FROM THE STATES: Ill., S.C., Calif. evangelism/missions news; 'We just stand in awe'

Today's From the States features items from:

Illinois Baptist

Baptist Courier (South Carolina)

California Southern Baptist

**********

Ill. churches help

families get ready for fall

By Meredith Flynn

BETHALTO, Ill. (Illinois Baptist) -- The "Backpack Blessing" at First Baptist Church, Bethalto, started as a way to bless students and families headed back to school. It turned into a prayer service dedicated to sending kids, teachers, and administrators into the new school year on a high note.

Before the Aug. 5 morning worship service, students brought in their backpacks, which were filled with school supplies and parenting resources provided by the church. Most important, though, was the prayer time, said FBC Bethalto associate pastor Tim Drury. During the service, families gathered in small groups across the worship as church members prayed over them.

"I believe the real blessing was the directed prayer time for all the individuals in our church," Drury said, "and watching the generations pray for each other."

Across Illinois, churches used August to reach into their communities with ministries tailored to families with school-aged children. In Chicago, Another Chance Church held their annual back-to-school party Aug. 10, with free services for kids and families, food, and a bounce house provided by the Chicago Metro Baptist Association.

The party was the culmination of the church's six-week summer camp for kids. "We try to do the best we can to share Christ while keeping them safe for five hours a day," said Pastor Kenyatta Smith. For Another Chance, which recently relocated to a new campus in a different Chicago community, the party and the camp are ways to show their commitment to the neighborhood. The church is working to "keep on letting people know we're here," Smith said.

Near the church is a housing community with 2,000 children. At the back-to-school party, Another Chance gave away almost 500 backpacks, and more than 100 kids received free eye exams and haircuts.

At the other end of the state, Dorrisville Baptist Church in Harrisburg welcomed families to a back-to-school celebration they've hosted for 16 years. People start lining up for the Sunday afternoon event while church is still going on, said coordinator Judy Taylor. Once inside the building, they meet with counselors who offer to pray for specific requests as their families start the new school year. Then, they're able to choose from services including haircuts, school supplies, and a massive shoe store set up in the church's dining room.

The church realized the need for shoes several years ago when teachers told them kids were sitting on the sidelines in gym class because they didn't have appropriate shoes to play on the gym floor. "We need to fix this," was Dorrisville's response, Taylor said.

The church works with a local Payless Shoe Store to purchase the shoes—more than $11,000 worth this year. At the Aug. 12 party, they gave away 513 pairs of gym shoes and a pair of socks with each one.

"We just stand in awe," Taylor said, of how God orchestrates the back-to-school ministry. In the room where volunteers served a meal of baked spaghetti, bread, salad, and ice cream sundaes, hostess Amy Craig met a young boy who was excited to visit the church's Mercy Center to pick out gently used clothing. When he said he would choose clothes over the meal, Craig said, "I told him he could have both. He couldn't eat fast enough to get over to the Mercy Center for clothing!"

Taylor said the annual outreach really changes the volunteers as much or more than the people receiving clothes or haircuts or shoes.

"We think we're serving people, and we are, but we're more like Jesus at the end of this year than we are at the beginning."


This article appeared in the Illinois Baptist (illinoisbaptist.org), newsjournal of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist.

**********

S.C. churches spur

discipleship through accountability

By Butch Blume

COLUMBIA, S.C. (Baptist Courier) -- Angie Keene, who volunteers as a small-group leader in her church, remembers how uncomfortable the teenage girls in her discipling group seemed to be when she asked them to share their testimonies.

"All of their stories sounded the same," said Keene. They all were raised in church and accepted Christ at a younger age and were baptized. One of my girls said she remembered doing it because she didn't want to disappoint her mom. Two of my girls said they never remembered the Holy Spirit convicting them of their sins -- ever. Weeks into our study of Romans, two of my girls dealt with conviction for the first time. They wanted a relationship with Jesus, not just the status of being a Christian."

In her DGroup (disciple group), Keene said she pushes the girls to hold each other accountable as Christ-followers, and she wants them "to be comfortable leading one another biblically instead of culturally." She meets weekly with her group to talk, share prayer requests and discuss Scripture, and the girls regularly get together on their own. "I encourage them to talk to one another about anything," said Keene.

"The time I spend each week with these kids means so much to me," she said. "They have become family. I feel that DGroup is very important in the lives of our kids. It is a relationship they each need to help keep Christ first during their teenage years."

Whatever the process is called -- DGroup, D2, Immersion, NextGen, Milestones, or one of several other names -- it would seem that personal, accountable relationships are central to the act of imparting the tenets and practices of authentic faith-living from one Christ-follower to another. While those relationships may take the form of one person discipling another, many churches have found that disciple-making blossoms in small-group settings -- through biblical teaching, of course, but also through the shared human experience of mutual encouragement and accountability.

'Depth leads to breadth'

"I've come to the conclusion that discipleship is actually about presence," said Hank Williams, pastor of Boiling Springs First Baptist Church. "It's being in the presence of Christ, which we do through prayer and inductive Bible study, but also by being present in one another's lives."

As believers grow in the presence of Christ on a daily basis, Williams said, they become God's presence within a community of believers through their discipling of other believers. Ultimately, they become Christ's presence in their community and culture, "where we're actually living that evangelism lifestyle and having gospel conversations. That's really what a disciple looks like."

Several years ago, Williams, 59, started a disciple-making process in his church called D2 (pronounced "D-Squared"). For one year, he led staff members in an intentional discipleship process. At the end of the year, those staff members led deacons and other church members in the same process. Every person who went through the process was expected to continue discipling others using the D2 process.

"We disciple to be disciplers," said Williams. "So, the commitment for anybody going into this journey is that you're becoming a discipler for the rest of your life. You're going to be in a discipling relationship with somebody for the rest of your life."

Williams said D2 is not so much a curriculum "or checking boxes off" as it is "a way of life." The process covers everything from the "basics" of following Christ (including prayer and Bible study) to more advanced material, including a life- and vocational-planning tool called "The Tip of the Spear."

Williams estimates that hundreds of his church members have now completed the process and are engaged as disciple-makers. "Our hope is that at some point everyone [in our church] can say -- if they want to and are willing to -- that they've been through an intentional discipleship process."

Williams said some of his church members are now in their "fourth generation" of discipling someone else, and he marvels to see the difference in their lives. Williams himself continues to disciple individuals in his church and admits that in every instance he grows "as much as they do."

His church has grown in membership, but Williams said thinking about discipleship as a way for a church to become larger is a wrong perspective. Instead of thinking about numbers, "it's about how deep we go," he said.

"The deeper we go, the wider we're going to have an influence. Our spiritual depth as disciples leads to the breadth of our influence. We will grow, we will reach people, if we're growing deeper in the Lord."

In a preface to one of the church's discipleship workbooks, Williams challenges the reader to be a "discipler for life."

"Imagine that there would never be another season of your life when you were not in a discipling relationship," he writes. "Your understanding of following Jesus will be ever-expanding. You will have a front-row seat to seeing the transformational power of Jesus in the lives of others."

A map for the journey

At Anderson Mill Road Baptist Church near Spartanburg -- "The Mill," to people who fellowship there -- a Family Ministry Journey map helps illustrate an approach to developing disciples by identifying key events, stages, transitions and mile markers along a person's life journey.

For instance, the map for students starts at birth and culminates with high school graduation and the commencement into adulthood. The steps along the way include baby dedication and parent class, personal faith development (salvation and the basics of faith) and passage to discipleship (spiritual growth and faith development). Integral to the passage to discipleship is the small-group dynamic. The purpose of the small groups, called "DGroups" at The Mill, is to "take a student further and deeper into a process of discipleship," said Jarrett McNeely, minister to young families.

DGroups, led by adult volunteers, begin in middle school with the basic disciplines of the faith -- including prayer, quiet time, Scripture memorization -- in an accountability format. By the time a high school senior has moved through the progressive levels of DGroup experiences, he or she will hopefully have developed to the point of leading others in becoming a disciple. The next step is "covenant membership" in the church.

"We have a covenant membership process for all adults and students," said McNeely. "We have a page that explains what The Mill stands for and what our vision and purpose is. When a person joins as a member, they sign actually sign it, and that is the act of becoming a member."

McNeely said the process helps students and young adults know what the Bible says about being a part of the body of Christ and to "fully understand that they [in addition to adults] have a huge part to play in the church." He said the membership covenant, by "driving home what their purpose is in the church," also instills in younger disciples an understanding of their need to stay connected to church after they graduate from high school.

"I really believe that we will see our students, when they leave high school, if they go on to another city or another place for college, will find a church they can serve in because they have gotten that foundation of what their purpose is as the body of Christ."

The membership covenant also serves to break down the age- or generational-specific "silos" in which churches may find themselves operating, McNeely said. "We're trying to incorporate everybody into the fabric of what it looks like to be at The Mill," he said. While acknowledging that some roles, including deacon, are limited to adults, he said the church's "inclusive form of discipleship" makes it possible for students to serve in many of the same capacities that adults do.

The small-group dynamic at The Mill extends beyond the student experience. Small groups are a vital part of relationship-building and spiritual growth for adults in the church, McNeely said.

Deep-diving into discipleship and evangelism

So where does discipleship and, by extension, evangelism, break down in most churches?

Lee Clamp, in collaboration with about 200 pastors in South Carolina, has identified three primary barriers that keep individuals from sharing hope with the lost:

1. No relationships with lost people;

2. A lack of discipleship by those who share their faith; and

3. A fear of gospel conversations.

"We believe that discipleship begins with a lost person. Therefore, evangelism is not separated from discipleship but is a vital part of the disciple-making process," said Clamp, evangelism team leader for the South Carolina Baptist Convention.

An SCBC process called "Immersion" is an attempt to help pastors "rekindle their own personal fire" in building relationships with lost people and being intentional with them in a disciple-making process, Clamp said. By taking part in the Immersion training and process, a pastor will have "street cred" to raise the expectation that all of his church leaders do the same, he said.

Immersion begins with a two-day experience where leaders dive deep into a relational small-group environment for the duration of the training. Some leaders will return with other leaders for enhanced training and mentoring focused on making progress in becoming a Great Commission church.

Stephen Splawn, the SCBC's Immersion coordinator, said the first experience, "Immersion 101," starts off by shifting the perspective from "doing discipleship" to "being a disciple-maker personally" in one's own "Jerusalem."

The 201 experience "raises the bar" of disciple-making to leading others through an experience of "heart change, where they can hear God clearly speaking to them," and in a way that is repeatable. "We walk through practical and biblical ways to pour into the next generation of disciples so they can also be disciple-makers," Splawn said.

The next Immersion 101 and 201 training will be Sept. 24-25 at The Cove in Asheville. For information, visit SCBaptist.org/immersion.

Markers along the way

Another discipleship process under development by the South Carolina Baptist Convention is "Milestones," which is expected to roll out in 2019.

The process identifies the key elements -- or milestones -- every believer should reach in his or her walk with Christ, said Steve Rohrlack, SCBC team leader for church strengthening and discipleship.

"What does a fully devoted, healthy believer look like?" said Rohrlack. "We started with that end goal in mind and then cast that all the way back to preschool, identifying some spiritual markers along the way.

"For an awful lot of the churches, they've really not identified the core doctrines that an adult needs to know. So, the end result of that is, we're really teaching our adults at a preschool or an elementary school level.

"So, if we can help churches establish an understanding of what those big rocks are, what those milestones are, and then help them establish a process for getting there, then ultimately what we've done is develop people to be more spiritually mature."

Until the process is ready for release next year, Rohrlack said he or anyone in the SCBC Generations Group welcomes the opportunity to talk with any interested church leader about Milestones.


This article appeared in the Baptist Courier (baptistcourier.com), newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Butch Blume is managing editor of The Baptist Courier

**********

Calif. church

telling the 'story'

By Margaret Colson

BURBANK, Calif. (California Southern Baptist) -- When Matt Lawson and his family moved from Atlanta to Los Angeles to plant a church in January 2015, Lawson discovered he was in for one God-sized surprise.

"I am surprised by the number of people who genuinely want to follow Jesus and be part of His church in our city," Lawson said.

Having only been in California three days in his life before relocating his family, Lawson said, "I believed the lie that the ground in L.A. was dry and not fertile."

Still, even with the preconception, Lawson and his wife, Laura, sensed God's call to the USA's second largest city, of 19 million, and only one Southern Baptist church for every 23,000 -- a place where the need is "staggering."

The couple and their three young children made the move to plant their lives and Story City Church in the city where one in eight Americans lives.

As he has become immersed in his new city, Lawson said, "Houston exports oil; Detroit exports cars; Los Angeles exports culture.

"The diversity of cultures in Los Angeles brings the world to our doorstep. I am firmly convinced that our culture is not changed most significantly by policies and platforms, but by relationships and the stewardship of influence God gives each of us."

Today Story City Church, which meets in Colony Theater in Burbank, is building relationships and leveraging its God-given influence as leaders and members share the story of God and serve the community.

One person who heard the gospel through Story City is Luther Kahra, who was invited by a friend to visit. Skeptical but wanting to please his friend, Kahra agreed. As he started to listen to Lawson's messages, he said, "What he was saying applied directly to my life," and he wondered if his friend had somehow told Lawson some of his personal experiences.

Kahra got a Bible and began to read it. He took notes during sermons. He made more friends and spoke with leaders at Story City. Within a few months, he made a profession of faith in Christ, and he has been learning more about Jesus and growing in faith ever since. The military veteran is seeking to deploy again — this time, he will take Jesus with him.

In the city where some of the greatest stories are created and told, Kahra heard the greatest story ever told -- the gospel story. Now he has his own story of coming to know Jesus. It's a story he can share with others, even as he possibly deploys across the world.

"It's my prayer that those who find and follow Jesus through Story City will be multiplying disciples in the places where they live, breathe, work, exist and play," Lawson said.

As Story City Church shares the story of Jesus and encourages individuals to respond, it is undergirded by gifts to the California Mission Offering (CMO) and prayers of California Baptists.

"The prayer and financial support are the lifelines of a start-up church," Lawson said. "We literally could not exist in Los Angeles without the prayers of God's people and the financial ability to sustain ministry."

Church planting and revitalization are allocated 50 percent of California Baptists' financial gifts to CMO. As Story City Church gains solid footing in Burbank, Lawson has a vision of planting additional churches in several areas throughout metro Los Angeles in the coming years.

"We are asking friends and partners to pray for a multiplication of disciples that will result in a multiplication of churches in our city," Lawson noted.

Reflecting on the CMO theme, "It's Time!" Lawson emphasized urgency in the task ahead.

"Every new day is another day closer to eternity, and the only opportunity we've been given to love Jesus and show Him to our cities. I tell our congregation often, 'This day has never happened before and will never happen again. Let's not neglect the opportunity God has given us today.'"


This article appeared in the California Southern Baptist (csbc.com/news), newsjournal of the California Southern Baptist Convention. Margaret Colson is a writer in Atlanta.

**********

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, security, formatting and grammatical changes, the items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.

Download Story