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To tackle New Orleans’ needs, Baptists designate 27 zones

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–A new evangelistic plan for the New Orleans metropolitan area has been launched as a partnership involving the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans, Louisiana Baptist Convention and North American Mission Board.

The plan divides the New Orleans metropolitan area into 27 zones, each with at least one Southern Baptist church in it. Churches, associations and state/regional conventions across the SBC will be asked to partner with each zone.

“What happens then is up to the churches and pastors in that zone and the entity -– church/association/convention -– that takes responsibility for it,” said Joe McKeever, director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans (BAGNO). “Whether the task is gutting out and rebuilding homes and churches, or doing ministry and evangelism in the neighborhoods, or a hundred other approaches, will be strictly up to the participating churches.”

The plan was unveiled during a pastors’ gathering July 12 at Oak Park Baptist Church in New Orleans.

With word having spread of “something important” on the day’s agenda, a record group of at least 125 pastors and others attended the weekly pastors’ meeting. Mike Canady, missions and ministry strategist for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, introduced the plan.

“We’re talking about how to revitalize and rebuild our churches, and how to put in place strategies to reach people,” Canady said. “It’s not enough to build a house or rebuild a church. This is about people -– the people in your neighborhood.”

Freddie Arnold, BAGNO church starting strategist and disaster relief coordinator, showed a series of maps on PowerPoint prepared by Bill Day of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. One slide showed 913 functioning churches of every Christian denomination and 606 others that were not functioning.

A question arose: What does it take to be a functioning church?

“If your church is meeting anywhere -– in a tent, in a home, in a gutted-out fellowship hall or even someone else’s church — we consider that a functioning church,” Arnold said.

The zone concept originated several months ago with Arnold, who likened the region to an elephant that can be eaten -– one bite at a time.

He distributed materials that showed the 27 zones, designed around natural dividers -– interstates, highways, canals and the Mississippi River.

“This is a grand day in the life of Southern Baptists,” Canady said. “Simply stated, we’re going to work with you to reach people with the Gospel, to rebuild lives and homes and churches, and start or restart churches in strategic locations.

“We’re talking about a partnership with the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, the [state/regional] conventions and the SBC,” Canady added.

Arkansas already has adopted zone 1; Missouri, the lower half of zone 3, the pastors were told.

“We have four aims in this work,” said Richard Leach, director of evangelism and ministry for the North American Mission Board. “First, to assist the Louisiana Baptist Convention, BAGNO and the churches. Second, to engage volunteers. Third, to encourage the churches. And fourth, to share with all of Southern Baptists and the world through the media what is happening here.”