ALPHARETTA, Ga. – God has placed Southern Baptists in a strategic place in the North American mission field. We are stronger than ever, more widespread than ever and are making the population centers of the United States and Canada a missional priority.
While the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has historically been a suburban and rural denomination, churches throughout the convention are partnering with and sending church planters and missionaries to the influential centers of trade and culture. New York, Boston, Toronto, Los Angeles and many others of our 32 Send North America cities will never be the same.
I only pray this trend becomes a movement, but it won’t come without difficulty and sacrifice. The challenges that have made most evangelical denominations non-urban are the same ones we’re faced with in starting gospel ministries in the cities.
Common sense tells us that the more people there are, the more restrictions. Prices go up, laws and regulations are set in place and clashes of cultures and beliefs are more pronounced. Cities can be uncomfortable places for people who believe Jesus is the only way to God.
Being comfortable and yet faithful to the Great Commission in North America is becoming more and more difficult to balance. To love the lost the way God has called us to means we have to be an urban people.
This doesn’t mean we need to evacuate the suburbs in droves, but it might mean that we ask God to open our eyes to the reality of lostness. Lostness exists in every community – rural, suburban and in the cities. But consider this: New Jersey has one SBC church for every 78,000 people. Mississippi has one church for every 1,400 people.
What’s happening in Mississippi and the other Southern states is absolutely incredible. But what happens in the South can’t stay in the South. So many people in neighboring regions are without an opportunity to experience the gospel.
As it stands now, we have a smattering of thriving oases amid vast deserts of lostness in the U.S. and Canada. But we have resources unrivaled by anyone else in evangelical life.
My prayer is that God will open our eyes, minds and hearts in a big way, help us get a little more uncomfortable every day and use us to make our cities say, “People wandering in darkness have seen a great light.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Coe is vice president of the Mobilization and Marketing Groups at the North American Mission Board. This column appears in the fall edition of On Mission magazine.)