By Vicki Brown, Word&Way News Writer
What should a city congregation do when it discovers its community has changed and most of its members drive in from the suburbs?
First Baptist Church, Springfield, folks decided to stay put in the city's heart and reach out to the diverse population that lives within a few blocks of its doors. On Oct. 31, the church launched Metro Rally, a lively multimedia service that targets two distinct — and nearly opposite population groups.
For the past couple of years, First Baptist members have been reaching out to one of Springfield's poorest areas located just west of the church. Members have been ministering through summer activities and through an afternoon program for children for the past eight years.
Although the church has hosted special days for the community, most people who attended have been reluctant to attend regular worship services. They tend to view First Baptist as a "rich people's church," minister to children/administrator Blake Hayworth explained. "We've done really well at reaching [that area of the community]…but we've never been successful at bridging them into our congregation," he said.
This year Springfield officials decided to concentrate on revitalizing the downtown area and sought input from community leaders. Hayworth said that as he met with the mayor and members of the city's planning and zoning commission, "they lit a fire under me."
God showed Hayworth how He already had been bringing people to First Baptist.
The downtown area is "remarkably coming back," the minister said, with 100 new loft apartments added just this year. City leaders expect another 300 lofts to be developed in 2005.
The city also has attracted the Springfield Cardinals, a farm team for the St. Louis Cardinals, new entertainment and a host of new restaurants. The revitalization is attracting a new generation of urbanites to downtown — from college students who pool their resources for rent to successful business people. The church, right in the heart of that movement, wants to be on the forefront of reaching new residents.
First Baptist also is within walking distance for city dwellers. Urbanites tend to "want to be able to do everything not far from home," Hayworth said. "And we want to be a part of meeting that need."
Right in the hub of new activity, First Baptist has caught a new vision for outreach. Church leaders led members on a prayer-walk through the downtown area to help them see what is happening in the city's heart.
And First Baptist wants to minister to its entire community. "We want to reach both groups," Hayworth said. "We don't want people to see the differences…with the newness you can bridge the difference."
First Baptist launched Metro Rally to reach both the urbanites and its western community. The Sunday morning service begins at 11 a.m. in the family life center, 20 minutes after a traditional service begins in the church sanctuary.
Hayworth and his team use a lot of multimedia — music, drama and video — and limits sermons to 15 minutes to reach primarily auditory and visual learners.
First Baptist launched Metro Rally on Halloween in conjunction with its annual fall carnival on Oct. 29. On Oct. 30, members hosted a prayer time and flyer distribution, and kicked off the service on Oct. 31. The first service attracted 55 people, 43 of whom had previously been touched by church ministries and 12 who were newcomers.
Hayworth spends a lot of time walking downtown, where he eats at new restaurants and visits with as many urbanites as possible. "We're catching those people we have been ministering to and catching those people who are moving downtown."
The new ministry's name stemmed from the city's determination to rally its resources to revitalize its downtown. First Baptist's congregation believes the outreach marks new beginnings for downtown, for its west side neighbors and for itself. (12-08-04)