'Community Day' set to spread nationwide
VALDOSTA, Ga. (BP) -- Redland Baptist Church's attempts to share the love of Jesus were threatened when its 2008 trip to Mexico fizzled because of travel risks.
Instead the Valdosta, Ga., church may have started a movement when they decided that year to host their first-ever Community Day.
Six years later, close to 100 South Georgia Baptist churches launched an effort to help seven church planters throughout North America host similar events.
"Community Day is everything a family needs," Jay Watkins, pastor of Redland Baptist, said. "We give [food, medical care, etc.] to families with the love of Christ. It opens doors for us to tell them what Christ has done in us and through us, with people we wouldn't normally come into contact with."
Watkins said 25,000 people attended the last Community Day in Valdosta in April 2013. More than 60 Valdosta-area churches participated in the event sponsored by the Valdosta Baptist Association. More than 70,000 local residents have been served through the event, and 1,000 people have come to Christ since the first Community Day in 2008.
In January, Watkins and Valdosta Baptists hosted a banquet attended by about 100 South Georgia churches -- and the seven church planters with whom they'll be partnering. Church members were challenged to help take Community Day to church plants in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Memphis, Tenn.
Watkins began spearheading the campaign shortly after attending his first meeting as a North American Mission Board trustee. It was there he first learned the extent of North America's lostness.
"I came back and called all my pastor buddies," Watkins said. "I asked them, 'How many lost people do you think are in the U.S.?' A couple of them made some good guesses. I told them, 'There are 239 million lost people in the United States. Add Canada in and there's 259 million lost people in North America. We have to do something.'"
And they did. Leaning on their experience with Community Days in Valdosta and elsewhere, the South Georgia pastors decided to launch partnerships with church planters from each of NAMB's five regions.
A different South Georgia sending church -- along with multiple supporting churches -- will take responsibility for each of the seven Community Day events. The first of the seven scheduled Community Day events is March 22 in Memphis.
The Georgia Baptist Convention is supporting the events by lending a tractor-trailer to make supply transportation easier and more cost-effective.
Community Day events will play a key role in helping church planters connect with their communities and share the Gospel in underserved areas of North America.
"Community is valued in Canada," Toronto church planter Daniel Yang said. "Canada is a very inclusive country -- Toronto especially. When you, as a church, say we want to do this 'for you,' without any anything or any expectations in return, it will be very well received. Canada is very inclusive of all kinds of people and if we can make Community Day along those lines, it's going to be very successful."
The events won't be uniform in all seven locations. Los Angeles-area planter Zach Drake said his Santa Monica community is affluent and concerned about physical health. The initial plans have the South Georgian teams focusing on putting together a community "Olympics," with a specific focus on youth. Drake also hopes the team might bring in health food rather than the typical fare.
"Partnering with Valdosta Baptists has been a tremendous encouragement to us," said Drake, lead pastor of Santa Monica Church. "We're a very small church in Santa Monica. We're in a city without a lot of Christian support. Gaining support from Christians outside of the city -- and even across the country from us -- has been super, super encouraging to us."
Valdosta Baptists hope this movement will motivate other Southern Baptist associations to try similar efforts throughout North America. Watkins has shared the story of Community Day in various gatherings throughout the United States.
Drew Boswell, pastor of children and families at First Baptist Church in Valdosta, said, "We hope other SBC associations and churches will seek to do it in their contexts well."
"They can take the model we're developing and say, 'We can have a banquet, bring our churches together, we can identify our six cities ourselves so that it becomes a multiplication effect," he said. "It'll begin this big ripple effect. Our prayer is that revival will spark."
Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board. For more information about Community Day, visit communityday.us. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).