Now is the time for Oklahoma Baptists to reclaim the inner core of our cities. I realize that the overwhelming number of our churches are rural. I preach in rural churches week by week, and I have met some of the most dedicated and supportive people in these churches.
So to challenge us to make a concerted effort to reach the core of the few cities of Oklahoma is not to ignore our rural churches, but to call us to enter a harvest field we have too often abandoned.
Reclaiming the inner city will not be easy, and it will not happen with “business as usual.” Too many of our churches have watched the community around them change and did not change with it.
Church members moved away from the core of the city to the suburbs. Members who stayed had to make decisions to change with the neighborhood or stay the same and try to hang on.
Churches that chose to remain the same are easily identified. Most of these churches now have large facilities that are generally empty. Churches that changed really changed; some have survived, and some have thrived.
Some of our churches that were once “Anglo” have chosen to let new churches begin in the facilities that reflect the neighborhood and eventually have allowed that new church to take over the facilities. Others have shared facilities with ethnic congregations and continue to worship at different times and in different styles.
Let’s be honest; it is hard to watch your church decline as people move to newer neighborhoods. But candor also demands that when this occurs, new people do fill the houses of the older neighborhoods. These new people may be of a different color, speak a different language, or may be of a different socio-economic status. New ministry approaches are demanded, or the church will not reach these new people.
While in Tulsa recently, I had the opportunity to visit New Beginnings Community Church. This is a church planted a few years ago in an urban, mixed socio-economic and ethnic neighborhood.
Pastor K.J. Jackson and his team are innovative in reaching people in a multitude of ways. He has developed an app called “CityLink” that connects people to churches and to services to meet needs. Through serving the people in the neighborhood, they are reaching people with the Gospel.
I was amazed as I listened to their multi-faceted approach from teaching children to raise a vegetable garden, to conducting an award-winning after-school program, to helping people with many physical needs. The church also has a nonprofit organization that opens the door to greater effectiveness and resources to serve the neighborhood.
I walked away amazed and committed to help other churches thrive in serving and reaching people with the Gospel. At the heart of everything, New Beginnings Community Church lives out the Gospel.
Come to think of it, when the Gospel is at the heart of our service, we will reach people.
I have served in the edge of the inner city. I know the challenges, and they are worth it! We can reach the inner cities, but it will take new approaches and some older churches willing to change or make their facilities available to those who will touch the neighborhood that surrounds them.