The most unchurched 25 percent
___By Ferrell Foster
___Texas Baptist Communications
___Tall buildings glisten like jewels along the coastline, while lush hills and mountains stretch inland for hundreds of miles. These contrasting landscapes are found in the northeastern United States, home to millions of unchurched people and relatively few Baptists.
___Texas Baptists have cast their eyes in that direction by entering a multi-state partnership that seeks to bring more spiritual light into the darkness.?
|THE SKYLINE of Pittsburgh rises above the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. Though one of the nation's major population centers, Pittsburgh is vastly unreached with the Christian gospel and has few Baptist churches in proportion to population. Through a new partnership missions program, Texas Baptists are asked to help spread the light of Christ in places such as Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
___Impact Northeast has united six "support conventions" in the South--Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia--with five "impact conventions" in the Northeast--the District of Columbia, Maryland/Delaware, New England, New York and Pennsylvania/South Jersey. Together, they are making a concerted effort to expand the witness for Christ in the Northeast.
___"The Northeast USA is so critical for the evangelization of America because easily over one quarter of our population lives there and vast portions of those people don't know Christ," said Don Sewell, director of Texas Partnerships for the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
___To help reach this region for Christ, Baptists need to have a greater presence, Sewell and others believe.
___Only 1 percent of the population in the Northeast is Baptist, explained Charles Barnes, coordinator of Impact Northeast in Annapolis, Md. "We still have not impacted the tremendous population centers of America."
___Those population centers include New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Washington.
___Those cities and the countryside that surrounds them make up "the most unchurched 25 percent of the American population," said Steve Seaberry, equipping coordinator for Texas Partnerships.
___Individual state conventions in the South and Northeast have formed partnerships in the
past, Sewell noted. They provided the "seedbeds" of concern that led to Impact Northeast, "the brainchild" of three state executives, Bill Pinson of Texas, Reggie McDonough of Virginia and Ken Lyle of New England. (Pinson and Lyle have since retired.)
|THE NATIONAL MALL, which stretches from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, attracts thousands of visitors to Washington, D.C., each year. Baptists in the District of Columbia desire help in their "ministry of presence" among tourists on the Mall as they seek to share the Christian message with people from all over the world.
___The 11-convention partnership started in 2000 but has been slow to gather momentum. It lasts through 2007.
___Impact Northeast is a "very expansive and ambitious partnership," Sewell said. "This partnership is a new paradigm. Formerly, a partnership simply was between two Baptist conventions or unions. Impact Northeast draws from the very best resources of all these conventions to address church growth and leadership needs in any of those five impact conventions."
___"While it's true that the six southern conventions have more just in raw numbers, ... that's not to imply there's a void in the Northeast conventions," Seaberry added. "We're looking at this as an equal partnership drawing on the joint resources."
___Nevertheless, most of the human and financial resources rest with the Southern conventions, and Texas is the biggest of those.
___"I personally think we as Texas Baptists have no excuse not to exhibit a compassion to our countrymen at this juncture in American history," Sewell said. "We are indebted as Texas Baptists to the Christian heritage which we historically derived from the Northeast part of the United States in the 1700s.
___"They shared the time-honored truths of freedom of religion and soul competency which are the bedrock of our faith," Sewell said. "Now we have the strategic opportunity to reintroduce the spirit of Christianity to many in the Northeast who have lost the vision of our religious forefathers."
___Sewell envisions short-term volunteers from Texas assisting in one- or two-week ventures in "virtually all areas" of Christian growth and leadership. "We need teachers, choirs, preachers, youth leaders, construction workers, prayer and witness advocates, and people just to go alongside our Baptist friends in the Northeast to encourage them and be their support."
___David Waltz, executive director of the Pennsylvania/South Jersey Baptist Convention, said there is excitement among Baptists in the Northeast just knowing that there are people in the South who care. "It's sometimes overwhelming to see the great need" in the region, and it can be discouraging, he said.
___"We need lots more churches," Waltz said. "There are entire counties with no Southern Baptist work" in Pennsylvania/ South Jersey, including one such county with a population of 100,000 people. "We have the strategies in place. We just need the resources, the people."
___As for the involvement of Texas Baptists, he said, "We are extremely grateful for their concern for this work. ... I feel excited to know the eyes of Texas are upon us."
___ Start hundreds of new churches.
___ Reach 6 million students on 600 university campuses.
___ Revitalize and encourage existing churches.
___ Provide leadership training for pastors and laypeople.
___How to get involved
___To get connected with mission projects in the Northeast, contact the Texas Partnerships office of the Baptist General Convention of Texas:
___Phone: (214) 828-5184.
___ E-mail: email@example.com.
___ Mail: Texas Partnerships, 333 N. Washington, Dallas 75246-1798.
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