Leaders excited about possibilities for reaching Philadelphia, Seattle

by James Dotson, posted Friday, June 25, 1999 (20 years ago)

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)--The announcement of Seattle and Philadelphia as Strategic Focus Cities for 2002 is the beginning of a multi-year process that promises to impact millions of lives with the gospel like never before, according to state and local leaders working on the project. The announcement came during the North American Mission Board’s annual report to Southern Baptist Convention messengers June 1.

Phil Roberts, vice president for NAMB’s new strategic cities strategies group, said the announcement underscores the agency’s commitment to the cities as central to the board’s overall mission of reaching the United States and Canada with the gospel. Cities not only are home to 60 percent of the population and most of the ethnic and cultural diversity, but also are the centers of forces that drive the nation.

“In the next 20 years if we fail to reach our cities, then we will see America degenerate further, both morally and spiritually,” Roberts said. “And as a result of this effort Canada and the United States will either have been closer to being truly and fully evangelized or we will see our culture becoming increasingly pagan.”

"In North America as the cities go so goes the continent,” added NAMB President Bob Reccord. “Many of our schools which have seen violence and unrest are found in our cites. Families are coming apart at the seams in urban areas. We want to help bring answers from God's Owner's Manual (Scripture) to help see lives transformed ... and as a result cities changed."

Under the Strategic Focus Cities (SFC) initiative, the resources of Southern Baptists nationwide will be directed each year toward massive evangelism and church-starting efforts in two of 17 major cities. Chicago and Phoenix have been chosen for the inaugural efforts next year, and Las Vegas and Boston for 2001.

Roberts said organizational efforts in Seattle and Philadelphia will officially kick off in January, with two years of preparation followed by a year of implementation and year of follow-up.

Stan Smith, director of missions for the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania-South Jersey that includes Philadelphia, noted the city’s importance in the history of both the nation and Baptists. It also has been a center for earlier evangelical awakenings.

“Today we have a tremendous opportunity to see a ‘Reawakening in the City of Brotherly Love,’” he said. “Already we are seeing the activity of God as new doors are opening for church planting, ministry, evangelism and church strengthening.”

Five church-planting interns from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary under the NAMB-sponsored Nehemiah Project already are on the field, he said, and efforts are gearing up for the YouthLink 2000 multi-city evangelistic rally at the end of the year.

“Dr. Frank Miller, associational missionary for the Greater Philadelphia Baptist Association, has provided excellent leadership for 15 years,” Smith said. “The association is poised to take a significant leap forward in the next few years. We believe that the Strategic Focus City partnership with NAMB will enable this movement to step to a whole new level.”

David Waltz, executive director of Pennsylvania-South Jersey convention, also said he was excited about the “great potential” he sees in the SFC effort.

“We are seeing God at work as He brings many divergent strands in focus in the city of Philadelphia,” he said. “We believe Strategic Focus Cities will make a tremendous difference not only in Philadelphia but will also affect the whole area in a strong positive way and make a great difference for the cause of Christ.”

C. Don Beall, director of missions for the Puget Sound Association that includes Seattle, said their priority has been and will continue to be on seeking God’s will for how best to reach the city.

“We also have tried to communicate and inform the pastors, staff and laypeople in our churches about what this will entail, and that we will be committed to really gearing up for more than what we are used to in terms of evangelism and discipleship,” he said. He noted there has never been a major spiritual awakening in Seattle, an area known more for new-age beliefs and a philosophy of self-reliance than historic Christianity. About 90-96 percent of the area is unchurched, he said.

“We have people here who like to think of themselves as the healthiest people in the world because of the way they eat and exercise,” he said. “So we’re faced with people who don’t always see the need … . They don’t know they’re lost.”

One project already underway in Seattle is a new church plant being sponsored by Riverside Baptist Church in Denver. The project is part of NAMB’s effort to enlist mega-churches to start churches in 24 of the nation’s largest cities.

Riverside’s “Hope for the Harvest” television program is already being broadcast in the Seattle area regularly, Beall said, with short segments before and after the program featuring Kevin Sullivan, the pastor of the new mission congregation.

Jeff Iorg, executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, said his goals for Strategic Focus Cities include not only reaching people through large events but strengthening the base of churches that will reach the area for years to come.

“When the strategic focus year is over, what will remain is the churches,” he said. “We hope there will be significant increases in the number of churches and significant strengthening of the churches that we have.”

(Individuals or groups seeking information on volunteer opportunities during 2000, the first year of Strategic Focus Cities, may contact Kimily Waldron in Phoenix, (888) 758-7753, and Danny Hester in Chicago, (800) 645-2412.)

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