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Urban Bible study aims for relevancy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A new Bible study resource for urban audiences addresses edgy topics such as the fall of NFL star Michael Vick and the struggle many men face with pornography.

“YOU: Connect, Grow, Serve, Go!” — debuting this fall from LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention — is intent on cutting to the heart of the issues people are talking about outside church. With strong biblical content, the new study is frank about the reality of sin and how it destroys a person’s relationship with God.

Chandra Bennett, editor of YOU, said the Bible study resource utilizes “a comprehensive approach to relevant Christian education … to help people address topics that are already in the public sphere and add a Christian perspective.”

According to the 2000 United States Census figures, just over 71 percent of Americans live in urban areas, defined as cities with populations of more than 50,000; 30 percent of Americans live in the 20 largest cities; 24 percent live in the 10 largest cities; and 17 percent live in the five largest cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Miami metropolitan areas).

“As we talked to churches from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., we heard that urban churches are looking for something different than the rural churches of middle America want,” said Dawn Cornelius, a marketing strategist at LifeWay. “We generally think about urban churches being African American, but they told us that, no, they are much more than one color. They have been multicultural and interracial all along.”

The quarterly non-dated material is a magazine format with lesson plans, discussion starters, teacher helps, daily Bible readings, how-to’s and follow-ups with art and photos that reflect different races and cultures. It’s an all-in-one resource for putting the truth of the Bible into the hands of urban adults.

Charles Grant, a church consultant in LifeWay’s African American ministries area, was one of the LifeWay employees who traveled around the country talking to churches and asking what they needed. He found that not all urban churches are alike any more than all small town or rural churches are alike.

“It’s a myth that urban churches are all large,” Grant said. “They aren’t. Many have a very small membership. We wanted to find out what kind of resources would work for both. We think we’ve come up with something good.

“When I showed a sample of YOU to pastors, they saw incredible potential for this kind of resource,” Grant added. “Its clear message of ‘Connect, Grow, Serve, Go’ sets a process for fellowship, learning, helping and getting outside the church walls.”

Willie Freeman, pastor of Greater Missionary Baptist Church in Clarksville, Tenn., who previewed the new YOU resource, noted, “Every church needs a process, and I think this can help us with that.”

Lonnie Dawson, pastor of New Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, is ready to get started with YOU at his church.

“This process of ‘Connect, Grow, Serve and Go’ fits right into our church’s strategy,” Dawson said. “I think YOU and the process that it is built around is going to be ideal for us.”

Young adults were among those Bennett and others consulted as they planned the new urban curriculum.

“After talking with a group of young adults in Milwaukee, we saw our goal — to capture the audience that thinks Sunday School and Bible study are irrelevant and boring,” Bennett said. “Our topics are going to be universal, topics that apply to people across cultural and racial lines.”

Bennett knows about living in a multicultural world. Her father was in the military and her family lived in several states.

“Living in the Detroit area gave me my first real taste and appreciation for the different culture groups and racial groups,” she said. “Every weekend there was a different cultural festival going on. It was wonderful.”

Bennett received a seminary degree in Michigan, and she is working toward a doctorate in educational curriculum in Nashville, Tenn., while working at LifeWay.

“I have always had a passion for education,” she said. “My mother is an administrator with a public school system in Arkansas, so I have seen the difference she has been able to make in people’s lives. I want to do that same thing for churches.”
Polly House is a corporate communications specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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