INDIANAPOLIS (BP) — As the beginning flakes of 7-plus inches of snow landed on Indianapolis, North American Mission Board trustees boarded buses to see how four church planters are pushing back lostness in the city. As they entered the buses, the hand of each trustee was stamped with a number — 1943.
The trustees would soon learn that 1943 represented the number of years it would take, at the present level of growth, to have enough churches of all denominations to get the Gospel to metro Indy’s populace, according to a study by missiologist Jim Slack.
Indianapolis is one of 32 Send North America cities where NAMB is focusing the attention of Southern Baptists upon the need of evangelism and church planting. With one Southern Baptist church for every 19,965 people in the metro area, Baptists plan to start 90 churches during the next five years.
“I want you guys to know that what you’re doing is changing the culture of the church in Indianapolis,” said church planter Chris Elliott as he spoke with trustees in the outdoor park where he launched a church last year.
“Whenever I talk about your goal of planting 90 churches in the next five years, eyes get about this big around and then they glaze over,” Elliott said. “Then the subject changes. That’s because it’s unheard of. What you are doing is sending shockwaves around the body of Christ. And 90 churches are going to be planted. The Gospel will be preached and a movement of Southern Baptists will start here.”
Trustees met Elliott during their Indy tour along with three other church planters — each focused on reaching different geographic or cultural segments of the city. Elliott, who grew up on the west side of Indianapolis, started Oasis of Hope Southern Baptist Church in the park after asking people nearby, “Who is Jesus?” and “What did He do for you?” and getting few responses that reflected the Gospel.
Barry Rager shared with trustees the story of bringing his family of six from western Kentucky to the inner city of Indianapolis last year. In the past year Rager and his family have started a monthly worship service and several small groups. One of those groups includes seven people who are not Christians but are exploring the Bible together.
Curtis Cunningham, a layman from Send North America: Indianapolis’ lead partner Second Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo., also attended the vision tour. He is leading a team of young families from his church to help Rager at New Circle Church this summer.
“It was great to hear the evidences of what God is doing through them,” Cunningham said of New Circle. “When you hear about some of the changes happening in their neighborhood, it doesn’t make any sense outside of what God is doing.”
Kerry Jackson shared with NAMB trustees about the church he is planting in Indianapolis’ arts district. He plans to launch Circle City Canvas Church this fall.
NAMB trustee Billy Van Camp, planting pastor of Heart Cry Church in Queen Creek, Ariz., said of the Indy church planters: “They were blessing their community, inspiring their community and impacting their community. I was very impressed.”
Trustees also met Indiana’s first Ethiopian Southern Baptist church planter, Yoseph Desta, who is reaching out to a growing population of Ethiopians and Eritreans in the city. Desta told trustees that most Ethiopians come from an Ethiopian Orthodox Church background but only a small minority have a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
“The Cooperative Program has become extremely encouraging for me,” Desta said of Southern Baptists’ way of funding missions and ministries in each state and throughout the world. “Church planting is not easy. When I graduated seminary, I thought church planting would be easy. I’ve learned a lot since then. You have become extremely important and encouraging to me.”
Trustees drove by the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway and were reminded that the area is in need of a new church plant.
Bobby Pell, director of church planting for the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, ended the vision tour by reminding trustees of the number that had been stamped on their hand at the beginning of the trip and was now fading.
“My prayer is that because we saw what we saw here in Indianapolis, we may have a greater heart for Indianapolis,” Pell said. “Because we saw what we saw, we might be able to think about partnering or something for these [planters] and these plants. My prayer is that this number 1943 would fade in a very real way — not just on our hand.”
For more information about Send North America: Indianapolis, visit www.namb.net/Indianapolis.
Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).