ATLANTA (BP)–“Have you ever tried to hug your city?”
That’s the concept organizers of Southern Baptists’ largest citywide evangelism and church-planting initiative would like to convey over the next five months. The effort is called “Arms Around Atlanta,” and the idea is to create an extended and lasting impact through the combined efforts of volunteers both locally and across the country.
“Arms Around Atlanta will give us an opportunity to not just meet and eat in Atlanta but to leave a lasting touch of love,” said Robert E. “Bob” Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board, which is co-sponsoring the effort with the Georgia Baptist Convention.
“We have plans already to plant 24 new churches. We will also touch the lives of many who need a caring touch during these months. All we need now are Baptists who care to come and help us.”
Arms Around Atlanta will include not only direct evangelism, but also ministry events such as a Habitat for Humanity home-building project and free medical clinics sponsored through the Georgia Baptist Health Care System.
“So it’s not just one method of evangelism. It’s a multifaceted approach that we’re taking,” said Lee Ross, specialist in leadership development for the Georgia Baptist Convention and co-leader of the team coordinating the emphasis.
The idea for Arms Around Atlanta actually arose in the wake of an Atlanta Braves baseball game in the fall of 1997 that served as an informal visit between Reccord and Bob White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Over lunch a few days later, the two began discussing joint ministry possibilities.
Reccord shared his dream for Strategic Focus Cities, a massive SBC-wide impact on two of America’s major cities each year that will begin next year in Chicago and Phoenix. The two then discussed how a similar effort on a smaller scale in Atlanta could both help the SBC make a difference in Atlanta and serve as a field test for some aspects of Strategic Focus Cities projects.
Reccord said cities remain desperately in need of the gospel witness that can be provided by Southern Baptists.
“As Southern Baptists, we have been blessed with pretty good success in penetrating parts of the southern U.S. and rural areas, but as we catapult into the 21st century we must also turn our attention to the major cities of our land and Canada,” he said.
“While in some portions of the South we have one SBC church for every 6,600 in population, in our major cities it can escalate to only one SBC work to every 130,000! All of Canada with its world-class cities has only 138 SBC churches.”
Last fall the pieces came together for turning the Arms Around Atlanta dream into reality. Ross shares leadership of the steering team with Mike Day, NAMB’s vice president of strategy development and organizational services.
Projects for the April through August effort fall under seven key areas:
— Prayer. Thousands of individuals are being equipped as daily prayer warriors, supplied with prayer calendars and weekly updates. Others will participate in prayer walks throughout the metro area.
— Event evangelism. Block parities, personality-driven events, sports clinics, revivals and other events will be held throughout the five-month period. One of the largest events promises to be a May 1 baseball clinic featuring several current and former Major League Baseball players. The clinic, to be held at Roswell High School in suburban Atlanta, will include instruction in specific baseball skills as well as “life skills” — the importance of a relationship with Jesus Christ.
— Ministry evangelism. Includes participation in Special Olympics, building a Habitat for Humanity home, medical clinics, community clean-ups, a ministry conference and local church programs such as English as a Second Language.
— Direct evangelism. Door-to-door canvassing throughout the area and Inner-City Evangelism teams.
— New churches. Twenty-four new churches will be started this year with significant seed funding through Arms Around Atlanta, and volunteer teams will assist with such projects as neighborhood surveys, Backyard Bible Clubs and block parties.
— Strengthening the local church. Efforts include an area-wide “High Attendance Day,” as well as ministry consultants trained and available to help small church staffs.
— Media campaign. In an advertising blitz reminiscent of last year’s Celebrate Jesus 2000 campaign in Salt Lake City, television, radio, newspapers and billboards will bolster the efforts of churches and volunteers. Free videos of the “Jesus” film will be offered to anyone who calls a toll-free number, and decision counselors also will be available to talk with callers about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Additionally, Crossover Metro Atlanta, the annual evangelistic blitz directly surrounding the SBC annual meeting, is considered a part of the broader Arms Around Atlanta emphasis this year. A part of both Crossover and Arms Around Atlanta will be two massive events in downtown Atlanta’s Centennial Park. A Family Fest ’99 with inflatable rides and other attractions will serve as a venue for volunteers to share their faith personally with participants. In the same location that evening, two major Christian music groups — Third Day and Smalltown Poets — will headline “Gettin’ Free,” a free concert for youth.
The North American Mission Board also has scheduled two of its 51 week-long World Changers work projects in the city to coincide with the Arms Around Atlanta emphasis, one the week of the convention and the week after. The Atlanta projects will allow hundreds of youth to provide volunteer labor for repair and rehabilitation projects on dilapidated housing — as well as an opportunity to share the spiritual motives behind their efforts with residents and others in the communities.
Joel Harrison, director of missions for the Atlanta Baptist Association, said Arms Around Atlanta comes at a providential time for the association — one of 11 in the metro area participating in the effort. In 1997 the association decided to place a new emphasis on evangelism as one of its top priorities. The other priorities of ministry, strengthening churches and new work also are directly addressed through Arms Around Atlanta.
“One of our goals as an association was to rekindle the spirit and passion for evangelism. And this is helping us accomplish that,” Harrison said. “It is also being used as a training and equipping process to help churches be able to do, and at the same time pass it on to other members of the congregation and to other churches.”
The numerous opportunities promise to provide a springboard of experience for Atlanta churches, he said, as they hone a renewed focus on reaching the people of diverse cultures and interests.
“As we look at other opportunities for evangelism — such as the Super Bowl, the [Major League Baseball] All Star Game and new people groups moving into our community — this is just a way of helping us retool to reach these groups,” he said.
The need for volunteers — both individuals and groups — remains a priority, Reccord said. Opportunities remain for the entire period.
For comprehensive information on Arms Around Atlanta and volunteer opportunities, visit the www.armsaroundatlanta.org Internet website or contact coordinator Jane Barnes, (770) 936-5322 or [email protected]. Individuals interested in participating in the June 6-19 Crossover events should contact Don Smith, an event evangelism associate for NAMB and Crossover coordinator, at (770) 410-6306 or [email protected].
ATLANTA (BP)–“Have you ever tried to hug your city?”