Ministry Opportunites Abound
— Last November Tennessee Baptist Convention messengers voted without
opposition to begin a partnership with Baptists in the Greater
Cincinnati/Dayton (Ohio) area.
A team of about 41 Tennessee Baptists from across the state traveled
to Cincinnati Feb. 20-24 to explore missions and ministry opportunities
with four associations in the Greater Cincinnati area.
Most everyone who made the trip agreed that the needs are apparent
and multiple opportunities for ministry await Tennessee Baptists in the
partnership that officially begins Jan. 1, 2013 and will continue
through Dec. 31, 2017.
Baptist leaders in Cincinnati have divided the area into nine
regions. Those regions have a combined population of 1,184,657 people
but only have 75 Southern Baptist churches, a ratio of one church for
every 15,759 people.
By contrast, there is one church for every 2,000 people in Tennessee.
The Cincinnati area has been chosen by the North American Mission Board as one of its “Send North America” target areas.
“The lostness is vast here,” observed Travis Smalley, pastor of Lakota Hills Baptist Church in West Chester.
“There are a lot of people here not hearing the gospel,” agreed Steve
Renfrow, one of four church planting strategists in the Greater
Cincinnati area. “Many people are unchurched or under-churched,” he
He noted that in his association 50 percent of the churches average
less than 50 in worship on Sunday morning and 80 percent average less
than 125 in worship.
A church planting focus
Ohio Baptist leaders agreed that the focus of the partnership needs to be on church planting.
There are about 75 churches in the area now. Leaders in the Greater
Cincinnati area have a goal of 202 churches by the year 2020.
The Baptist State Convention of Ohio has a similar goal — 2,020 churches by 2020.
“It is going to take a God-given church planting movement to reach
those goals,” observed Bob Burton, Midwest regional mobilizer for the
North American Mission Board.
Several Ohio leaders noted that many of the Southern Baptist churches
that were begun decades ago are now in communities where the population
has changed dramatically.
“We need new churches that can bridge the gap in those communities
that have changed,” observed David Coppedge, one of the church planting
He acknowledged that many of the older churches in the city have not “transitioned to where we are now.
“We need church plants that can impact what is the real Cincinnati,” Coppedge said.
He noted that while they are getting suburban church planters there
is a real need for urban church planters “who are comfortable working in
Smalley, who is chairing the “Send Cincinnati” effort, agreed.
“We are in a real need of churches being planted inside the beltway
of the city,” he said, noting that in the city limits of Cincinnati
there is one Southern Baptist church for every 46,000 people.
Another area where new church plants is desperately needed is for language groups.
Because of its international airport, “the world comes to
Cincinnati,” observed David Smith, pastor of Creek Road Baptist Church
“For us to reach the world we don’t have to go far outside our property line,” he observed.
Reaching ethnic groups is especially important to Smalley.
He noted there are 16 ethnic groups in the church’s current ESL
classes. “Our vision is to launch ethnic churches using ESL as a
platform,” he shared.
Stengthening existing churches
Another area of need is to help the existing churches in the Greater Cincinnati area, Ohio leaders agreed.
The partnership with Tennessee needs both a focus on church planting
and helping the churches that are already in the area, said Dennis
Holmes, one of the church planting strategists in the Greater Cincinnati
“In Ohio we have been concerned about strengthening churches so they can plant churches,” Holmes shared.
He noted that was one reason why there was an intentional effort to
introduce Tennessee Baptists to both church planters and existing church
pastors during the vision trip.
“While we would like to see a church planting partnership, we also
want (Tennessee) churches to partner with existing churches (in Ohio) to
strengthen them and revitalize them,” Holmes said.
Chuck Sams, a church planting strategist who retired recently, but is
continuing to help in the initial stages of the partnership, agreed.
“We have a number of small struggling churches that could benefit
from missions teams which could strengthen them and broaden their vision
and outreach,” Sams observed.
Tennessee Baptists “can help them become more effective,” he added.
Barriers to cross
Reaching people with the gosple in Ohio is not easy and there are barriers, leaders agreed.
“When you cross the Ohio River, Southern Baptists are a minority,” Holmes observed.
He noted Southern Baptists have an “identity problem” in Cincinnati.
He did note, however, that World Changers have helped to improve the image and identity of Southern Baptists in the area.
Other barriers cited included negative attitudes toward religion in
general, the strong influence of Catholics, the age of existing
churches, financial resources and more.
Don Pierson, TBC prayer specialist who was part of the vision team, put the perceived barriers into perspective.
“There are no hindrances or barriers with God. They only become hindrances if you focus on them.”
Randy Maxwell, director of missions for William Carey Baptist
Association, based in Fayetteville, said he was excited about the
partnership because of its proximity (about seven hours from
As he visited various areas in the region, Maxwell was impressed with the leaders he met.
“They have a vision here. They need help to carry out that vision to
reality. That’s where Tennessee Baptists can help,” he observed.
“The vision tour was great,” observed Jeff Bowden, discipleship
pastor with responsibilities for evangelism and missions at First
Baptist Church, Lenoir City.
“I was able to meet local associational leaders, local pastors and
church planters. I saw the greater Cincinnati area — neighborhoods,
churches and people in the community.”
Bowden cited the lostness of the city and the need to start new churches, and to encourage current churches.
“Tennessee Baptists can and must respond to this great need of
sharing the gospel of Christ to Cincinnati,” he said, noting that First
Baptist Church of Lenoir City “will be responding.”
Ray Luck, director of missions for McMinn-Meigs Baptist Association,
said the partnership would offer “about anything a team would want to
do” including leading Vacation Bible Schools, construction and more.
Ron Davidson, director of missions for Shiloh Baptist Association,
was impressed about the potential for partnering with Baptists in the
He pledged to ask every church in his association to select one of
the church planters in the area to pray for him and to contact him to
encourage him and to ask what they can do to help his ministry.
Pierson acknowledged there were so many needs. “It is overwhelming to decide where to start a church,” he observed.
Reagan Wagoner, missions and Next Generation pastor at Thompson
Station Church in Thompson Station, noted the “Lord spoke to my heart
about the lostness of the area” as he drove around Greater Cincinnati.
He noted they were told that the majority of the existing churches had few if any members under the age of 40.
“I felt the Lord saying as we drove, ‘Who will go and reach the 20-somethings and the 30-somethings and their children?’ ”
Wagoner added that it was “encouraging to get to meet and hear from
men who were seeing this city, just five hours north of us, as a mission
field where there are people hurting and in need of our great God.”
Wagoner said “they are specifically praying for three church planters
we connected with in Cincinnati, and asking the Lord how we could come
alongside them financially or by sending volunteers to help them as they
“We are also open in any place we partner or send teams to the fact
that God may call some of our own people to go and start something new.
“We are praying that the Lord would continually give us fresh vision
to reach the lost, and part of that fresh vision right now is
As they were driving they came across “area after area that only had
one Southern Baptist church for every 10,000-15,000 people. We are
praying that God would use us to bring change to that state,” Wagoner
Jackie Suggs, a layman from First Baptist Church, Selmer, called the vision trip “an eye-opening experience.”
Suggs noted there are a lot of diverse areas in the Cincinnati area,
but the residents all share a common bond — “They all need Jesus.”
Kim Margrave, TBC volunteer missions specialist, said the opportunity
“is great for Tennessee Baptists to serve in southwest Ohio.
“Cincinnati has some great church planters to work alongside of to
encourage and strengthen their work. Many of these church plants are in
difficult areas. We also have the opportunity to serve existing churches
to reach their communities through various outreach ministries,” she
Dennis Holmes is excited about the possibilities of the partnership.
He noted that short-term missions groups have come to the Cincinnati area for a number of years.
Holmes stressed there is nothing wrong with that and short-term projects will still be needed.
“But we are looking for ongoing partnerships,” he said, noting that
he envisions Tennessee Baptist churches adopting a church planter in the
area and helping him in his ministry on an ongoing basis.
“You (Tennessee Baptists) can have a stake in a church planter’s
life. Be an encourager. Connect with the planter. Make an investment in
him and his church,” Holmes suggested. “It makes a difference.”
Original article can be found at: http://tnbaptist.org/BRARticle.asp?ID=4208