Today’s From the States features items from:
Baptist Beacon (Michigan)
Biblical Recorder (North Carolina)
Struggling Ariz. church
embraces church plant
By Jean Bihn
PHOENIX, Ariz. (Portraits) — Two years ago, members of The Church on Fillmore had to face facts: Their beloved church was failing.
A Phoenix institution, the downtown church began as a Bible study in 1938. Shortly after constituting as Parkview Baptist Church in 1942, the congregation purchased land near the then one-runway Sky Harbor Airport and constructed a building. In 1980, church members sold that site and bought a city block at 7th Avenue and Fillmore, inspiring a new name: The Church on Fillmore. Beautiful red brick church facilities were built.
Several years later, gentrification of the inner city began to displace many low-income families and homeless individuals, leading to declining attendance. Recent economic downturns added to the church’s trials.
Still, despite its struggles, God was not finished with the 73-year-old church.
Monty Patton, a local pastor and North American Mission Board Send City coordinator for Phoenix-Tucson, identified The Church on Fillmore as a possible site for a church plant. NAMB representatives asked Hillside Baptist Church in Phoenix and Open Door Church in Raleigh, N.C., to join them in a church-planting partnership. Also in the mix were Central Association of Southern Baptists, the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention and, of course, the remaining members of the downtown church.
“Church on Fillmore members voted to allow a church plant to meet in their facility,” Patton says. “They were gracious enough to allow us to do that.”
Anthony Cox, who had completed Open Door’s pastoral training, was chosen to lead the new church plant.
Patton says of Cox, “The Father knew Anthony was the perfect guy for this. Not only is he extremely intelligent, he really seeks where the Father is working. I’m extremely impressed with him.”
Cox hit the ground running when he and his family arrived in June 2014.
“From the very beginning, I served in a pastoral relationship with The Church on Fillmore, with three bodies [Open Door, Hillside and The Church on Fillmore] embracing this idea of making disciples in the city,” he says.
Once he assumed the role of servant-leader at The Church on Fillmore, his heart became burdened for the struggling church. “It became a burden that could not be ignored,” he says.
Thirteen months later, on July 19, 2015, members of The Church on Fillmore held a covenant-signing service, voting to launch Mercy Hill Church in their historic location.
Charlotte Mroczkowski was a member of The Church on Fillmore for more than eight years.
“It’s night and day,” Mroczkowski says. “God brought the church back. It’s been a long haul, but it has been good — it brought us closer. This church has love. The first time I came here, I felt the love.”
Another member, Pam Tate, says, “It’s nice to hear the babies in church. Members were aging; Anthony is bringing young people into the church.”
Cox says the goal was to meet people where they are.
“Our strategy was not to come in and take over and displace those who are on the margins,” he says, “but to meet them at the margins to build community together in partnership.”
The church has adopted a new vision while continuing the positive ministries of the past, such as its weekly food ministry.
In the future, Mercy Hill leaders hope to begin an equipping center for pastors and lay people to gain an urban experience within a local church context.
Cox says Mercy Hill’s mission statement best describes the church’s vision: We exist as a family of believers in Jesus Christ, who unite in Gospel, Community and Mission for the glory of God and the good of our neighbors.
“Not like family, but as family — a functioning family,” he says.
This article appeared in Portraits (portraits.azsbc.org), newsjournal of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention. Jean Bihn, a freelance writer and photographer, is a member of Mountain Ridge Baptist Church, Glendale.
Mich. church start
‘moving people toward God’
By Mike Durbin
LIVONIA, Mich. (Baptist Beacon) — Growing up in Metro Detroit, mile markers were a common sight to Travis Whittaker. Roads like Six Mile, Eight Mile, and Fourteen Mile help people know where they are in relation to the city.
In similar fashion, Mile City Church — the church that Travis and his team are planting near Detroit — uses mile markers to move people toward God.
“Where are you on your journey toward God?” Whittaker asked the crowd of around 350 people during the Sept. 27 launch service. “You don’t have to believe or behave a certain way to begin the process of moving toward God. Move toward God and He will move toward you.”
The message of moving toward God greets people even before they enter the auditorium of the church’s meeting space at Schoolcraft College. The carpet in the entrance looks like a road and banners on both sides display the nine mile markers the church uses to move people towards God: Weekends, Baptism, Daily Encounter, Group, Coached, Coaching, Team, Sphere and Generosity.
While all nine mile markers are on display, several were prominent during the launch service.
Whittaker shared how Mile City Church had been the recipient of incredible generosity from partners like 242 Church, Kensington Church, and the North American Mission Board. He acknowledged that without them, the church would not be where it is today.
Following the example of their generosity, Whittaker said, “We want Mile City to be known for radical generosity right from the beginning.” He challenged attenders at the first service to fill grocery bags the church handed out with food to bring back to the service the next week.
The food would be donated to help another church plant in Detroit, City Church, with their Thanksgiving food distribution to hundreds of people. The following Sunday, more than 200 grocery bags were collected and over $600 was given to City Church.
At the launch service, the Team mile marker was on vivid display as volunteers were everywhere from the parking lot to the auditorium. Teams were in place to set up, greet, teach children, lead in worship, control lighting and sound, and much more. Whittaker is quick to acknowledge the teamwork that makes Mile City weekends happen.
Whittaker introduced Shea and Andrea Prisk to their congregation at their launch service on Sept. 27. Shea joined the church’s staff as Connection pastor and Andrea is the church’s new Kids’ Programming Director. The couple also will begin steps to plant another church soon.
“On our launch day, we were excited to announce that we will be helping launch another church plant in the next couple years,” Whittaker said. “As many have invested in us, we will be investing in this amazing couple.”
The vision is for Mile City to be a church that plants churches.
“We wanted to put that in our DNA from the beginning,” Whitaker said. “Wouldn’t it be great for SBC church plants in Michigan to think that way?”
Whittaker knows the incredible difference it makes when a church plant is connected with sending and supporting churches.
“When churches plant churches, it works a lot better,” Whittaker said. “We have a national organization that helps, but I feel fortunate that I also have churches that are helping me.
“If all I had was the national organization, it wouldn’t be enough. When two or three churches get together, it works better.
“I am having conversations with lead pastors that are personally investing in me. It’s priceless. I am hoping that by our example, that other churches in Michigan will connect together and back other planters to plant more new churches.”
Mile City has made progress in moving people closer to God.
“I can finally fit in a place with my daughter and we both get something out of it,” one man said following a service. “We finally found a home.”
This article appeared in the Baptist Beacon (baptistbeacon.net), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Mike Durbin is a missionary with the Baptist State Convention of Michigan.
N.C.’s Coats for the City
shares Christ’s love in NYC
By Emily Rojas
NEW YORK (Biblical Recorder) — On Saturday, Nov. 14, the day after terrorists executed an attack in Paris, North Carolina Baptists partnered with New York Baptists to hand out coats in primarily Muslim communities in New York City.
Coats for the City, the name of the distribution event, had been planned long before the terrorist attacks, but the timing could not have been better for Christians to show their Muslim neighbors an act of love. That day, thousands of people lined the streets of New York City with the hope of receiving a free coat to keep them warm during the city’s winter months. What they didn’t expect was that they would also receive a message about the good news of the gospel in the process.
Doug Huttleston, pastor of Panther Creek Baptist Church in Asheboro, said that many of the Muslim men he met on the trip wondered why the group was ministering to Muslims in light of the attacks the day before.
“I told them, Isa al-Masih (the Arabic name for Jesus the Messiah) tells us that we need to love our neighbor, so that’s why we’re here,” Huttleston said.
The Coats for the City team handed out coats at 14 different distribution sites in New York City. They had received upwards of 7,000 coats from churches in North Carolina and New York to hand out — more than double the amount that they received last year. The group also had copies of the New Testament in various languages on hand to give to those who were interested.
“Even if there’s that one conversation that happens where somebody either comes to Christ or is interested, it’s worth it,” said Lauren McCall, ministry assistant at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC), who participated in the coat distribution.
Some in the group continued ministering to people they met in New York after the trip had ended. Abby Edwards, ministry assistant at the BSCNC, connected on social media with Raashid*, a Muslim storeowner who offered the team his storefront as a coat distribution site.
“There are avenues to still share (the Gospel) even from afar,” Edwards said. “Sometimes I think we go and do missions and think we’re not going to be able to communicate past that point, but we really can.”
Huttleston also had the opportunity to continue a relationship with someone he met in New York. Aamir*, a Muslim man with whom Huttleston had shared the Gospel, came to know Jesus as his Lord and Savior shortly after the trip. The two text about Scripture frequently and have weekly, Gospel-centered phone conversations.
Huttleston hopes that this discipling relationship will have an echo effect — that Aamir, having experienced God’s love, will go and share it with others.
“I want (Aamir) to be able to be safe and share the Gospel and see people’s hearts turned,” Huttleston said. “I’m just praying that God will use him to talk to people that will never talk to me. They’d never talk to an American, but they’ll talk to a Bengali who used to be Muslim.”
* Names changed
This article appeared in the Biblical Recorder (brnow.org), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Emily Rojas is a communications assistant for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
EDITOR’S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board’s call to embrace the world’s unengaged, unreached people groups also are included in From the States, along with reports about church, associational and state convention initiatives in conjunction with the North American Mission Board’s call to Southern Baptist churches to broaden their efforts in starting new churches and satellite campuses. The items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.