For Southern Baptists, doing international missions often means sending and then partnering with a missionary in a place where there are few or no known Christians. Many times, they are solitary witnesses among thousands of people who have never heard the gospel, and who probably don’t have a Bible in their own language.
North American missions is primarily about church planting, and the evangelism and community ministries that invite seekers and new believers into that new church. Church planting missionaries focus on communities where there isn’t a church, or on groups of people who aren’t being reached because of language, demographic, or culture. Yet it can still require years of faith and hard work before a lasting church is established.
Missions within a state like Illinois can have elements of both international missions and North American missions. Especially in larger cities, but increasingly throughout the state, there are pockets of unreached people groups from all over the world. And last year Illinois church planters started 13 new churches here, with a total of about 60 new churches in their early years of development. Yet there are still 10 counties with no SBC church, 13 with only one, and there are now more Muslims in Illinois than Southern Baptists.
One unique thing about state missions, however, is who the primary missionaries are. Here in Illinois, our IBSA staff recognizes that it is not us but our IBSA churches who must be the primary missionaries. Our most strategic role is to invest our lives in the health, growth, and missionary calling of each church, so that it can more effectively turn itself inside out into the lostness of its community.
With almost 13 million people, Illinois has a population larger than 131 of the world’s 209 nations. Yet there are only about 20 traveling ministry staff at IBSA, and about 35 overall. It is not our handful of staff but our 900-plus churches that can have the greatest impact on the vast lostness of our state mission field!
That’s why “Each Church a Missionary” is the theme of this year’s Mission Illinois Offering. Most churches receive this offering during September, and anyone can give directly through the IBSA website at IBSA.org. At missionillinois.org there are video stories of churches being a missionary in small towns, medium-sized cities, and Chicagoland, and of churches being started, restarted, and revitalized.
Certainly each church is a missionary, but I don’t want to understate the roles that our IBSA network staff play in assisting and delivering value to those missionary churches. In addition to helping plant 13 churches and providing ongoing support to 60 newly developing churches, last year our IBSA staff helped train more than 600 pastors and 5,000 leaders. The staff your church supports through the MIO are now working with over 50 churches on intentional revitalization processes, and over 100 churches in “Next Step” consulting. IBSA camps have already hosted more than 3,000 participants this year, and thus far more than 80 children and students have come to faith in Christ.
The Mission Illinois Offering is especially important this year because ongoing Cooperative Program giving has currently returned to mid-pandemic levels, probably due to inflationary pressures on giving to churches and perhaps other concerns. As we now enter these final months of the year, we are hopeful that many churches will be able to provide a generous offering that focuses on our shared mission field here in Illinois. CP is shared with all the missions and ministries of the national SBC, but 100% of the MIO supports the missionary work of churches right here in Illinois.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.