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Cleveland picked as next site for Strategic Focus Cities effort

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Cleveland was chosen for the North American Mission Board’s 2006-07 Strategic Focus City church planting and evangelistic outreach initiative.

Officials with the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio and NAMB made the announcement jointly Nov. 11 during the convention’s annual meeting.

Cleveland becomes the 10th major city in North America selected as an SFC site, joining Vancouver, British Columbia, also chosen earlier this year as a 2006-07 locale.

“Each census and population study shows us again and again that North Americans are moving to large cities,” said NAMB President Robert E. (Bob) Reccord. “By working through partnerships and bringing a concentrated focus to specific cities, we have an opportunity to impact cultures that will influence our entire continent.

“Just as Cleveland has experienced an economic and cultural rebirth in recent years, our prayer is for the people of Cleveland to experience a spiritual rebirth that will transform lives and forever change the human landscape of this great city.”

Baptist state convention officials in Ohio said they look forward to partnering with Southern Baptist churches across North America to help share the Gospel with the 2.9 million people who call the greater Cleveland area home.

Cleveland encompasses people with roots in 117 different nations, said Randy Chestnut, director of missions for the Greater Cleveland Baptist Association. “What excites me the most is for us to see something only God can do.”

Chestnut said starting new churches, many of them ethnic churches, will be a major focus of the SFC efforts in Cleveland. With 39 Southern Baptist churches for the 1.7 million residents in the three-county Greater Cleveland Baptist Association, there is only one Southern Baptist church for every 43,000 people. Meanwhile, the population-to-church ratio across the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole stands at 6,400 to one.

“There’s a real sense of humility and excitement, but also a sense of inadequacy on our part, which I think is a good thing because it’s really going to make us depend upon God’s power and God’s anointing,” Chestnut said. “Taking prayer out to the streets, that’s going to be key to what we do. We really have to hear clearly from God what He wants us to do. We hope to prayerwalk a lot of greater Cleveland in this next year.”

Since the SFC initiative began in 2000 with efforts in Chicago and Phoenix, other SFC campaigns have been held in Boston, Las Vegas, Seattle and Philadelphia. Miami is currently in the middle of a two-year SFC effort. An SFC initiative in New York City called New Hope New York is in its first year of a three-year implementation.

More than 47,000 first-time professions of faith have been recorded through SFC initiatives, and more than 300 new churches have been started as more than 36,000 volunteers from across the country have participated in a variety of outreach efforts.

Chestnut promised that Southern Baptists from across the country who visit Cleveland to assist in church planting and other ministry projects will not be disappointed.

“They will see the great potential in what God is already doing in moving in the hearts of people in Cleveland,” he said.

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  • Lee Weeks