'Bad Business Decision' Brings Exponential Growth At Cross Church
Meredith Day, Associate Editor
STAUNTON, Ill. | Easter Sunday looked very different than the previous Sunday at a 57-year-old IBSA church in Staunton, 40 miles northeast of St. Louis.
The former Bethel Southern Baptist Church, now called Cross Church, went from an attendance of seven to 176. The influx wasn’t due to clever Easter marketing; just weeks earlier, Bethel’s members met with Tim Rhodus, pastor of nearby Carlinville Southern Baptist Church, and asked if his church would be willing to come in and help them keep the doors open.
“The bottom line was we didn’t have the money, time or volunteers to do this,” Rhodus said of his initial reaction to the early-March meeting. “Nothing about this was a good business decision, but if God wants to do it, we’ll do it.”
The next week, Rhodus met again with the final seven Staunton members, who had voted unanimously to merge with the Carlinville congregation. He laid out what the “Staunton seven” would need to do; rather than a merger or re-plant, he envisioned a “transplant,” in which his church’s pace, structure, systems and leadership would be transplanted directly into the Staunton church.
Rhodus also clarified the new location’s mission to reach “unchurched and de-churched people,” which would mirror the Carlinville church. In his 11-year tenure in Carlinville, 83 percent of the church’s growth has been from people who weren’t regularly attending church anywhere.
The Staunton seven were steadfast in their willingness to partner with the Carlinville church, and during the next six weeks, Rhodus’ church poured resources, time and energy into the new location. They painted the building, quadrupled the size of the parking lot, and sent Easter invitations to 12,000 households. The project cost $49,000; a few families gave special offerings, but most of the money was raised through increased tithes and offerings at Carlinville, said Rhodus.
The two churches coming together “is really about individual people choosing to follow God, and make the sacrifices required to follow Him,” Rhodus said, pointing both to his church members who gave and to the Staunton congregation, who surrendered everything in hopes of re-establishing a healthy church.
On Easter, in light of the staggering attendance increase, the Staunton members “sat there with tears in their eyes,” Rhodus said. Since then, each of the seven remaining members has stayed at the church, and some of their family members who left to attend other places have come back. Meanwhile, the Carlinville campus, now also called Cross Church, added a video service to accommodate the Staunton location. Each Sunday, Rhodus preaches at 9 a.m. in Carlinville, then travels 20 miles to preach in Staunton at 10:45. A second Carlinville service is a videotaped version of the earlier gathering.
Since Easter, the Staunton location has averaged 140 in attendance, while Carlinville’s campus sees more than 500 people every week, Rhodus said.
“We launched a second campus in five weeks, spent $49,000 we didn’t have to do it, changed the name in the process and went to a video service strategy,” Rhodus said. “And we’ve had zero drama.”
He attributed the spirit of unity that permeates both campuses to smaller, stretching decisions God has led his church to make over the past 11 years.
When Rhodus first came to Carlinville, the church was running 90 in attendance and most of the decisions were made through a lengthy, committee-led process. He put into place a more direct leadership strategy with a goal of making decisions quickly and efficiently.
“Our natural processes and structure can rob the energy of what God’s trying to do,” Rhodus said. He remembers controversy early on about increasing the size of the stage in the auditorium.
But by leading the church to act quickly then, and on other decisions like purchasing chairs or enlarging the parking lot, Carlinville became a congregation willing and ready to respond immediately as God led them. In 2005, they made a unanimous decision in one meeting to purchase a 60,000-square foot former Walmart building. Renovations on the building, which will serve as a new worship facility for the Carlinville campus, are currently underway.
As for future plans, after his experience in Staunton, Rhodus isn’t making many. If you had asked him last year, he would have said a multi-site strategy was 10 years down the road. But God said do something different.
“We have strategies and we have vision, we have processes and planning things we do, but we’re not trying to out-think God.”
For more information about Cross Church in Carlinville and Staunton, go to www.thecrossmatters.org.
IL Chaplains Minister In Joplin, Witness 'Total Devastation'
Meredith Day, Associate Editor
JOPLIN, Mo. | As an Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief chaplain, John Stanford has responded to several tornadoes. But none have wreaked the kind of havoc he witnessed in Joplin, Missouri.
“The news media didn’t do justice to the devastation that’s down here,”
Stanford said. “It’s heartbreaking.” Stanford, recently retired pastor of First Baptist Church, Bluford, Ill., led a team of eight chaplains from Illinois to serve in Joplin June 5-10. They joined chaplains from several other states tasked with finding ways to minister to families impacted by the massive May 22 tornado that leveled many parts of town.
The chaplains spread out through Joplin, going to neighborhoods where residents picked through debris, offering assistance to overwhelmed local pastors, visiting nursing homes, even pushing carts for Walmart shoppers.
“We’re simply trying to provide some spiritual and emotional care to people as we see them,” Stanford said. The chaplains offered “a cold drink of water, a Bible when they need one, just whatever we can do.
“When you’re in total devastation, there’s just so much need.” Some of the chaplains attended funerals for victims of the tornado; at press time, the death toll in Joplin numbered 153 lives.
“It’s just beyond belief unless you’re here,” said Jerry Montgomery, pastor of Casey Avenue Baptist Church in Mt. Vernon. But in the midst of total destruction, there is hope.
“The folks are so receptive and so open, and they are so glad to see people are praying for them and loving them and caring for them,” Montgomery said.
He visited with one woman working in the rubble that used to be her home, trying to salvage some of her belongings. She pointed out a 4-foot by 6-foot space at one corner of the property, and told Montgomery she had taken refuge there during the tornado with her daughter and grandchild.
“During the worst of it, the winds began to whirl and twist around, and we began to get covered up with lumber,” she told him. It was physically painful, she said, as the house’s frame fell down around them and on top of them. But, “when it was all over with, I realized what God had done,” she said to Montgomery. “I’m praising the Lord for protecting us.”
Whenever the opportunity arose, the Illinois chaplains were ready to pray with and for Joplin’s residents Montgomery said. He and Stanford said Illinois Baptists can help by interceding for people who are in the midst of making tough decisions about what to salvage, what to rebuild, and how to move on.
“They’ve lost everything,” Stanford said. “Just ask for God’s strength, and for God to help them through this.
“Continue to pray for these folks. It’s a lot of devastation, a lot of hurt, a lot of needs.”
For more information about Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief, go to www.IBSA.org/disaster.
Missions Spectacular Leads To 14 Salvation Decisions
Lisa Sergent, Contributing Editor
SPRINGFIELD |On June 4th, nearly 800 Illinois Baptists from 86 churches participated in this year’s Missions Spectacular event – Illinois Baptists’ largest annual one-day missions project. Events were held at 34 churches in seven areas around the state. The volunteer missionaries shared Christ through word and deed, resulting in 14 people accepting Christ as their savior.
Mark Emerson, Illinois Baptist State Association Missions Involvement director, coordinated the event. “Missions Spectacular continues to be one of the best entry-level mission activities for congregations who desire to leave the walls of their church in order to share the gospel through missions involvement,” he said.
The locations where they ministered were the Rockford, Fox Valley, Quad Cities, Metro Peoria, Springfield, Litchfield, Metro East St. Louis and Metropolis areas. Missions Spectacular volunteers chose which community and activities they wished to participate in, including sports clinics, block parties, prayer walking, door-to-door surveying, landscaping, painting, construction and more.
This year represented a significant increase in volunteers, participating churches and ministry projects and locations over the previous year, when more than 500 missionaries from 65 IBSA churches ministered through 25 projects in three locations. IBSA partnered with local associational directors of missions to plan the projects for 2011.
“With nearly 800 people participating in seven areas of our state, it was easy to realize that we were all part of something bigger than ourselves,” said Emerson. “Seeing the missionaries in action and reading their reports reminded me how proud I am to be an Illinois Baptist.”
John Hume, associate pastor at Lincoln Avenue Baptist Church in Jacksonville, and his wife and two sons were at Roanoke Baptist Church in Springfield, where they participated in painting projects at the church.
“We’re all called to do missions in different ways, and we felt a need to help this church with their facility,” Hume said.“Also, we wanted to give our boys experience helping someone else. And, we wanted to do missions together as a family.As parents, we’re supposed to lead and train them and show them the example they need to live by, and that includes doing missions.”
A group from Harco Baptist Church in Galatia brought nine high school and college age students along with two adults to the Christian Activity Center (CAC) in East St. Louis. This was the first time the church had participated in Missions Spectacular, although they had previously worked with the CAC through a Saline Baptist Association mission trip. They were among the 70 missionaries who took 100 of the center’s children and youth to the zoo in St. Louis, Mo.
Harco’s associate youth leader, Brian Heath, said over the past few years, they’ve been trying to increase the missions focus of their youth group so students have a better idea of what’s beyond their own community.
Heath noted, “The early church didn’t sit in the pews, sing hymns and have a good time. They were active, they were busy and it grew the church … So we try to find mission projects to make the Gospel come alive, because otherwise it’s just stories.”
Gary Allen, pastor of Eternity Baptist Church in Centralia, led a group of 10 from his church to help host a block party at Fifteenth Street Baptist Church in East St. Louis. Allen said he felt like the ministry project “was a good fit” for his church members who helped serve food, host kids games and lead a program outside under a tent near the church. During the block party, they saw three children make professions of faith, with two others making rededications.
Allen noted that as he spoke during the program, “I could look to my left and see the church building which represented light and hope to the community.
Then I could look to my right and see a tavern which represented darkness and despair.” The members of Eternity hope to continue helping Fifteenth Street bring light and hope to their community and have already signed up to return to the East St. Louis church for Missions Spectacular 2012. Allen said they are also looking into starting a partnership effort between the two churches.
Marty King and Meredith Day contributed to this story.
By Nate Adams
“Wow, things really look different out here!” I quickly agreed with my son’s observation, because we were driving down the freeway in Phoenix, Arizona, having just arrived in town for the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention. All around us the browns and reds of the desert made the lush green of Illinois seem very far away.
Soon things would look even more different, though. We were arriving a couple of days early to go to Grand Canyon National Park before the Convention began. The drive north from Phoenix would take us through several thousand feet of elevation and numerous varieties of desert, each with its own distinctive look. By the time we reached the cooler mountains of Flagstaff we were surrounded by tall evergreens, and then the high desert setting that characterizes the National Park.
Then we came to the Grand Canyon. A mile deep, 277 miles long, and 18 miles across at its widest point, the Canyon easily absorbs all the superlatives one can seek to give it. It’s massive and majestic, a wonderful testimony to God’s creative power.And yet it can also be very dangerous. In fact, the best-selling book in the park’s many gift shops is titled, “Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon.”
Nevertheless, my 17-year-old son Ethan and I decided to see how much of the Canyon we could conquer in a single day hike. It’s over 9 miles by trail down to the Colorado River, and almost 24 miles from “rim to rim.” We chose a trail that descends 3,800 feet to an overlook of the river, and covered that 13-mile, down-and-back trek in about 6 hours.
I’m writing two days after completing that hike, yet I can still hardly bend my legs without groaning. Even my youngerlegged son, a high school football player in tip-top physical shape, said it was the most demanding physical thing he had ever attempted. As we had been forewarned, hiking the Canyon is more difficult than climbing a mountain of similar size, because of the heat, and also because the hardest part of the climb comes at the end.
Yet I’m so glad to have that experience as a backdrop for this year’s Southern Baptist Convention. Over the past two years or so, it seems the landscape of national SBC life has changed almost as much as the landscape we witnessed on our drive from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon. The Great Commission Resurgence has left its mark on several national SBC entities, and the ripple effect on state conventions like ours in Illinois have been significant.
Here are just a few examples. Since this time last year, we have learned that the North American Mission Board will provide substantially less funding through IBSA starting in 2012. Directors of Missions that are funded by NAMB, like those who serve in the northern part of Illinois, must transition into the role of Church Planting Catalyst to continue receiving NAMB funding. Chicago and St. Louis have been named two of the 25 focus cities in NAMB’s new “Send North America” strategy, and IBSA will be asked to play key roles in both those cities. Yet in our beleaguered economy, Cooperative Program giving in Illinois is down more than 3 percent compared to last year.
So frankly, I have been heading into the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention feeling like the rich and well-watered farmland of our mission was looking more and more like the desert, a place where resources are scarce, and where the climate makes it a challenge to thrive, and if you’re not careful, to survive.
But on that 13-mile trek in and out of the canyon, we began marveling at the resilience of desert plants, and at their beauty. Somehow, in the harshest of environments, they had adapted and were even flourishing. It didn’t matter how much water was available. They eagerly received whatever God provided, and creatively used it to produce what they could in their circumstances.
Whatever changes this next year may bring, or the years that follow, the fresh perspective I gained in the desert this week is that God is present both in plenty and in scarcity. His provision is always enough, though it may call for creativity and adaptability on my part. And sometimes I have to step back from my situation, or even go to a new place, in order to see things differently.
Perhaps you could use a new outlook on your ministry situation too. Get away for a while this summer, and look for God in places and in ways you haven’t experienced Him before. He’s there. He may just want you to see your situation, and Himself, from a fresh perspective.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association and may be reached at NateAdams@IBSA.org or (217) 391-3108.
Illinois Baptist Voices: Living to please God
By Joe Gardner
While in seminary, I was pastor of a church located 100 miles from campus. We would drive over on Sunday, preach, visit and drive back Sunday night. The church members took turns “feeding the preacher” Sunday lunch. Each week we would be invited to a different home for the Sunday meal.
One Sunday a lady came up to me and very excitedly said, “Next week you’re coming to our house, and I am fixing you a special dish! I’m fixing souse!” I didn’t know what souse was and back then I couldn’t “Google” it or look it up on a souse website, but by the ooh’s and aah’s from the people who heard this announcement, I concluded souse to be good! The rest of that Sunday the people talked about how wonderful souse is and that I was in for a treat! The next Sunday people continued describing how delicious the souse would be and how the hostess could prepare it better than anyone else.
Finally, the moment arrived. After church we drove to the home. We were seated at a large table with several church families. After I gave the blessing, the food was passed around. When the souse came by I took a large helping which pleased everyone! I took my fork, pulled up a large bit and placed it in my mouth. I can’t really explain the taste and texture I experienced.
I discovered souse is made from a pig’s head that has been stewed with seasonings until it is a type of gelatin.All I know is, if I hadn’t been at a table full of my church members, I would have spit that souse halfway across the dining room. But I smiled, swallowed, and didn’t eat anymore.
I remember thinking, “Why would someone presume that I would enjoy a dish like this?”
Because they liked it, people assumed I would. And, because it was a favorite local dish, they thought everyone should like it.Wouldn’t it be better to find out what a guest likes and serve that?
I was thinking about that this week, and I wondered, “Am I giving God what He likes or what I like? Am I spending my time giving God what pleases Him or me?” That’s a serious question. I don’t want to live my life only to discover in the end that God didn’t want what I was giving Him. Am I living to please me or Him?
What about you? What about your church? Are you doing what pleases the Lord or you? Are you doing what you prefer or what He prefers?
But what does please Him? I suggest we carefully consider the last earthly words Jesus spoke to his disciples. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gave one final command to His disciples – to make disciples. I suggest that if the last instruction Jesus gave His followers was to make disciples, then that is what He expects us to be about. Making disciples pleases Him, and if that’s the last thing He said to his disciples, then what do you think will be the first thing He asks us?
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” (NIV)
Joe Gardner has served as director of missions for Metro Peoria Baptist Association 14 years. Contact him at email@example.com or through www.metropeoria.com.
Illinois Baptist Church Takes Much-Needed Supplies To Joplin Tornado Victims
DECATUR, Ill. | J.J. Hairston, pastor of Galilee Baptist Church in Decatur, led his church to assist Joplin's Forest Park Baptist Church following the F-5 tornado that destroyed large sections of the town May 22. The Joplin church was spared, but 70 members lost their homes.
With a list of needed items provided by the Joplin church, the members of Galilee began collecting bottled water, non-perishable food, baby food, diapers and adult hygiene products. Word spread to local churches and community members who donated more of the needed items. Hairston and 11 church members made the seven-hour trip to deliver the collected items to Forest Park.
“The church was really glad we came and asked us to come back again to help the rest of the community,” he said.
Hairston said the level of destruction he saw was incredible. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Photos really can’t describe it, but everyone is really pulling together.”
The members of Galilee continue to collect items and planned to take another full cargo truck back to Joplin on June 20.