A Southern Baptist college will soon be opening its doors in New England, a region known for having some of the least churched communities in the United States.
Northeastern Baptist College, located in a former Ramada Inn hotel building in Bennington, Vt., intends to begin training church planters in August 2013.
Mark Ballard, president of NEBC, told The Christian Post that for years he had sought to found a Christian college in the American Northeast for the sake of training evangelists.
"United States is an increasingly secular society, and this is certainly true of the Northeast. As a part of the New England community our concern is for individual people," said Ballard.
"Jesus is our example. While He lived on earth, He not only associated with the religious crowd, but was a friend of all people. He never compromised His beliefs personally nor His teaching, yet He was loving and kind even to those who opposed Him."
Ballard explained that his college will not be a Southern Baptist college in the formal sense, but rather a Baptist college that has a business relationship with the SBC.
"Though we at NEBC view ourselves as a partner of the Green Mountain Baptist Association, the Baptist Convention of New England and the Southern Baptist Convention, we will not technically be a Southern Baptist College," said Ballard.
"Some Baptist Colleges are independent institutions, but work to partner with the local associations, state/regional conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention. This best describes our current relationships."
The evangelical challenge laid before Ballard and NEBC is illustrated in recent polling data from Gallup. In early 2009, Gallup released research on how religious the 50 states were.
Five of the top ten least religious states (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont) are found in the Northeast. In data released by Gallup in 2012 Vermont, the state where NEBC is situated, ranked as the most secular state in America, with 58 percent of respondents identifying themselves as "nonreligious."
Furthermore, the current Baptist presence in New England is small. The Baptist Convention of New England only has about 300 congregations.
All NEBC faculty/staff and students will be obligated to agree to the Baptist Faith and Message, which is the Southern Baptist statement of faith.
"Some in New England will find much agreement with our doctrinal positions. Others will find only minor disagreements. Some will disagree completely with much of our doctrinal statement," said Ballard.
"We believe that Jesus now offers forgiveness of sin, a real relationship with the Father now, and an eternity of joy to everyone who will turn to Jesus in faith and repentance. This message of hope is something we believe to be good news not only to individuals in New England, but in every part of the world."
According to Ballard, Northeastern Baptist College is expecting to enroll around 100 students for its first semester next year.