Chicago Road Trip
It is good to be home from a whirlwind trip to Chicago! Our youth pastor, Adam Horton, and I headed up to the windy city Sunday afternoon, for the purpose of exploring a missions partnership for our church. We were supposed to stay at a hotel in the southwest suburbs, a seven and a half hour drive from Ozark. Unfortunately, we ran into snow around Cuba, MO and drove through snow until we finally gave up and spent the night at Springfield, IL - still two and a half hours from our destination. The stretch between St. Louis and Springfield, IL was particularly treacherous, as I-55 was completely snow covered. It took us three hours to go 100 miles, an average speed of a little over 30 miles per hour. But God watched over us, and we had 4wd, so we made it. It's a good thing the Good Lord was with us, because the Illinois Department of Transportation certainly didn't do us any favors. In that entire 100 mile stretch, we did not see a single plow or salt truck. We did, however, see numerous cars in the ditch.
Monday morning we got up early and resumed our trip into Chicago (on much improved roads) to meet with the church planting director for the Chicago Metro Baptist Association, and also the Director of Missions for the Lake County Baptist Association (northern suburbs). We had a very informative meeting with both men who told us of the ministry needs, and potential for partnerships, in their respective associations. After our meeting with these men, we headed into the city core to meet with a church planter named Eric Arnall, who actually grew up in Springfield, MO. Eric is planting a multi-ethnic church in the heart of downtown Chicago. He already has a great leadership team in place, and is currently hosting Bible studies in three different downtown restaurants. This future church has already seen conversions (of professing Atheists and Hindus no less), and is looking to officially launch the second Sunday of September. Eric is doing a great job, and I've got a feeling that God is going to use his church to impact this influential city in a meaningful way. Eric was also kind enough to give us a driving tour of downtown. We got to drive down Lakeshore Drive, the "magnificent mile," see Grant Park (where President Obama gave his acceptance speech), and the White Sox and Bears' stadiums. Pretty cool stuff.
This morning, Dan Edington, the Director of Missions for Three Rivers Baptist Association (southern suburbs), was kind enough to meet us at our hotel before we left town. We had a great meeting with Dan, and what he had to say left a deep impression on us. Dan's association is comprised of the counties south and southwest of Chicago, including the fastest growing county in the entire nation. There are approximately 1.5 million people that live in Three Rivers Association, and only 35 Southern Baptist churches. (By comparison, the association I grew up in had about the same number of churches to serve 23,000 people.) Most of these churches have 50 or less in attendance, and the largest one has about 300. Another eye opener for us was that the largest city in Three Rivers Association (Joliet-population of nearly 150,000) has ZERO Southern Baptist churches. And folks, it's not just that there aren't SBC churches; there are very few evengelical churches of any kind! Dan shared an interesting study with us, that if current trends continue, there will be practically no evangelical churches in all of "Chicago Land" (suburbs) within 100 years. In other words, there are more existing churches shutting down each year than there are new churches being planted.
So the bottom line is that Chicago, one of the most influential population centers in the world, is a massively unchurched/unreached city, and is sitting right in the back yard of the Bible belt! Selmore folks, please begin praying for God to show our church the best way we can make an impact for the Kingdom in Chicago. We will be discussing this more in the near future. If there are other Missouri Baptist pastors/church members reading this blog, and would like to know more, please don't hesitate to contact me. I will be happy to share with you all that we learned and observed.