Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, home to the Liberty Bell and Betsy
Ross, has been liberated from religion. Travel there, and youll soon grasp what
may be one of Americas supreme ironies. The city that was founded by English
Quaker William Penn as a center for religious freedom has become free
from religion. In merely two centuries, Philadelphia has almost
liberated itself from the freedom of Christ. But thats starting to change.
Partnering for PhiladelphiaThe people of Philadelphia
recently benefited from an initiative called Strategic Focus Cities (SFC). SFCs
are a partnership between state Southern Baptist conventions, local
associations and the North American Mission Board. NAMB brings its most
effective ministries and resources, and places them in a supercharged effort
designed to blanket a city with the love and freedom only Christ can bring.
NAMBs vision for North America is that we will see a day when every person in
the United States and Canada will have an opportunity to hear the gospel,
respond with faith in Christ and participate in a New Testament fellowship of
What better place to focus that vision than on the major cities of North
America where most of the people live. In North Americas metropolitan centers,
populations are increasing at a much higher rate than people are coming to know
Christ. Yet the influence of our cities is enormous. Ive often heard Doug
Metzger, NAMBs SFC team director, say As the cities go, so goes the nation.
I hope that proves to be true in Philadelphia. Prior to becoming an SFC,
Philadelphia had 130 Southern Baptist churches for its 6.1 million residentsone
SBC church for every 47,000 people. In addition, the Anglo population of
651,000 had only three Anglo churches, two of them new. Its hard to believe
such a dearth of faith is what founder William Penn had in mind.
As 2,652 volunteers from all over the continent arrived in force to help
with community block parties, Vacation Bible Schools and evangelism training,
groundwork for a new Philadelphia was being laid. And the results were amazing.
In one new church, Word Tabernacle Baptist Church, Pastor James Gailliard
baptized almost 100 people the first month. Altogether 26 new churches have
been started, many of them African American, reflecting the makeup of the inner
city. So far, nearly 6,000 people have made professions of faith. And this
movement of God seems to be a trend.
In addition, William Scott, Philadelphias SFC coordinator, tells us a new
spirit of cooperation has grown among churches, and we all know that when you
network, you build strength. Younger pastors are being connected with older
pastors of whom they can ask the hard questions. Philadelphia may yet become
the City of Brotherly Love!
Like other Strategic Focus Citiessuch as Phoenix, Chicago, Las Vegas, Boston
and SeattlePhiladelphias evangelical community had lacked the strength of
numbers needed to keep pace with North Americas sprawling metropolitan areas.
Eighty percent of the U.S. population lives in metropolitan areas; 50 percent
of Southern Baptist churches are in these areas.
Why do we need initiatives like SFC? As I have observed our large
cities, it becomes clear that Philadelphia is not alone in the struggle to
climb out of its spiritual slump. Regardless of geography, a lack of
partnerships can spell disaster for the eager but ill-prepared church planter.
In size, North America ranks as the worlds third largest continent. And with so
many people to reachan estimated 228 million dont know Christthe task can be
daunting. Gary Frost, NAMBs vice president of strategic partnerships, is so
right when he says: Reaching strategic cities must take priority for us as we
fulfill the Great Commission. We are challenged to commit our prayer, our
resources and our very lives, to the divine adventure of becoming agents of
transformation in the megacities of our nation. As we advance the Kingdom
through evangelism and church multiplication, God can bring light to urban
darkness and salt to cultural corruption.
How can we Christians get our arms around this sprawling and complex mission
Im convinced that the answer is by partnering with one another. Reaching out
to join hands,we can breach the expanses. When we pool our resourceswhether
they are physical, financial or spiritualwe can take the mission a step further
than it would have gone acting on our own. Cities like Philadelphia may yet
become places where freedom of religion means that God is moving freely in our
Partnering with our states and associationsSFC can
accelerate the strategies of the local association of Southern Baptist
churches. But associations have strategies apart from SFC, so NAMB offers help
in developing or accelerating strategies just as it does with SFC, minus some
of the resources. In addition, state conventions of Southern Baptists may take
advantage of NAMBs planning and leadership development capabilities.
For example, NAMB assists in leadership searches for local associations and
offers leadership training through workshops that focus on specific job skills
like conflict management or listeningskills that can result in up to an 82
percent success rate in re-claiming church dropouts. In partnership with IMB,
NAMB recently took directors of missions from mega associations to training
where they developed strategies for reaching people groups. They learned how to
go into a geographic area and recognize the characteristics of different
groups. They learned how to provide literacy programs, so they can deal with
the huge segment of the population that is functionally illiterate.
And they learned how to use the cultural stories of different people as a
way to eliminate barriers. Margaret Slusher, leadership development coordinator
for NAMBs associational strategy team, tells me that storying is a way of
spreading the gospel throughout North America, in much the same manner as our
international missionaries do. Training also helps associational leaders learn
how to encourage the planting of churches that will resemble their own culture
and tribal groups rather than those from the Deep South.
Also, NAMB produces promotional materials to emphasize the work of the local
associations. The associational emphasis week is a designated time in May thats
usually observed by the 1,200 associations across our continent to encourage
cooperative mission work of local churches.
NAMB also encourages collaborative efforts among associationslike the
Touches of Kindness outreachand encourages churches to do collective mission
work in their communities on a scale that simply cant be done individually.
Encouraging churches within the association to collaborate means they also can
mobilize on short notice when necessary. This happened in Covington, Kentucky,
when travelers were stranded at the airport on September 11, 2001, and local
churches mobilized to help.
NAMB assets are not recycled only back to the associations, however. NAMB
also works with state conventions to help develop strategy plans and determine
ways states can obtain the resources needed to accomplish their goals.
By partnering with each other and working together, Southern Baptists
accomplish what cannot be done by working independently. When we join hands
across the continent, we find the mission within our grasp.
Bob Reccord is president of the North American Mission Board, SBC. His
latest book is Beneath the Surface: Steering Clear of Dangers that Could
Leave You Shipwrecked (Broadman & Holman 2002). He is host of the
Strength for Living Baptist Hour which airs on more than 400 radio
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC