FROM THE STATES: Ky., Calif., La. evangelism/missions news; 'We're the ones who get the blessings'
Today's From the States features items from: Western Recorder (Kentucky); California Southern Baptist; Baptist Message (Louisiana).
Ky. churches partner
for weekend Gospel outreach
By Todd Gray
PADUCAH, Ky. (Western Recorder) -- It was out of a commitment to, and confidence in, God's Word that the churches of the West Union Baptist Association in Paducah decided to partner together in a weekend Gospel outreach.
Jason Barnett, Minister to Students at Twelve Oaks Baptist Church, has had an interest in apologetics (defending the Christian faith) for a long time. In recent years, with the help of area church partners, he has assembled apologetics themed conferences aimed at equipping students and church members to defend the faith. However, the "Without a Doubt" conference and outreach weekend March 15-17 was the biggest effort so far.
The "Without a Doubt" event was held at Heartland Worship Center with more than 1,000 high school and middle school students attending. There were at least four students who professed faith in Christ and three leaders from neighboring counties expressed interest in starting a Ratio Christi chapter (an apologetics group) in their high schools.
On Sunday afternoon, March 17, at least 12 West Union Baptist Association churches joined for a local evangelistic outreach. The goal was to go into the neighborhoods, knock on doors and share the Gospel with as many people as possible. Some would say that door-to-door evangelism is an old and outdated approach to sharing the Gospel and should be replaced with something else. However, in Paducah the idea of going door-to-door came from some of the younger pastors.
Pastor Dan Summerlin of Lone Oak First Baptist said, "When you have a group of young pastors who want to go into the community and share the Gospel you shouldn't stand in their way."
They went to nearly 3,000 homes and had Gospel conversations with 447 people and recorded eight professions of faith. Pastor Dan reported on Twitter, "Yesterday over 170 members of @LoneOakFBC went door-to-door in neighborhoods to present the Gospel. Our members made 1,028 contacts, had 73 Gospel conversations and had two people give their lives to Christ." These are exciting and impressive results. Mike Nolen, pastor of Bellview Baptist in Paducah said, "We discovered 12 new prospects in about an hour and a half. It reinforced the idea that knocking on doors still works. We're the ones who get the blessings. Number one we are obeying the Lord, number two we are sowing the seeds of the Gospel and number three we may see a harvest."
The weekend was capped off with a celebration rally at Twelve Oaks Baptist, where a standing room only crowd joined together in worship and celebration. Dr. Steve Ayers of Hillvue Heights Baptist Church in Bowling Green was selected as the guest preacher. Dr. Ayers brought a strong appeal for the people to continue to be intentionally evangelistic. When the invitation was given, the altar was filled with people responding to the call to be ambassadors for Christ to lost people and to share the Gospel.
According to Jason Barnett, "It was a great weekend of discipleship and evangelism. It was also a great cooperative effort among Southern Baptists in Paducah." Jason mentioned Associational Missions Strategist Howard Atkinson as a key person to make the event a success. Barnett went on to say, "I would personally love to see West Union do this again next year. I would love to be a part of that."
This article appeared in the Western Recorder, newsmagazine of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Todd Gray is team leader of KBC Evangelism, church Planting and Campus Ministry Team.
Calif. church plant growing
through "bridge builders"
By Karen L. Willoughby
YUBA CITY, Calif. (California Southern Baptist) -- "Maybe we should do more than just pray."
Chris Finchum's comment to his wife Laurie while on their Christmas vacation in her hometown led this January to the first worship service of Citywalk Church in Yuba City.
"We'd been coming here for 20 years for Christmas," Finchum told the California Southern Baptist. "We'd leave with a burden for the area, and we'd pray. Two years ago God planted in our hearts the idea of planting a church in Yuba City."
The Jan. 27 launch, attended by 362 people, led to 16 making a Christian decision of some sort. As of mid-March, weekly attendance has stabilized around 170.
With so many California Southern Baptist churches averaging half that, how could it be that a church plant in the northern part of the state is doing so well? One thing it does not take is for the church planter to be a singer.
"I'm not musically gifted on any level," Finchum laughed.
Experience helps, he acknowledged. He worked for 15 years in a para-church ministry, followed by three years as an executive pastor at a Florida church.
Friends help, Finchum continued. Four families moved from Florida with the family to help start a church with 23 Floridians between the ages of 1 and 67.
And family helps. Getting involved in children's, teen and adult activities helps build relationships in the community.
But to start at the beginning, "I really enjoy starting new ventures," Finchum said. "I enjoy building teams and sharing vision with people, and inviting them to be part of something."
Two months after their trip from Florida to California, Finchum applied to the North American Mission Board for a church planter assessment. He wasn't then a Southern Baptist, but knew several from his work in an organization that focused on teens.
"A lot of what I learned, I learned from other church planters, some with NAMB and some with other organizations," Finchum said. "I'd ask a lot of questions, about plans, what worked and what didn't work well."
By the spring of 2018, "we started putting down some concrete plans and vision, and what we were going to need," he said.
Among Citywalk's sponsoring churches are a congregation in Brandon, Fla., and Twin Cities Community Church in Grass Valley and Catalyst Church in Woodland.
"From the first time I spoke to Pastor Chris, I knew Citywalk was going to be a success," Matt Van Peursem, founding pastor of Catalyst Church, told the California Southern Baptist.
"Chris is very intentional about every move they make to ensure it reaches those far from God," Van Peursem continued. "He has a proven track record of growing ministries and bathes it all in prayer."
The five Florida families arrived in 2018. Two of the men were engineers who found jobs in Sacramento; the other adults found local employment or stayed home with children. Everyone had to find a place to live.
"We had several gatherings at our home," Finchum said. "We did a lot of meals together and began just spending time talking about the values of our church, and just in prayer for each other and our city, and specific people we wanted to see reached.
"Since we got here in June, we spent the entire summer being a part of local community events in the area," Finchum said. "In August, we began to do community interest parties at least once a month through December."
The "parties" each lasted about an hour. In August and September they took place at a coffee shop; in October, a park, where they hosted a pumpkin painting party; and a restaurant in November and December, with each "party" involving additional people who'd been reached during the month.
"It was at those events we shared our vision, what God called us to do, and we invited people to join the launch team," Finchum said.
By year's end, there were 75 on the team.
"We had invite cards that people on our team passed out," Finchum said. Posters, social media such as Facebook and Instagram, door-hangers, and a 40,000-piece mailer also promoted the church start, with a concerted effort taking place the six weeks before the Jan. 27 launch at River View High School.
The church's website -- Citywalkchurch.com -- proclaims on its home page that it is "An alternative to church as usual."
Yuba City resident Rob Haeberle, a banker with a Christian education degree who today serves the church as director of guest experiences, first heard about Citywalk from a Facebook post. He was drawn to the church's concept that "the church of Christ needs to be a place anyone can come and ask questions and not feel judged, that we should grow in our faith together," Haeberle said.
"That was our tack," Finchum said. "Investigate faith. Take your mask off. It seems that's a lot of the crowd we're getting, people who walked away from church decades ago, or who never had been in church but who have a longing and are here investigating."
Chris Dowdy was a youth pastor in Florida and now is pastor of family ministries at Citywalk. "The approach we've taken has shown itself to have some merit," Dowdy said. "At the end of the day, ministry is about bringing God's truth to people. If we can help move the ball down the court, we've done our part this day.
"It's an incremental process to meet people where they are and move them ... closer to a growing relationship with Jesus Christ," Dowdy continued. "Walking is not a sprint or a crawl but moving together toward a common goal."
Citywalk is all about removing barriers, he said. Rather than "volunteers," the church utilizes the skills of "bridge builders," people building a bridge for people to connect with Jesus.
Three small groups soon will expand to add a youth ministry and a midweek gathering with large and small group activities. Support for a home for women is Citywalk's first local ministry, and in May, "We'll have a 'Serve Our City' Day, at the school we rent from, and one or two other projects," Finchum said, adding, "We give 6 percent to missions through the Cooperative Program."
This article appeared in the California Southern Baptist, newsjournal of the California Southern Baptist Convention (csbc.com). Karen Willoughby is a writer in Utah.
La. Easter baptisms
bridge past, present
By Brian Blackwell
MADISONVILLE, La. (Baptist Message) -- "We know the early church often would baptize on Resurrection Day, so we were able to celebrate like the early church did more than 2,000 years ago," Pastor Lane Corley told the Baptist Message, in explaining the public testimony element of five baptisms celebrated on Easter at the Bridge Church.
"A lot of families come to church anyway that day, including a good number who don't regularly attend services, and it presented the perfect chance to share with them the theme of new life and transformation that is possible through Christ," said Corley, who also serves as a church planting strategist for Louisiana Baptists.
Corley said his congregation has held multiple baptism services each year since the church was founded in 2009, but that this was the first time they had done so on Easter Sunday. Dawn Black was among those who stirred the baptistery waters this Easter.
She had professed her faith in Christ as a youngster, but did not understand the importance of obedience represented by baptism.
As she grew older, her desire to attend worship services at a local church waned. However, her sister, Kallie, invited her to attend Bridge Church in late 2018, and within months Black became passionate about her faith and wanted to be baptized.
"Since coming here, I have seen a different side of people," she said. "When you walk into Bridge Church there is no judgment, only care and love. I can't wait to get up on Sundays and come to a place where Christ is real."
The catalyst for the Easter baptisms came from a focus on prayer and multiple evangelistic outreaches in the weeks leading up to the holiday.
Members were encouraged to pray for one person, and invite him or her to the service.
Some members also participated in the challenge issued by Lee Strobel, a speaker at the 2019 Louisiana Baptist Evangelism Conference, to pray for one person for one minute at 1 p.m. every day leading up to Easter, and were reminded about their commitment by a daily text.
Members also hosted 12 block parties and Easter egg hunts to reach out and encourage their neighbors to join them for this special worship service.
"When you start praying for your neighbors, it opens your eyes to the opportunities to share the Gospel," Corley said. "We are looking to see others come to Christ through those relationships between neighbors and friends. Hopefully more people will get on board praying for their neighbors and family members because we all want to get more involved in God's mission when we see new life and transformation."
Since January, nine new believers have been baptized at the Bridge Church, which meets at a movie theater in Madisonville. Corley said they hope to baptize 25 people by the end of the year, which would be a record for the nine-year-old congregation that averages 130 worshipers on Sunday, according to church records.
Throughout the week, members grow their relation-ships with Christ and each other through one of eight small discipleship groups that meet in homes, coffee shops and other locations.
"Small groups are really important for portable churches like ours," Corley said. "When you are portable, the focus is relationships and not the building. Buildings are great and provide that sense of place that can keep people returning to, but when you are portable, the relationships become even more important. We have many people that will tell us I may miss church every now and then, but I will never miss my small group. The relationships become the focus and that makes me, as a pastor, very happy."
This article appeared in the Baptist Message (baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Brian Blackwell is a staff writer for the Baptist Message.
EDITOR'S NOTE: From the States, typically 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.