Crossover '11 to strengthen church plants
Crossover will mark its 23rd year as the key evangelistic outreach event prior to the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting, slated June 14-15 in Phoenix.
Dozens of congregations will join volunteers -- from Arizona and across the nation -- at 70 ministry venues throughout the Phoenix-Tucson corridor, a 120-mile stretch encompassing 5.2 million residents. The North American Mission Board is working with the local Crossover coordinating team to provide volunteers with opportunities to share the love of Christ as they participate in block parties, prayerwalking excursions, Intentional Community Evangelism outreach projects and acts of kindness.
"We're excited about getting our churches into the streets and sharing the Gospel with our community," said Jerry Martin, associational missionary for the Valley Rim Baptist Association and Crossover coordinator for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention.
"We want to be a presence in our communities and begin to make a difference in unreached places," Martin said in asking Southern Baptists to pray for Arizona Baptists as they prepare for the June outreach.
What makes this year's Crossover events unique to the decades-long tradition is that it will directly impact and strengthen 10 new churches that are just starting in the five Baptist associations of the Phoenix-Tucson corridor -- Central, Estralla, Valley Rim, Gila and Catalina Baptist associations.
"We are so delighted that our [SBC] family is coming out," said Steve Bass, executive director for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention. "Our people had a great experience in 2003 and they're absolutely looking forward to this. I think all up and down the line we are grateful for Southern Baptists who come and help engage the harvest field."
Crossover will help existing churches identify and engage their neighborhoods, Bass added. The event also will help spread the word about the new church plants, many of which are only beginning to form relationships and core groups in their communities.
"Many of our churches need to be introduced or reintroduced to their neighborhoods. Crossover makes that happen," Bass said. "Pastors and churches need encouragement. To have the Southern Baptist family come and walk with them in their neighborhoods or work with them at a block party is incredibly encouraging. It's absolutely a blessing to us."
New church starts participating in Crossover 2011 in Phoenix are Valley Life Church with pastor Brian Bowman; Symbiotic Church with pastor Dennis Conner; International Baptist Ministries Fellowship with pastor Yaw Poku; and El Puente Church with pastor Armando Barraza.
Other church starts in the area that are participating are Vintage Church in Tucson with pastor Tommy Russell; Community Church of Red Rock with pastor Jimmie Woods; Mission Point Baptist Fellowship in Chandler with pastor Bill May; International Baptist Ministries Fellowship in Gilbert with pastor Yaw Poku; Silent Hope Ministries, a church to the deaf in Mesa with pastor Jeremy Fass; Seyenna Vista Apartments Church in Mesa with pastor Louis Spears; and New Jerusalem Missionary in El Mirage with pastor Clarence Bradley.
"We have 30,000 homes in this area with no church around," said Bowman of the new Valley Life Church. Sent in January by the Mullins Baptist Association in Oklahoma, Bowman is in the beginning stages of developing a core group, with plans to make a splash during Crossover in local shopping centers and neighborhoods.
Valley Life Church will not officially launch until next year, but Bowman hopes Crossover will provide follow-up opportunities that will prove crucial to a successful start.
"Our challenge is getting our name out there and gaining exposure," Bowman said. "At Crossover we're able to take over this huge parking lot in the community of Norterra. We'll be giving away movie tickets. We'll have bounce houses and a block party at this shopping center."
NAMB church planting missionary Louis Spears noted that one in three residents in greater Phoenix lives in multifamily housing communities that are closed to door-to-door witnessing. And only 3 percent ever leave their communities to attend church. The Valley Rim Baptist Association has made it a priority to start churches in such settings.
Steve Bass also highlighted the vibrant work among the international communities, including ministry among Hispanics and Chinese.
"Our Hispanic ministries are leading the way in gathering volunteers and casting vision for reaching Spanish speakers," Bass said.
Among the multi-ethnic Crossover events will be outreach efforts and block parties hosted by 16 of the area's 23 Hispanic churches. The group will gather Sunday, June 5, for a Hispanic rally of local churches, spend the week doing outreach to Spanish speakers, finish with block parties throughout the city and hold a celebration of the week's successes during the weekend before the SBC annual meeting.
Bass noted some challenges as well.
"One challenge is having an outdoor event in June in Phoenix," he said, alluding to the sweltering heat. "Another challenge is that while we are the largest evangelical group in Arizona, we're not the only religious group here spreading their message. We have to distinguish ourselves from the LDS (Latter-day Saints) and the Jehovah's Witnesses who also go door to door and have a huge influence out here.
"You never make a clear presentation of the Gospel in a vacuum," Bass added. "You're always presenting over and against competing views."
Since its beginning in 1989 in Las Vegas, Crossover has provided Southern Baptists an opportunity to collectively shine light in communities across North America as equipped churches and incoming volunteers mobilize to encourage each other and make disciples.
"I hope thousands of Southern Baptists arrive early for the convention this year to participate in Crossover," said Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board. "What's so exciting is that after we leave, the new churches we're helping will be reaching people for Christ and making disciples for years to come. I'm thankful that Steve Bass at the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention and the local associations near Phoenix are making church planting such a priority for Crossover this year."
To learn more about Crossover 2011, visit www.crossover2011.org. To assist new church plants in the Phoenix area, visit www.churchplantingvillage.net/crossover2011. For those unable to travel to Arizona this summer, Southern Baptists can join in an online prayer community at facebook.com/SBCpray4AZ or by following twitter.com/sbcpray4az.
Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.