Chicago | Seventy-seven neighborhoods. That’s one way to measure the city of Chicago. Seventy-seven neighborhoods, each with its own set of distinct characteristics, selling points, and challenges.
“Every block is a different world,” said church planter Kenyatta Smith. “Every community is a different community, different races, different beliefs.”
Smith should know. He started Another Chance Baptist Church in Inglewood, one of the city’s most violent neighborhoods. Now, he and his church are looking toward another community, Evergreen Park, to start another new church.
“It’s two miles away from our main location, but it’s a world away,” Smith said.
He is one of dozens of church planters in Illinois who have undertaken an enormous challenge—starting a church from scratch, often in neighborhoods that have had few positive experiences with churches.
With the support of Illinois Baptists through the Mission Illinois Offering and short-term mission trips, as many as two dozen churches are started in Illinois every year, some in rural communities, some in college towns, and others in the urban centers. In Illinois, with 13 million residents, at least 8 milion people don’t know Jesus Christ…and church planters face great need.
Smith is personally familiar with that need. He launched Another Chance in 2012 to reach people who are in the same position as he once was.
“I was a gang banger, I used to sell drugs, and I believe God gave me another chance,” he said. “And because he gave me another chance, my mission, my job, is to help other people experience what God gave to me.”
Fulfilling that mission often means reaching across cultural boundaries, especially in a city like Chicago.
“The cities of Illinois are our greatest challenge,” said Van Kicklighter, IBSA’s associate executive director for church planting. It’s an incredible challenge, he said, to engage millions upon millions of people, and their neighborhoods, people groups, languages and cultures.
“How do we tell the story of the gospel to people in languages and environments we don’t know anything about?
“But we know that the Father wants us to go there and to make a difference.”
Kenyatta Smith and other planters are leading the charge, answering a call not only to go to diverse places, but to see the diversity as a blessing.
“There is a whole new generation of young church planters that love the city,” Kicklighter said. Many of them grew up with the diversity they find there, and see it as a fulfillment of the Bible’s command to make disciples of all nations.
“The church ought to be for everyone, regardless of color, or race, or ethnic or racial background,” Kicklighter said. “So those guys that God’s inviting back to the city are helping us have new life and new opportunities to reach people that we’ve struggled with in the past reaching effectively.”
In Inglewood and now in Evergreen Park, for Smith, the call is to take light to a place in desperate need of another chance.
“We believe this community has just lost their hope, and we really want to bring that hope, that aspect of what God is, Jesus, back to our community.”