There's no better time than June to visit New Orleans. Add to jazz, beignets, and the French Quarter the attraction of city residents who have grown to love Southern Baptists, and you have perfect chemistry for a successful Crossover 2012.
Hundreds of SBC volunteers—from Louisiana and across the nation—will join together for the key evangelistic outreach event prior to the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting, slated for June 15-16 in New Orleans.
Southern Baptists have poured heart, soul, and sweat into the Crescent City since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"We all have our Katrina stories," said Jack Hunter, executive director for the New Orleans Baptist Association and a lifetime resident of the city. "But for the most part we've gotten beyond Katrina and we're now in a rebuilding mode."
In city government, in education, and in economic stability, New Orleans has a new heart. A recent study suggests the city also has a new attitude toward Christians—Southern Baptists especially.
According to the study, conducted by Turner Research for the Louisiana Baptist Convention (LBC), New Orleans residents are open to door-to-door visitation, street evangelism, and coming to church if invited. A surprising and encouraging finding was that residents favor Southern Baptists above any other faith group.
"Southern Baptists were here with us when we were recovering and mourning, with us
when we were getting back on our feet," said Hunter, who served as a lawyer in the city until recently entering the ministry. "And Southern Baptist work is still going as New Orleans is reborn."
According to Keith Manuel, evangelism associate for the LBC, "Calvary Baptist Church, where I pastored for years, is the most visible church on the west bank of New Orleans but no one knew where we were. Now, if you mention Calvary, everyone knows where it is because that's where they got water, food, and help from Southern Baptist Disaster Relief."
All this awareness, though, places a greater burden on Southern Baptists to use the opportunity to its fullest. The need is still staggering.
"Our research also shows us that almost 50 percent of the people in New Orleans have never had anyone tell them how they can go to heaven," said John Hebert, director of missions and ministry for LBC. "And about 75 percent of the total population can't tell you how to go to heaven. But a majority said they would love to attend a Bible study or prayer meeting if someone would just invite them.
"New Orleans pays more attention to the spiritual world than ever before," said Hebert. "They've been moved by the attention and care that Southern Baptists have given. It's made a difference and this research really shows that."
The North American Mission Board is working with the local Crossover coordinating team to provide volunteers with opportunities to share the love of Christ as they participate in block parties, health screenings, prayerwalking, servant evangelism outreach projects, and church planting.
Southern Baptists in New Orleans plan to launch four new churches in 2012, with two of those launched during Crossover and the SBC annual meeting. Crossover will raise the visibility of those new churches.
Local church leaders see Crossover as an opportunity for Southern Baptists to converge and help galvanize New Orleans churches in their evangelism efforts throughout the city.
"Our churches are becoming well trained in evangelism and will lead the way in reaching our communities through Crossover events," said Hunter. "Our leaders want to create a culture of evangelism in the association, and Crossover, followed closely by other outreach events in succeeding weeks, will help do that."
"It's a good time to be Baptist in New Orleans," said Hunter. "Our prayer is that the Cross of Christ would be lifted up across the greater New Orleans area to the end that many souls would be saved and that the church would be increased and that our faith community would have an increased culture of evangelism."
To learn more about Crossover New Orleans and to volunteer, visit joinnoba.com/crossover.