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Four cities report lasting results from Strategic Focus Cities efforts

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–A total of 169 new churches have been formed and approximately 23,000 professions of faith have been recorded in four major U.S. cities during the first two years of the North American Mission Board’s Strategic Focus Cities (SFC) emphasis.

But the short-term numbers offer only a glimpse of the long-term impact on Phoenix, Chicago, Las Vegas and Boston.

Existing congregations have been energized, not only with new members but also a new passion for and experience with evangelism and ministry. Student evangelism has emerged as a high priority in both secondary school and college levels. And in areas where Southern Baptists once might have been largely unknown, churches are now finding much greater recognition and acceptance of churches and their message of hope through Christ.

“While we are grateful for the results that God has granted, the real significance of SFC will be seen eight to 10 years from now as we are able to view the impetus created by all that was prayed over and poured into a city,” said Doug Metzger, director of NAMB’s Strategic Focus Cities team. “An initiative of this magnitude has created a huge learning curve and the beneficiaries will be the cities that we involve in the future. As has been said by one of our local leaders: ‘The best is yet to come.'”

“Our experience is showing that good churches can be in the same city, doing good ministry yet coming short of the ‘best’ in ministry,” added NAMB President Robert E. Bob Reccord. “…That springs from a strong prayer base where pastors are on their knees together and strategizing together. With a Kingdom vision, an evangelistic passion, and a multiplication mindset of church planting the results are speaking for themselves.”

Strategic Focus Cities represents a commitment of volunteers and other resources by Southern Baptists across the country toward introducing people in the largest cities in the United States and Canada to Christ — and helping them grow in their faith through involvement in local churches.

It was in Phoenix and Chicago where leaders pioneered some of the most effective strategies that have continued in other cities.

Local-church events like Vacation Bible School and block parties were used in Phoenix as part of a unified metro-wide strategy, according to city coordinator Bill Agee.

“The entire process for us was one of cooperation and facilitation,” he said. “We wanted every activity to be dovetailing into something else. That gives it a synergy that is often missing from individual, disconnected events.”

The result has been a renewed emphasis on cooperative prayer, excitement about planting healthy churches, and the strengthening of existing churches through the succession of evangelistic events.

A total of 34 new churches were started and an estimated 10,000 professions of faith recorded as a result of SFC efforts. Churches in the Phoenix area that participated in the SFC effort have an average growth of about 20 percent, Agee said, and baptisms have set new records each year.

“SFC has allowed us to move very quickly to a level of evangelism and soul-winning that might have taken us a decade to achieve,” he said, noting that churches in 2001 have continued their efforts even without the same level of funding as 2000.

“The pattern is that through the SFC process churches learned how to fish and were given resources from all parties allowing them to flesh out their dream,” Agee said. “The result is that these churches have grown dramatically and have reached out to reproduce many times over.”

In Chicago, it was a combination of citywide events coupled with local church efforts that have made a lasting impact on the four participating associations. Prayer events, conferences, block parties, circuses, and even a citywide event on the shore of Lake Michigan to-date have resulted in nearly 7,000 professions of faith and 108 new churches.

“Strategic Focus Cities catapulted Lake County five years in our church-planting strategy and ten years in our evangelism strategy,” said Bob Ryan, director of missions for Lake County Association.

“Besides the blessing of people coming to Christ, there’s a new vision for church planting,” added Phil Miglioratti, who served as city coordinator for the effort. “There is a new church-planting web site that can be a prototype for many of our associations on how to track the vision and resource church planting.”

The effort also has improved the image of Southern Baptists, he said, including spurring improved relationships with other evangelical groups who now see Southern Baptists as being leaders in church planting and evangelism.

“I think it has given us as Southern Baptists a better attitude about who we are,” he said. “We’re not just sitting in a corner. There are a lot of smaller churches, and it’s made us more confident that we have a strong contribution to make in this city.”

Las Vegas and Boston, meanwhile, also see the strong momentum of their first year of implementation continuing.

In October, an inner-city evangelism (ICE) training conference in Las Vegas resulted in 1,100 professions of faith — more than 125 each for the seven congregations that participated, according to Isaiah Mejia, a NAMB missionary and ministry evangelism coordinator for the Southern Nevada Baptist Association.

“In those five days it was just phenomenal what was done,” he said. Overall, the local SFC effort also focused on a broad array of local church events carried out under the banner of “Loving Las Vegas.”

A total of 15 new churches have been started thus far, and all of the efforts combined have resulted in more than 3,000 professions of faith.

“The greatest impact has been in the area of unifying the churches toward a common cause,” said Harry Watson, another NAMB missionary who serves as director of missions for the association. “The second greatest impact has been in establishing acceptance among the community leaders of Christians being a positive impact on their community

“We’ve seen the city penetrated with the gospel,” added Mejia. “We had dreamed of a day when Christianity would be seen as a viable solution for life in Las Vegas, and I believe we’ve made long strides toward that goal.”

In Boston, community-based ministries and student evangelism efforts were among the highlights of the Hearts for Boston effort, according to Ignatius Meimaris, director of missions for the Greater Boston Baptist Association and co-coordinator of the SFC effort.

A total of 12 new churches have been established in the area, and more than 3,000 professions of faith were recorded during the summer alone through crusades, television advertising, community ministry, evangelistic events, and other efforts.

More than 25 student-led Christian clubs have begun in area high schools. “The Boston Plunge,” a collegiate ministry event in March, impacted both Boston residents and the students who participated — eight of whom have committed to longer-term volunteer service.

As in other cities, the effort also served as a catalyst for new ministries and relationships with other evangelicals in the Boston area. One of the lasting legacies has been a permanent medical/dental clinic that has been established in partnership with the Salvation Army.

“The impression that has been left in the city is that we are here to stay,” Meimaris said. “… Southern Baptists are being recognized as a key player in what God is doing Kingdom-wise with the city of Boston and surrounding areas. Hearts for Boston helped establish that, and for us that is very, very important.”

Meimaris also noted how efforts will continue, as even now more and more churches are planning ministries next year. Partnerships with churches in Mississippi and Kentucky will help ensure the level of ministry and evangelism continues.

“We are going to try to cultivate those relationships to keep the momentum,” he said. “For us Hearts for Boston is not the end but the beginning.”
For more on the ongoing SFC ministries, visit the respective Web sites on the Internet: www.phoenix2000.net, www.chicago2000.net, www.hearts4boston.com and www.lovinglv.org. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: LEADING WORSHIP and BOSTON PLUNGE.

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  • James Dotson