CHICAGO – It’s a question God asks many people in ministry at some point: “Is My presence enough?” Dave Choi pondered the question while he was sitting in a small chapel inside the Billy Graham museum at Wheaton College.
Between ministry assignments, Choi was contemplating opportunities around the country. Yet, as he did, God kept bringing another thought to his mind. What if he started a new church in the city that had become his hometown – Chicago? Choi couldn’t shake the concerns. Could he plant a church? What if he failed? Taking an established ministry position seemed like the safer decision.
In that chapel God led Choi to Exodus 33, when He promised His presence to Moses.
“I felt God tell me, ‘I’m going to lead you to a place to plant,’” Choi said. “‘You’re not going to be alone because I’m going to be with you. Is My presence enough?’”
After reading Exodus 33 again, Choi decided he had only one legitimate answer: Yes. That night, when he returned home, Choi had an email from a man whom he had never asked for money and barely knew, offering significant support for his ministry.
NAMB photo by Jim Whitmire
Dave Choi followed God’s call to plant a church in Chicago. The influence of Church of the Beloved and its international congregation has grown since the Southern Baptist church plant launched last year. View video.
“It was God’s way of confirming that He was in this and His presence was going to be with us,” Choi said. “He would provide what we needed.”
A year and a half later, the Southern Baptist church planter is reaching one of the most multicultural cities in North America through Church of the Beloved in Chicago. Choi, born in America to immigrant parents, has gone out of his way to plant a uniquely international church.
Even in the early days of the church, at least 25 regular attendees were not born in the United States. Many church members come from countries like Algeria, Indonesia and China that are relatively closed to evangelical Christianity. Choi believes many heard the gospel for the first time at Church of the Beloved.
“These are highly influential people because they have financial resources and the academic background to study in the United States,” Choi said.
With less than 10 percent of the population affiliated with an evangelical church and only one SBC church for every 31,791 people in metro Chicago, local Southern Baptists – including Choi – have been making plans to start more churches in Chicagoland through Send North America: Chicago.
Send North America is the North American Mission Board’s strategy to help churches and individuals become active in all regions of North America to lead people to faith in Jesus Christ and start new churches.
Choi said he believes the building where Church of the Beloved meets is a great illustration as to why church plants are so critical to reaching Chicago. Three churches meet in the building, with each group reaching different people despite sharing a meeting location.
Church of the Beloved also started a worship service at a second Chicago location on Palm Sunday. About 200 people attend the church’s two services.
“It’s been proven that new churches are the most effective way to reach the lost and the unchurched,” Choi said.
He referenced one couple that has become regular attendees at Church of the Beloved. Although the husband was a Buddhist, he had been attending churches sporadically with his Christian wife. But the two failed to find a fit anywhere. Attending Church of the Beloved changed that.
“He told me he was tired of going to churches where it felt like everybody was a clique and everyone was exclusive and knew each other,” Choi said. “Churches he attended had been very insular. He figured if they attended a brand new church, there’s no way there will be cliques. He wanted to feel like he could get to know people and be welcomed. Just that little reason brought him to church.”
After about five weeks of hearing the gospel, the man accepted Christ and was baptized last summer.
Partners from nearby in Chicago and as far away as Arkansas and Washington state have been crucial to the early success of the new church plant. First Baptist Church in Fort Smith, Ark., has been active in sending volunteer teams and resources to help the Church of the Beloved. During Vacation Bible School last summer, First Baptist’s children raised $1,000 to help the young church plant.
“They have been incredibly generous with their resources to support us financially,” Choi said. “But they’ve also been incredible prayer resources to us. They pray for us regularly. They also have been a relational resource because they fly up here from Arkansas to encourage us from time to time.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry is a writer with the North American Mission Board. For more information about Church of the Beloved, visit thebelovedchurch.org. For more information about Send North America: Chicago, visit namb.net/Chicago. To see a video about Dave Choi’s ministry, visit namb.net/video/reaching-the-unreached.)