Urban engagement sparks NAMB-Rebuild partnership
By Joe Conway
Nov 18, 2011


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Dhati Lewis (right), pastor of Blueprint Church in downtown Atlanta, is president of The Rebuild Initiative, which is beginning a partnership with the North American Mission Board to raise up leaders to address urban culture -- leaders who are both indigenous to the community and trained theologically. Blueprint Church, begun in 2009 with 50 people, now has 380 in worship, including a diverse mix of students from nearby Georgia State University and Georgia Tech and families and young adults. Photo by Susan Whitley
ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) -- "Years later the church has become an idol/ It became a culture and it's no longer a faith/ We seek comfortable living and no longer His face/ See churches on the corner but the corners don't change," -- from "Rebuild the City" by Sho Baraka L.

Hip hop may not readily come to mind when thinking of Southern Baptist work through the North American Mission Board. With The Rebuild Initiative, it may be essential.

In an effort to enhance the reach of NAMB's Send North America strategy, the mission board is embarking on a partnership with The Rebuild Initiative. Stemming from the vision and passion of two urban church planters, Rebuild is intent on identifying, equipping and networking urban church planters and leaders. The Rebuild Initiative is a network of churches that exists to plant multi-ethnic churches.

Watch a discussion on the challenges of urban church planting here.
"Rebuild brings the focus of the Gospel into cultural context," Dhati Lewis, president of the organization, said. "What you often find is people who are culturally contextual but not theologically sound, or they are theologically sound but not culturally relevant. With Rebuild we are working with leaders who are both. We have a desire to connect new leaders who will be theologically sound and culturally relevant. We want to help raise up indigenous leaders and train them theologically so we can come together and address urban culture."

In addition to establishing a network of urban church planters and leaders, Rebuild will host roundtable events in key urban areas to equip and encourage leaders. The idea is a natural fit for Send North America.

Noting that the Send North America strategy includes urban settings, NAMB President Kevin Ezell voiced enthusiasm "about what Dhati Lewis and Larry Grays are doing to mentor urban leaders and how the Rebuild Initiative can show us how to reach urban centers better, to model it so we can bring others alongside and make a significant difference in urban settings."

Grays is vice president of Rebuild and pastor of Midtown Bridge Church in Atlanta. Lewis is pastor of Blueprint Church, which launched in downtown Atlanta last year.

"One of the biggest challenges facing urban church planting is awareness," Grays said. "If we are going to be serious as a convention about the Great Commission and reaching unreached people and underserved people, I think we've got to look at the urban environment."

Aaron Coe, NAMB vice president for mobilization, underscored Rebuild's synthesis of urban development, leadership equipping and church planting.

"The Rebuild Initiative will include roundtable conferences where leaders can exchange ideas and be further developed for church planting," Coe said. "The ultimate goal of Rebuild is to see church planters come out of the process. Rebuild is a natural fit for the Send North America strategy."

NAMB's Send North America strategy is an effort to mobilize individuals and churches for church planting in key population centers across North America. The strategy entails finding churches that are already directly planting new churches and helping them do more. For churches not directly involved, meanwhile, NAMB will help them get started with hands-on church planting activities.

"Rebuild can provide a platform for minority leaders who get it theologically and who can connect with people," Lewis said. "We have been blessed by the grace of God to reach a network that no one else has reached -- urban, hip hop, young professional. We can get leaders equipped, get ahead of the cultural curve and reach people where they are. Rebuild is already scheduled to host roundtables in several Send North America cities. The partnership makes a lot of sense."

Blueprint Church started with 25 adults who moved from the Dallas/Fort Worth area to Atlanta in 2009. They began small groups and soon had 50 people meeting in community. Blueprint now has 380 in worship, including approximately 100 college students, primarily from Georgia State University and Georgia Tech.

"Our people are very missional. They intersect the everyday lives of people in their community," Lewis said. "Our goal is to plant five new churches in Atlanta in the next five years."

Grays and Midtown Bridge have helped Blueprint get established and connected.

The city is distinct from suburban church planting, Grays noted.

"One of the primary differences in working in an urban center is the density -- the number of people packed into a small space," Grays said. "You start with many different worldviews and cultures. How do you address those as a church planter? There are practical things like the cost of living. Where there is more density there is greater demand, which means higher cost of real estate. Where do you park people? You have to think through how you are going to engage the city in a meaningful way."

With the assistance of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., and several other partners, Grays launched Midtown Bridge in 2007 at the Fox Sports Grill in Atlantic Station. In 2008 the church moved to Regal Cinemas in the midtown development. Grays moved his family to Atlantic Station to establish a presence in the community, believing that it will take a church planting movement to transform the city. Midtown is helping lay a foundation for other church plants.

"God give your servant success today by granting him some of Your favor/ I need to, You need to, We need to Rebuild the City," -- from "Rebuild the City."
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Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board. To see Dhati Lewis and Larry Grays discuss the challenges of urban church planting, visit http://www.namb.net/namb1cb2col.aspx?id=8590118669. To learn more about Send North America, visit http://namb.net. To learn more about The Rebuild Initiative and roundtable events, visit www.therebuildinitiative.org. "Rebuild the City" was written and recorded by Sho Baraka L., a hip-hop artist and younger brother of Dhati Lewis. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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