Southern Baptists are set to plant as many as 100 churches in Cleveland over the next five years, according to a new initiative by the North American Mission Board (NAMB).
About half of Cleveland residents do not affiliate themselves with a church, NAMB reported, calculating that one Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) church exists for every 42,500 Cleveland residents.
Church members from around the country are being called into action to help plant churches in the northeastern Ohio city. According to NAMB, the SBC network is critical to initiating and supporting nascent churches in Cleveland.
"Partnerships are huge," Alex Ennes, a Cleveland church planter working with NAMB, told Baptist Press. "We don't have people. That's a resource we don't have. It's why we've worked so hard on partnership development.”
“I hate to use the word can't, because there is always a way,” Ennes added. “But we can't plant churches in this kind of environment without outside help."
NAMB alleged that the problem is not the quantity of church buildings in Cleveland – indeed there are hundreds of historic, renovated and modern buildings – but rather the lack of people inside them.
The group will attempt to plant 20 churches per year over the next five years, while setting the long-term goal of planting 256 churches by 2020.
NAMB will also target the African American community, which comprises 53 percent of Cleveland’s population, by planting up to 39 African American and multi-ethnic churches in the area.
Although church planters reported difficulty in cracking into the city that Forbes voted one of the “Ten Most Miserable,” there has been a relative influx in activity, according to native Christians.
"I've never seen this much God-activity in our area," Kevin Litchfield, Cleveland city coordinator for NAMB, told BP. "This time last year we had two church planters in the pipeline. If we really went at it, we could have 20 right now. We could potentially see 15 to 20 churches planted next year."
NAMB seeks to plant SBC churches throughout North America – including New York City, where the group plans to plant 100 churches over the next five years.
New York presents similar challenges as Cleveland, and the two initiatives are likely to glean information from each other.
According to the Values and Research Institute, about 83 percent of New Yorkers affiliate themselves with some sort of organized religion. However, only 3 percent of the population consider themselves evangelical Christian.
“While many still travel half-way around the world to witness to ‘the unreached,’ less is being done to reach many of the same peoples right here in NYC,” the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association said in a statement.
SBC organizations are asking members from churches, specifically those called by God to plant or help plant a church in New York City, to research neighborhoods and city geography and then, possibly relocate.
By recruiting planters from established SBC churches – many in the southern U.S. – NAMB attempts to use the support of the nationwide congregation to change local communities.