Why Do Baptists Avoid San Francisco, New Orleans, New York City, etc. . . ?

Really, why do we have such a problem ministering in the cities?

My time in San Francisco last week was amazing. Ashtyn and I had a great time together and we will never forget it. I know my daughter much better than I did before and I am incredibly impressed with her. She is unbelievably smart, charming, and interesting. I can't wait to see the woman that she is going to become. An added bonus of our trip was that we got to stay in the home of Eric and Linda Bergquist. Eric is the director of the Page Street Baptist Center in San Francisco and Linda is a church planter strategist for the SF Bay Area with NAMB and the California Baptist State Convention. I knew them back when I was in seminary at GGBTS and they graciously invited Ashtyn and me to stay with them while we did the tourist thing. One of the favorite parts of our day, however, was when we got to sit and Linda and Eric's kitchen table each night and talk about what the Lord was doing in the Bay Area.  God is moving.

Churches are being planted as God is placing it on the hearts of individuals and teams to move to the Bay Area. Responsiveness to the gospel is beginning to grow. The San Francisco Bay Area is really like another country and we should treat it as such from a missiological perspective. 6.5 million people live in the Bay Area and every nation in the world is represented. The population is only 2% evangelical Christian. Many are resistent to the gospel, but many are also open, especially among immigrant groups. Unfortunately, there are only 3 SBC churches that are primarily english speaking in the city of San Francisco with it's population of 750,000 people. Linda and Eric and the others working with them are trying to change that.

Ministry in this area is very difficult. Many church planters come and go. However, it is not impossible. More resources and more church planting teams are needed. Really, a great need would be for Christians who can work and support themselves to move out to the Bay Area with an intentional plan to be a part of a church plant. Could we provide theological/missiological training to people who want to move to and work in the Bay Area so that they could help churches grow and reach those communities? Could local associations and state conventions in other parts of America partner with Southern Baptists in the Bay Area? There are SBC associations out there and an SBC seminary along with the state convention, yet not one state convention or local association in AMERICA has a partnership with what Baptists are trying to do in San Francisco. Why is that?  Alabama, my state, has 4 million people. We have over 3,000 Southern Baptist churches. We have over 80 local associations. We have a state convention with 66 state missionaries. We keep tens of millions of dollars of our cooperative program money in our state, not to mention the millions upon millions that we keep in our churches to spend on ourselves. Still, the number of Christians in Alabama is DECREASING instead of increasing. Is this a good investment?

However, if we can figure out how to reach cities like San Francisco, New Orleans, New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, etc., then won't we see a change in America as a whole?  The Apostle Paul seemed to understand this when he went to the cities of the Roman Empire to establish churches. He knew that if he reached the cities, he would reach the countryside as well. Why don't we do the same?

Southern Baptists struggle in these cities (even though we have seminaries in SF and New Orleans) because we, as a whole, really don't want to be there it seems. We are more comfortable in the suburbs or rural areas where life makes sense to us. We struggle to go cross-cultural because at that point, we have to change. We have to stop thinking about things in ways most comfortable to us and begin to incarnate the gospel, putting ourselves in the shoes of others. We have to sacrifice. We have to admit that life is not all about us and our needs and our desires. This is difficult for Southern Baptists as it is with most Christians. Yet, isn't this what God calls us to? 

I fear that America has already succumbed to the homosexual agenda that is so accepted in San Francisco. The battle has been lost, even though we do not see it yet. Public opinion has turned.  I truly believe that gay marriage and homosexual rights will be established in America in the very near future. The evangelical church must learn how to minister in this environment or we will be overwhelmed by it.  Yelling at homosexuals has not worked. How do we minister to them with the truth of the gospel and the love of Christ?  San Francisco is a great place to learn. What would it look like if 10 Southern Baptist associations partnered with Southern Baptists in San Francisco to plant 5 new churches over the next 2-3 years? What if those churches that were planted then began to support other church plants and you brought some more associations or churches on board? Within 10 years, you could possibly see an additional 40-50 churches in the SF Bay Area!  That would make a HUGE difference in the spiritual climate of this region that is so important to the future of America culturally, spiritually, and economically.

What if we did the same in New Orleans, LA by partnering with the local association and the seminary there? Many seminary students at NOBTS go there to get an education and then try to get out of the city as quickly as possible. What if we sent some folks there who truly loved New Orleans and its people and weren't just looking to pastor a church somewhere in rural Mississippi?  What if we had families move there and partner with church planters sponsored by local associations throughout the South? How different would New Orleans be in just a few years?

What about the great cities of the north? What if a group of churches worked together to support a church plant in New York City? What if state conventions appropriated some of the millions of dollars that they kept from CP giving and put it toward church planting in urban areas in the northeast, led by the believers that were already there? What we we moved to these areas with the idea that we were going to incarnate the gospel into these cultures, we were going to work and build relationships, and we were going to see the Kingdom come?

What if our missions dollars were used more directly for missions instead of for us?

Anyway, those are some thoughts. Now, for some pictures from the trip:






4 Responses to Why Do Baptists Avoid San Francisco, New Orleans, New York City, etc. . . ?

  1. Broad post with insightful questions. I’ll address only one point: I agree with you about the homosexual rights. We’ll see it in our lifetimes.
    Someone once asked me why it seems no one listens to the Church anymore (especially the SBC) on moral issues. I pondered the question and finally arrived at an answer. I believe we lost the case against homosexuality in the 1950’s when we failed to stand against segregation (in fact, Southern Baptist churches became one of the last bastions of segregation). We lost our moral legitimacy when we supported the ones who attacked our Christian brothers and sisters because of their skin color. This gave others the idea to encase their cause in the civil rights language of the 1960’s; then, when we opposed them and accused them of immorality, they accused us of displaying the same bigotry we espoused in the 1950’s and 1960’s. We lost our moral legitimacy then; we’ll not regain it for generations.
    One of my youth and I participated in a deep online conversation regarding homosexuality. I told this perceptive teen that I failed to see why church leaders have so vocally opposed homosexuality while staying silent about the epidemic of divorce in our congregations. Divorce does more than homosexuality to destroy the marriage imagery of Christ’s love for His Church than homosexuality will ever accomplish.

  2. Great point, John. I think that you are dead on with what you have said. We are bankrupt when it comes to social and moral capital and we are the only ones who don’t realize it. True repentance followed by redemptive action is the only way forward, but we refuse to see our great need.

  3. Dear John,
    Wow, your article convicted me and caused my heart to ache for the lost in New Orleans. I have been praying about what God wants me to do next with my ministry. I have been in youth ministry for six years. I’m praying where I should go to seminary at? I have also been considering my major to be Church Planting. I have been asking God, if you want me to start a church, where? After a couple hours of searching on Google, I found your article.
    I just wanted to say thanks for the challenge, Shannon Kiser

  4. thanks for the post. my parents – SWBTS graduates – just retired from the mission field. i lived in NOLA and now in SF going to an exceptionally ‘liberal’ grad school for an MA in Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness. i am studying what i believe will become the standard Western norm of theological thinking in the near future and it is very different from the Baptist Faith and Message.
    i tried going to an SBC church in NOLA but was just disappointed with the lack of vitality and cultural depth. a friend who grew up an SBC MK in South Africa i met in NOLA lives in a Buddhist community because it is the ‘closest thing’ she could find to her familiar spiritual Christian life. here in SF i can’t even find an SBC church.
    sadly, the reason i think SBC doesn’t work in SF or NOLA is because they are community oriented and SBC isn’t. SBC is just sterile packaged sunday school for all ages. i grew up in it and every church i’ve visited has the same Sunday School with irrelevant and uninspiring discussions and formulated exegetical sermonizing.
    i have tons of friends from Total Vegan Potluck to all men’s vegy potluck chess night to drum circles, tea houses, yoga class, and many other special interests that Southern Baptists just don’t see a value in.
    essentially, SBC is boring. there’s no fire in the hearts of the people. there’s no artistry. no soul. its sad, but i’m done. i’m outta there, baby. ya’ll can have your righteous doctrine and preach truth all day long, but i need true friends that are passionate about life- people who see God’s truth and beauty in the world around them even if it looks New Age or foreign or pagan or whatever label you want to describe as not Southern or not Baptist or not comfortable.