IRVING, Texas – With sights set on the second largest population center in the Pacific Northwest, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention entered a partnership with the Interstate Baptist Association (IBA) in Portland, Oregan, for the purpose of strengthening existing churches and planting new congregations in the pioneer area.
The three-year partnership seeks to connect SBTC churches with the frontier of evangelism in the United States, said Robby Partain, SBTC senior associate for church planting.
The IBA is a fellowship of about 78 churches, of which more than a half average fewer than 50 in worship services. The mission statement of the association, “carrying out the great commission through strengthening and starting churches,” also serves as the strategy for the partnership.
SBTC churches will be encouraged to connect with a partner church within the IBA, said Robin Butler, executive director of missions for IBA, who hopes the relationships between churches will facilitate vision trips and short-term mission trips.
“My hope is that the partnership will help Interstate accomplish their vision, every IBA church connected to a partnership church, and mission of starting and strengthening churches,” Partain said. “I would like to see church-to-church relationships develop that lead to specific missions endeavors over a period of years. What a great expression of Empowering Kingdom Growth that would be!”
Mission ventures between churches of the two groups would target the association’s community which includes two major metropolitan areas including Portland and Vancouver, Washington. According to the North American Mission Board, an estimated 90 percent of the 2.2 million population of the Pacific Northwest do not possess a relationship with Jesus Christ.
An IBA fact sheet about the region reports that several of its areas with a population of 50,000 or more do not have a Southern Baptist church. The ratio of resident Southern Baptist church members to the total population in Lubbock, Texas equals one SBC church member to four people. Compared to Portland, the ratio is one Southern Baptist church member to 210 people.
“These folks are certainly lost, but it isn’t a belligerent lost,” Butler said, of the population of the Greater Portland Metroplex. “It is more like when Paul walked into Athens and he said to those Athenians, ‘I see that you have many, many gods and I notice your statues. You have this one to the unknown god.’ That is where our people are.”
Butler also noted that even though the area has a spiritual climate, it is not a Christian climate.
“The people are spiritual enough, but it just not the Christian faith. It is not much of anything. It is kind of a mix of new age, a little eastern mysticism and a little bit of Christianity kind of thrown into the blender together. It is an amalgamation of spiritual beliefs,” he said.
Although the area follows the trend of mixing beliefs from different religions, Butler said traditional ministries will be utilized to reach the lost.
“The greatest way churches can have an impact in their community is the same way any other church can – there isn’t a different formula. It is about talking to people about Jesus,” he said, naming door-to-door interaction through the FAITH evangelism strategy, Vacation Bible School clinics, sports camps, and other Southern Baptist outreach efforts. Short term trips will help IBA “work the field and to be the field hands for Jesus.”
SBTC churches have already committed to partner with IBA congregations. Butler said a group from the Dogwood Trails Area in Henderson County has already committed to bring a group of about 90 people this summer. This group, led by Area Director Mike Smith and First Baptist Church Malakoff Pastor Robert Webb, will conduct backyard Bible clubs, prayer walk, door-to-door surveys, and train members of IBA churches to strengthen their church. Butler also added that some groups will help with church construction and remodeling needs.
Using the motivation of the Dogwood Trails Area as an example, Partain said it is urgent for SBTC pastors and church leaders to embark on vision trips to Interstate Association. “If the partnership works, it will work through relationships,” he said. “SBTC churches need to help IBA plant the new churches that will reach lost people,” Partain added. “I would love to see every church that is planted in IBA in coming years have at least one SBTC church partner.”
Butler said he hopes to see significant kingdom advances through the partnership.
“If I can get pastors here and in Texas building a friendship and entering into partnerships that runs three or four years, then some significant things can happen out of that,” Butler said, citing a hypothetical example of a SBTC youth participating a short-term trip and returning to the Portland area 10 years later to become a strong pastor. “There is a chance of long-term return.”