.A. Arts District
By Karen L. Willoughby
LOS ANGELES (California Southern Baptist) -- Southern Baptists have joined the renaissance going on in downtown Los Angeles since 2008.
What was a mash-up of flophouses from the 1930s, and even older near-derelict highrises, became the darling of the "Bringing Back Broadway" initiative led by the L.A. city council, with the help of well-heeled philanthropists.
The area has become a well-established community with renovated buildings for a rising number of multiethnic young urban professionals.
Within two blocks of some, however, is "Skid Row," where the rapidly-expanding — up 23 percent over last year — homeless population congregates.
Called the "beating heart of the city" by one travel publication, L.A. now is graced by The Brooks, led by Jimmie Davidson, church planting catalyst in Southern California.
It's a "co-vocational" ministry for Davidson that gives him credibility among the 25 church planters with whom he works, he said. Co-vocational is a new term reflecting those serving in a career who also have a heart/calling to plant churches. It refers to the fact that those with a second responsibility incorporate ministry into both endeavors.
"It's the hardest I've ever worked in my life," Davidson told the CSB. "I could never have imagined working this hard at this age (56) but Christ has called us to follow Him.
"Jesus calls the shots," Davidson declared. "He gives us the power, the energy, the ability to do, whatever He tells us to do and we are to obey Him."
The Brooks "graces" downtown Los Angeles, Davidson said, because it is a welcoming place to everyone -- young urban professionals and homeless alike — that brings grace and truth to everyone who draws near.
"We want to love our neighbors," he added. "We want to be a church where people who are far from God, broken, people who wake up in their brokenness and wonder who would even care or help me; we want to be the first place that comes to their mind, The Brooks. That takes time and love and lifting up Christ!
"And when they come they will find grace and truth just like Jesus taught us," Davidson declared. "The message we have is: We have good news. Jesus said, 'I did not come to condemn the world but to save it. I did not come to the healthy; I came to the sick.'"
After planting and pastoring a church in Virginia for 18 years, Davidson was asked by Saddleback Church in Lake Forest to start churches globally: Hong Kong, Berlin, Buenos Aires and Manila. Then he was recruited by the North American Mission Board and California Southern Baptist Convention to be a church planting catalyst.
"I was seeking the Lord," Davidson said. "I'm a church planter, here in a region with millions without Christ. I asked Him, 'Do you want me to plant a church?'"
Over the next two years Davidson helped plant or catalyze 15 churches for NAMB.
Through research Davidson already had determined that Southern California has 230 communities with no Southern Baptist witness, so he began to create awareness among pastors, planters and Orange County, Los Angeles and Long Beach Harbor Baptist Associations about the need.
As he did he began to sense it was time to do his part. Davidson began to look at places that were growing and had large immigrant populations, because "immigrants are in transition and under tension and usually more open to the gospel," he explained.
His daughter Amy took him to the Arts District of downtown L.A., but he discounted her suggestion. Then he visited with Benny Wong, pastor of First Chinese Baptist Church in Los Angeles, who suggested the same area.
First Chinese had been praying for years for someone to help them reach the young urban professionals moving into the downtown area by the thousands, Wong told Davidson.
"I sat there stunned," Davidson said. "How had I missed downtown and the areas surrounding as a catalyst, after looking north, east, west and south?"
The church -- whose first preview service was Easter Sunday — was named The Brooks, based on Isaiah 43:19. "It's a picture of the gospel, of the Good News," Davidson said.
"This is a very difficult area," he noted. "There's a reason there was no multiethnic Southern Baptist church in downtown L.A. It's very hard.
"(The district) is radically different from areas around it. By the end of October there are fewer people downtown. Thanksgiving ... into January it was a ghost town," Davidson said.
"Over 400,000 people work here, 75,000 live here so you have to be strategic when you launch, when and how you fish for people."
Monthly preview services take place in a co-op building owned by a young Korean woman whose grandparents were church planters in North Korea. Weekly services are anticipated to start in January.
The young church is committed to missions and gives
6 percent through the Cooperative Program and 4 percent to Los Angeles Association.
"I grew up in the Royal Ambassador program in a Southern Baptist church, learning about missionaries around the world including Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong, never imagining one day I would follow in their footsteps to reach the world around me," Davidson said.
"The cost of living, rent expense, is a challenge," he continued. "We also need resources for direct mail, equipment and pop-up events."
Churches that want to assist with the downtown congregation, as a "supporting church" that would help meet needs "through sending missions teams or helping with funding to enable the church to meet weekly in January," are encouraged to contact the planter at email@example.com.
More than 400 of the world's 3,000 unengaged, unreached people groups live in Los Angeles, Davidson said. "And a lot of them are from places too dangerous to work in, and now they're among us. They have never heard the gospel in their language. The mission field is right in front of us."
The Brooks spreads word of its presence with pop-up events in which they partner with other groups, such as a couple last Chinese New Year who tell of their immigrant grandparents through an event called "Finding Cleveland." The Brooks distributed New Year gifts and invite cards there. This summer they gave out Gatorade and invite cards at a park frequented by homeless people.
"The Bible says," Davidson recounted, "as Jesus proclaimed the good news, He also went about doing good. We want to follow His model: Good News, good works!"
All people are welcomed at The Brooks, the planter said.
"One of the challenges with the homeless is that they have everything they own with them," he observed. "When a homeless man was given an invite, his first question was, 'Can I bring my things in with me?' We welcomed him along with all of his belongings."
Davidson has an assistant, Min Lee, who is serving as a NAMB apprentice. Lee and his family helping at The Brooks enables Davidson to focus on his full-time catalyst ministry.
"I'm challenging churches to adopt a community, to plant a small group in it, a campus of their church or a stand-alone church," Davidson said. "You're never too old, you're never too young, to do what Christ has called you to do.
This article appeared in the California Southern Baptist (csbc.com/csb), newsjournal of the California Southern Baptist Convention. Karen L. Willoughby is a writer in Utah.
By Keila Diaz
MIAMI (Florida Baptist Witness) -- With a vision to more effectively reach Miami's unchurched population in the next two decades, the merger of Christ Centered Church in North Miami with Christ Fellowship of Miami was celebrated Oct. 22 with the launching of Christ Fellowship North Miami.
Located on the Florida International University's Biscayne Bay campus, Christ Fellowship North Miami will continue to be led by Derek Allen, who planted Christ Centered Church in 2014.
The two congregations enjoyed a close relationship even before the merger, said Allen, who served as an intern while participating in the Christ Fellowship church planter program prior to planting the North Miami church. Christ Fellowship was one of the younger church's early sponsors.
Jorge Molina, Christ Fellowship's discipleship pastor, said that the idea to bring on the north Miami church as a CF campus happened rather naturally while he and Allen were talking and fellowshipping.
"The reason we are doing this is to go after the 90 percent of folks in Miami-Dade who don't go to church. We can do that better together than we can separately," said Molina. With this merger Christ Fellowship now has seven campuses throughout Miami-Dade and leads services in six correctional institutions.
Molina and Allen see the North Miami campus as a potential beach head from where they can send out other groups to plant churches north and east.
Allen is excited about being part of the Christ Fellowship family, not only because of the material resources available for Kingdom work, but also because of the people resources.
"Every position we had at Christ Centered, Christ Fellowship has multiple people who do the same thing at different campuses. So now my small group leader meets with other small group leaders once a week and sees what works and what doesn't work," he explained. "The same thing goes for worship leaders and campus pastors and kids ministry directors. Six minds are better than one."
Also, the churches had similar strategies, said Allen. "There was just lots of mutual alignment and chemistry."
Joining forces "allows us to do what we were already doing but at a higher level and more efficiently," Allen said.
He admits to second thoughts at first. "As a church planter you see the church plant as your child and it's hard to let go," he said. "This is going to make a bigger Kingdom impact in Miami."
The new relationship will not change the flow of activity at the North Miami campus Allen noted. The biggest change perhaps will be a shift in service times by 15 minutes.
Al Fernandez, Southeast regional catalyst of the Florida Baptist Convention, said while he sometimes has concerns about church mergers, "in this case I think it was a very good thing. This church was originally sent by Christ Fellowship and worship felt like a smaller version of Christ Fellowship."
He believes the merger will increase the growth at the North Miami campus and that Allen will be a "great asset to the Christ Fellowship team as a high caliber pastor who understands the ethos."
This article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention. Keila Diaz is a reporter for the Florida Baptist Witness.
EDITOR'S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board's call to embrace the world's unengaged, unreached people groups also are included in From the States, along with reports about church, associational and state convention initiatives in conjunction with the North American Mission Board's call to Southern Baptist churches to broaden their efforts in starting new churches and satellite campuses. Except for minor style, formatting and grammatical changes, the items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.