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55-county prayer tour stirs urgency for church planting

STOCKTON, Ill. (BP)–The day started before dawn for Bob Wiley and Max Samples. The air was frigid, but it didn’t keep the two men from their appointment — prayer at 6:45 a.m. at First Baptist Church, Stockton, Ill.
That was just the beginning. Wiley and Samples then met KC Crino, and over the next 12 hours the three men kneeled to pray at four different county seats.
They drove Wiley’s minivan, dubbed “IBSA 1” on the license plates, through 17 different towns in northwestern Illinois, looking for churches and getting a feel for the region.
Just a typical day for Wiley, executive director of Illinois Baptist State Association, and Samples, IBSA’s evangelism director, on their “Claiming the Land” prayer tour of 55 counties in northern Illinois. Crino, IBSA’s Anglo church extension strategist in northern Illinois, joined Wiley and Samples for a couple of days of the October tour.
The tour’s purpose: to claim the land for Christ by praying for existing churches in northern Illinois, asking God to raise up leaders for new churches in the region and praying for Baptists around the state to be involved in the effort.
The tour started Oct. 13 in East Moline at Calvary Baptist Church, where about five people showed up on a chilly morning to pray with Wiley and Samples — people who “were so appreciative of the fact that we were there to go through their area in the northern part of Illinois,” Samples said.
Wiley had some concerns, even before the tour started. “What I feared going into this would be that we would just drive through towns,” he said. “One of the things you fear is that you’ll just go through the motions.”
But after only one day of touring towns of about 1,000 or more people and praying at every county seat, Wiley and Samples felt a deep need for church starting in northern Illinois.
“I think the Lord really just impressed both of us with seeing places and then sensing the need of lost people that was there,” Samples said. “We were amazed that there were so many towns with very few churches and very few evangelical churches. … As the day progressed, I kept getting a burden of the lostness, but also the need of starting work.”
Most towns had some churches, like Lutheran, Methodist or Brethren. But Southern Baptist churches were few in number, sparking in Wiley a sense of anger and frustration and, at one point, a prayer of personal repentance for not being more involved in starting new work.
He cited one example of his frustration — the town of Andalusia. “Here’s a town of 1,100 people. Very middle class, upper middle class,” Wiley said. “We saw no congregations. We saw no church buildings.
“Now that’ll eat on you.”
On their second day of touring with Crino, Wiley and Samples drove through 17 different towns, such as Lena, Oregon, Rochelle, Dixon and many others. The trio spotted three Southern Baptist congregations. That included cities like Freeport, with a population of about 25,000 and no Southern Baptist work.
“The weight of claiming the land is becoming very heavy,” Wiley said at the end of day two in the area. “It’s hard to imagine seeing all of this and not being burdened, not feeling the need to do something about it.”
That’s why Baptists around the state should pray for a revival, Wiley said, and also get actively involved in helping.
“It seems like to me a church could emerge easily in a year and a half to two years where there’d be an exciting work going on in that community,” Wiley said. “I really see the need for us to really find the strategies to coordinate the volunteers. We’re looking at a great army of volunteers needed, not for a one-time visit, but for the continuation.”
Many of those volunteers must come from established churches in southern Illinois, Crino said. “I don’t think our churches in northern Illinois are equipped with the resources, the personnel or the potential leadership at this point to be able to partner in the starting of new churches in some of these unchurched areas,” he said.
That’s not an indictment of northern Illinois churches, but a challenge to other churches around the state. “I could see churches in southern Illinois partnering in a number of different ways,” Crino continued, such as sending volunteers, providing expertise and praying for new work. “We need some of our young men in our Illinois churches to hear the call of God to come and serve in their state. That’s the most important thing.”

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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