The city of New Orleans is a city of neighborhoods. For example, Orleans Parish, one of five parishes in the metropolitan area, has seventy-two distinct neighborhoods. In the 2010 census, the population of the neighborhoods in this one parish was down by more than 140,000 since the 2000 census (from 484,674 to 343,829).
New Orleans Baptist Association, comprised of 111 churches and missions, serves more than one million souls in neighborhoods all across the metropolitan area. The association’s churches were deeply impacted by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina during the Labor Day weekend in 2005, first by extensive destruction of church properties and members’ homes, followed by the rapid loss of thousands of church members who fled the city and have not returned. In 2005, the churches reported 47,560 members; six years later, they reported 31,275 members, a 34 percent decline. The five largest churches, which account for almost 50 percent of the membership, are thriving; but, as these stories note, the many smaller congregations are also making a comeback impact for the Kingdom. The median church size in the association is 142 members; the churches reported 1,170 baptisms in 2011.
Harbor Community Church
Harbor Community Church is leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ in the Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans. In what once was the historic Lakeview Baptist Church, the new church plant, led by James Welch, is attracting people from the entire metro area. The new church has inspired worship, creative kids environments, and engaging and helpful messages. It has baptized numerous young families and young single professionals. Welch told of a young adult named Sheldon Williams who had checked out of church after high school. “The young marketing professional from Uptown said in his baptism video that he ‘loves Harbor, is connected to a community group, and is proclaiming Jesus as his Lord and Savior.’”
Iglesia Bautista Hispana El Buen Pastor
Iglesia Bautista Hispana El Buen Pastor in Metairie, with six hundred members representing nineteen nationalities, baptized ninety-one people last year. The church is what one reporter called a “problem magnet.” Pastor Gonzalo Rodriguez, who began the church in 1980, oversees a multi-faceted range of ministries to the neighborhood—and beyond! The church has helped forestall the eviction of a single mother and her family, has prayed with a woman whose husband had been held by Mexican kidnappers, and has assisted devastated communities in Honduras and Guatemala. Locally, the church ministers to scores of people who live beneath a freeway underpass. In a Sunday sermon, Rodriguez told the story of José, who showed up wearing tattered clothes and unmatched tennis shoes. Unprompted, a teenage girl handed him the one hundred dollars she had planned to spend at the mall that afternoon—more than enough to provide José a shirt, shoes, and a new pair of pants. Another member contributed five thousand dollars to provide a pair of shoes for everyone living under the underpass, followed by a barbecue dinner, worship, and fellowship at the church.
First Baptist Church Westwego
Many may remember First Baptist Church, Westwego, as the gutted out bunk house used by so many Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers after Katrina. Today the church is a vibrant, growing, disciple-making body known to the community as “that church that cares about people.” Because of the ministry since the storm, Pastor Jay Adkins said, “This rebirthed church has such a great relationship with the city that from time to time I get requests from the city’s mayor for help with caring for the city’s residents. To God be the Glory!
Calvary Baptist Church
Calvary Baptist Church is a multi-ethnic congregation in New Orleans with a story that reflects God’s grace and favor! While many remember New Orleans for the destruction of Katrina, they often miss hearing of the ways God’s Spirit is moving in the city. Since 2008, under the leadership of Pastor Michael Carney, Calvary has grown from just over two hundred to approximately five hundred in attendance. This past Easter nearly one thousand people were ministered to through one of the three worship experiences offered. Calvary’s growth has come through weekly salvations and baptisms as the church reflects a clear commitment to the Great Commission in its preaching and discipleship strategy. The church also recently renovated its worship facilities as it seeks to accommodate the continued growth. Pastor Carney said, “This is a church grateful for the opportunity to impact New Orleans with the message of Jesus!”
Vieux Carre, located one block from Bourbon Street, is in the center of the French Quarter. It engages in daily ministry with the people who work, live, and struggle in the Quarter. Weekday outreach serves hot food, showers, and clothes and provides opportunities to share life and fellowship. The church routinely has professors from the University of New Orleans, ragtime musicians from the Quarter, soldiers, prostitutes, or visitors from around the world referred by area hotels who attend worship. The door bell rings all hours. Pastor Tom Bilderback, who works as a maintenance man to provide for his family’s needs, said, “We never know what situation or who will be outside our door.” The church currently hosts five college interns and a seminary student “doing life together” and leading teams to serve with children’s programs, community centers, and discipling rehabs. The church recently baptized two people, the first baptisms since Katrina.