I believe in the vision of Dr. Kevin Ezell and the call to participate in Send North America under his leadership at the North American Mission Board. For the church I pastor in Tallahassee, FL, part of helping to carry out that vision has been for us to become a lead church-planting partner by adopting the city of New Orleans, one of the strategic cities in the Send North America initiative. After visiting the city with some of our staff from City Church, we fell in love with the city, and saw the great need to help lead a church planting movement in the Big Easy, a place with little evangelical presence.
Send New Orleans: The Opportunity
The harvest is plenty as twenty-five percent of Louisiana residents live in the New Orleans region. Reaching New Orleans with the gospel would impact the entire state. This great American city has endured a tremendous amount of pain following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, yet it continues to boast a proud local culture that celebrates its uniqueness through food, sports teams, music, and regular festivals.
Though it is located deep in the South, New Orleans more closely resembles a European city than it does one in the Bible belt. There is a great Catholic influence, which often creates confusion between understanding religion and actually believing the gospel of Jesus Christ. As of 2012, over 900,000 people live New Orleans, yet we have only one SBC Church for every 8,011 residents. During our visit, our staff took an uncomfortable walk down Bourbon Street and felt like we were walking through Sodom or Nineveh. We prayed we would see the city the way Jesus would, and have great compassion.
In the face of a culture of lostness, the good news is that Southern Baptists are currently perceived mostly positively in this ethnically and religiously diverse city. This is largely due to the election of locally revered Pastor Fred Luter as the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, as well as the outstanding response by the SBC to the disaster following Katrina. With such an opportunity to truly reach a city in desperate need of Christ, the time to act is now.
I am confident that NAMB has the right plan in place to push back the lostness currently stretching across this unique city. With more than seventy distinct neighborhoods for residents to claim as home, a parish-type model of planting a minimum of one church per neighborhood is what it is going to take to reach this city. One neighborhood at a time, we will push back lostness through healthy church planting and disciple making.
Land and buildings required to plant are rare finds in this dense and crowded city, and that is going to be a great barrier to this mission, especially in the necessary model of reaching over seventy neighborhoods. Abandoned church buildings and other properties have great potential to serve as local catalysts to new works.
Sadly, it seems that many of these resources (NOBA properties) currently remain untapped. On our recent tour, several of these NOBA properties were pointed out to us.
I believe that if these historic buildings were utilized to build healthy churches once again, the investments made by generations of believers would not be in vain, and the city could see its greatest days ahead.
Send New Orleans: The Challenge
That sounds great, doesn’t it? Baptist properties used by church plants from our own denomination to battle lostness in a Send city is a slam-dunk, right? It should be, except for the challenge presented by the New Orleans Baptist Association (NOBA).
As proof of God’s continued work in this city, NOBA now owns several vacant properties. Tragically, it seems the Association is not interested in using these properties as facilities for church planting, the reason given that they would rather sell the buildings in order to fund local social justice ministries.
While we should celebrate compassion ministries that show love to the city, the money invested in these ministries will be spent and gone for good. Allowing a church or NAMB to have the buildings will support an initiative whose legacy will last for generations. One would think that starting and maintaining healthy churches would be the priority for a local association, rather than social programs. In fact, new plants could oversee social justice efforts that operate as ministries of their own, allowing local churches to bless the neighborhoods where they are planted. This also would give them another avenue for effective evangelism.
Send New Orleans: Time to Act
Available space is obviously a massive issue for planting churches in New Orleans, and as a result, becomes a barrier to the forward movement of the gospel in the city. In several of the neighborhoods currently being targeted by Send New Orleans, baptist properties exist, buildings that are owned by the New Orleans Baptist Association. Are you scratching your head like I am? I know the people of the Association are good folks doing good gospel work, but this is unacceptable. Far too often, bureaucracy causes us to be timid in calling something as it is. Whether this is an issue of turf protection or something else, it must change as soon as possible. Let us pray together, and even demand for this to happen. I am calling on the New Orleans Baptist Association to donate those properties to NAMB. Let the process of reaching that great city with the gospel of Jesus Christ begin through healthy church planting. The plan is in place, it is time to act.
-Dean Inserra, Lead Pastor of City Church, Tallahassee
Update: We have updated for clarity
Update: Jay Adkins is the moderator for NOBA. He has responded to this blog and we have posted it here on B21.