December 2010

U.S. split on holiday greetings

December 17 2010 by Nicole Neroulias, Religion News Service

While more than nine out of 10 Americans say they plan to celebrate Christmas this year, they are divided on whether businesses should use messages like “Season’s Greetings” rather than “Merry Christmas,” according to a new poll.

The latest PRRI/RNS Religion News Poll, released Dec. 16, found Americans are split, 44 percent in favor and 49 opposed, on whether retailers should use generic holiday greetings out of respect for people of different faiths.

The so-called “War on Christmas” has been a rallying cry for conservatives in recent years as they resist attempts to remove nativity scenes from town squares, Christmas carols from public schools and the words “Merry Christmas” from sales flyers.

The poll found a significant number of people engaging in secularized celebrations of Christmas, with Americans more likely to watch Christmas movies like “It’s A Wonderful Life” (83 percent) than attend religious services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (66 percent).

The holiday season is also slightly interreligious: One in 10 Americans say members of their families also celebrate another December holiday, such as Hanukkah or Kwanzaa.   

Researchers said the range of ways that Americans celebrate Christmas could explain why the holy day is taking on a less religious feel.

Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, which conducted the poll in partnership with Religion News Service, said Christmas has always evolved, from its Dec. 25 date claimed from a Roman pagan festival, to the decorated tree from German tradition.

The fact that significant numbers of Americans read both the biblical story of Jesus’ birth and “’Twas the Night before Christmas” is a continuation of that tradition, he said.

The PRRI/RNS poll also found that:
  • College graduates, Democrats and people with no formal religious affiliation are more likely to have family celebrating more than one December holiday.
  • Slightly more Americans (43 percent) read “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” than read a Christmas story from the Bible (40 percent).
  • Half of Republicans, three in four white evangelicals, and two in three black Protestants say they read the Christmas story from the Bible.
  • Fewer portions of Democrats (34 percent), white mainline Protestants (37 percent) and Catholics (26 percent) do likewise.
  • Most white evangelicals (79 percent) and Catholics (82 percent) attend Christmas Eve or Christmas Day services, compared to 63 percent of white mainline Protestants.
  • White evangelicals (69 percent) and Republicans (64 percent) are most likely to say stores should use “Merry Christmas,” while a majority of Democrats (58 percent) and Catholics (55 percent) prefer generic holiday greetings instead.
  • People in the Midwest (56 percent), South (54 percent) or rural areas (53 percent) are more likely to object to generic holiday greetings than those living in the Northeast (33 percent) or urban areas (47 percent).
While some Christians bemoan the commercialization of Christmas, interfaith organizations and Christmas advocates see reason to cheer its wider appeal.

Robert Putnam, a Harvard scholar and co-author of American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us, said he found it surprising that nearly half of Americans choose “Happy Holidays” as their preferred consumer greeting.

“That represents a major change over the last 50 years toward greater interfaith sensitivity,” he said.

Although there’s no long-term data on the trend — “because no one would even have thought to ask that on a survey,” he said — Putnam suspects it closely mirrors American’s growing acceptance of intermarriage.

Edmund C. Case, CEO of, which encourages Jewish-Christian couples to raise Jewish children, agreed that a declining stigma against interfaith marriage has had an impact.

InterfaithFamily’s own December survey, which polled 586 people, found that about half of interfaith families put up a Christmas tree, nearly 80 percent exchange Christmas presents, and about 20 percent would take offense to someone wishing them a “Merry Christmas.”

“They say that it’s a nice family time, and it’s a tradition for the parent who grew up with it,” Case said. “They consider it kind of like Thanksgiving.”

Phil Okrend, president of MixedBlessing, a company that makes interfaith and multicultural holiday cards, said it makes sense to consider regional demographics regarding December behavior.

“If you live somewhere with a majority of Christians, then you can say ‘Merry Christmas,’ and if you’re in a more diverse area, you can say ‘Happy Holidays,’” he said. “It’s not diminishing anything, because we’re more alike than not.”

The PRRI/RNS Religion News Poll was based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 9 to 12, with 1,015 U.S. adults. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.      
12/17/2010 6:16:00 AM by Nicole Neroulias, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Discussing ‘The Calling’

December 17 2010 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

“The Calling,” a four-hour documentary that airs Dec. 20-21 on PBS stations, looks at seven young Muslim, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish seminarians as they train for the ministry, grapple with their sense of calling and their new responsibilities.

Director Danny Alpert talked about the $1.8 million project that followed some of its subjects for two years. Some comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why did you decide to make training for ministry the subject of a documentary?

There was a combination of two factors, one very personal and the other more cultural or societal. On a personal level, as a young man, I considered becoming a rabbi. On a more societal level, living abroad in Israel for several years, in a culture where faith and the day-to-day life are so intertwined, when I moved back to the States I was struck by the tension between modernity and faith.

Q: Is this relatively uncharted territory for documentarians or filmmakers?

There have been films made about nuns, about missionaries and priests before. I don’t believe that there has ever been a film that covers a number of faiths. And certainly I don’t think there’s been one that really goes into the personal lives as well as the spiritual lives of these individuals.

Q: Have the subjects met each other?

Last week, we had an event at the Art Institute of Chicago where, for the first time, the subjects all came together. It was lightning in a bottle. The sense of spirituality, commonality in that pursuit was really palpable in the room all day long.

Q: In the series, you deal with people from very different faiths, but were you hoping to show commonalities among them?

I don’t think we set out to show commonalities in faith. This was not meant to be “look how similar we are.” I think we wanted to humanize religious leaders and to show that they struggle with a lot of the same things that we do.

Q: What were the similarities that struck you?

This seems to be a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too generation. While they are all devoted to their faith and live their faith, they are also not willing to compromise on their modern American identities. I’ve also found in terms of the commonalities between them, the basic struggles of balancing religious/public life, self-care and care of others.

Q: Most of the candidates seemed to grapple with their sense of calling.

It’s a huge leap of faith, literally and figuratively, to do this. There aren’t many more demanding jobs. You’re on 24/7, you’re a public figure, you’re being judged, people are looking at you. There are pressures on all levels — personal, spiritual, practical. I think that the calling is not a static event for any of these people. How that plays out in the world is an evolution.

Q: These candidates all had their sermons critiqued and went through the job interview process, and had to move from a 9-5 mindset to a 24/7 one. Were you also trying to show how unusual this preparation can be?

Seminaries are kind of unknown, cloistered — to use the old-fashioned word. People don’t know how their religious leaders are trained, and that is part of what makes a good documentary: taking people to a place they can’t or haven’t or could never go.

Q: What was most difficult to leave on the cutting room floor?

A whole additional Catholic story. There were originally going to be eight stories — two from each faith group. It became a question of more stories or more depth to each story. We had a limited amount of time, and it became clear that more depth was the way to go.

Q: What message do you hope people will walk away with after viewing the series?

I hope that they will be thinking about something that the characters did to make the world a better place, and that they will look at these people’s callings and think about what their own calling may be, what it is that they feel passionate about.

Related story
Guest column: When God calls, be sure to answer
12/17/2010 6:05:00 AM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

99 leave NAMB as part of downsizing

December 15 2010 by Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — One-third of the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) staff will be leaving at the end of the year as a result of retirement incentives and other downsizing of the Southern Baptist entity. On Friday, Dec. 10, NAMB recognized retirees who are taking advantage of incentives offered at the beginning of October.

“These individuals have served NAMB and Southern Baptists in outstanding ways over the years,” NAMB President Kevin Ezell said. “We appreciate everything they have done to further God’s Kingdom and the impact of their work will continue for years to come.”

Of the total of 99 people leaving, 81 are taking an early retirement package Ezell announced Oct. 1. Employees aged 54 and older were eligible for the package.

In addition to incentives offered by NAMB, retiring employees also were able to lock in to a higher annuity rate through GuideStone Financial Resources. The Southern Baptist financial services provider announced over the summer that the floor on its annuitized rates would drop from the current 6 percent to somewhere between 3 to 4 percent.

Anticipating a lower number of people in the building due to retirements, NAMB also trimmed a number of services and support staff positions. These additional reductions brought the total number of year-end departures to 99.

Carlos Ferrer, NAMB’s chief financial officer who also serves as vice president overseeing human resources and other services functions, said the entity is providing support for those in transition.

“The package we are giving to those who are departing is as generous as we could make it,” Ferrer said. “In addition, we are providing the services of a Christian job placement company to assist those who are seeking further employment.”

Ferrer added that “those leaving are our longtime friends and co-laborers and we are committed to helping them make this transition as smoothly as possible.”

At a Nov. 16 missionary commissioning service in Texas, Ezell stated, “As we go through changes, absolutely every change we make and every reduction we make is to put more missionaries in the field.”

In October, Ezell told NAMB’s board of trustees he is undertaking a four-step process: re-focus NAMB; build a strategy; develop the staff necessary to execute the strategy; and implement the strategy. The downsizing is part of a re-focus effort that will narrow the number of activities the entity undertakes.

“I have the very strong conviction that NAMB has been trying to do too much in too many different arenas,” Ezell stated in a Nov. 22 e-mail to the executive directors of state Baptist conventions.

NAMB trustees also announced in October the formation of a “vision” committee that will work with Ezell through the strategy building and implementation process. That committee, now referred to as the implementation committee, consists of five members: Joey T. Anthony, pastor of Midway Baptist Church in Phenix, Va.; Stephen E. Hogan, pastor of Chets Creek Church in Jacksonville, Fla.; Steven D. Holdaway, pastor of LifeSpring Church in Bellevue, Neb.; Donna C. Medcalf, member of Edwards Road Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C.; and David Self, executive pastor of First Baptist Church Houston, Texas.

The Georgia Christian Index reported Dec. 9 that Lester L. Cooper Jr., pastor of Concord Baptist Church in Cumming, Ga., had resigned from NAMB’s board of trustees reportedly in disagreement with the reduction in senior staff. A NAMB spokesman additionally noted in an e-mail to board chairman Tim Dowdy, pastor of Eagles Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough, Ga., Cooper said he wanted to focus more of his time on his church.

In a podcast posted by NAMB on Monday, Dec. 13, Ezell said he is working closely with state convention executive directors to develop NAMB’s new direction and that the process is moving as quickly as possible.

“I cannot get in a cubicle and come up with this answer myself and come out and try and sell it,” Ezell said. “I really think the best way ... is getting everyone around the table and saying, ‘Hey, how can we do this together?’”
12/15/2010 5:10:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Sole ambush survivor encourages obedience

December 15 2010 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor

More than six years after an ambush in Iraq, sole survivor Carrie McDonnall can tick through a complex list of her injuries received that day, including 22 bullet wounds, shrapnel galore, and losing three fingers on her left hand.

Doctor after doctor told her, “I don’t know how you survived.”

“It was the hand of God only,” McDonnall said Dec. 2 to students in Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s chapel service. She continues to stand firm on the promises of a Savior who saw her through “some really dark days. He was with me, and He was comforting me.”

The March 15, 2004, attack in Mosul, Iraq, took the lives of missionaries Larry and Jean Elliot of Cary, as well as Karen Watson of Bakersfield, Calif. David McDonnall, Carrie’s husband survived the attack, but died after four military surgeons worked six hours to save his life. The four died from bullet and shell fragment wounds reportedly from automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.

Carrie was 26 at the time. From Texas the McDonnalls had met while serving as journeymen with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. They served in different countries but in the same region. She was in Israel. He was in Sudan.

They started seminary at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2001, married in 2002, and they were “itching to get back into ministry.”

When the IMB contacted them about going to Iraq, the couple put a day aside to fast and pray and come together to see what God had told them. Not finishing seminary … “that wasn’t a big heart breaker for us,” she said.

God works on His own time, McDonnall said, and the couple weighed the choices: obedience or disobedience.

“We wanted to be faithful followers,” she said.

When they arrived in Iraq the McDonnalls were looking forward to learning from the Elliots who had served as missionaries in Honduras for more than 25 years. They could have retired, McDonnall, said, but they too felt called to help the Iraqi people get fresh water as well as to share the living water only found in Christ. Watson had worked with the Kern County Sheriff’s Department in California before she joined the International Mission Board as a humanitarian aid coordinator for Iraq in 2003.

“I heard (Watson) breathing, then I felt her die,” McDonnall said in a Florida Baptist Witness article after the attack. The McDonnalls had been in Iraq since November 2003 helping internally displaced people with food and water needs.  

Typical day
That March day started like a lot of others: the team loaded up in a vehicle and headed out to assess a refugee camp’s needs. The team visited an old factory where some refugees were living. The elders came out to greet them. The ladies went inside to visit with the other women, and the men stayed outside.

BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle

Carrie McDonnall shares about her survival of a 2004 ambush in Iraq.

The site had two water tanks but one was completely empty and the other had only a few inches of water.

None of them knew the next time a water truck would come and fill the tanks.

The men and women had long conversations about America, water, families and more.

“They had next to nothing yet they offered the best that they had,” McDonnall said.

When the group left, McDonnall said they were “all on cloud nine.”

Larry Elliot had mentally figured out how to get water to them.

“We were excited because a relationship had started out that day,” she said.

Mosul, Iraq, was a common place to go through because there were not many roads. So Mosul offered the best option for getting to and from the factory where they visited. They were nearly on the other side when “men came up around us and started shooting.”

With no such thing as 9-1-1, Iraqi men came out and helped after the gunfire had subsided.

McDonnall could only move her head and could not get out of the car. In the Iraqi culture men do not touch women but they set aside that cultural barrier to lift her to safety. They put her on the ground and in the process the hem of her garment rose above her ankle, a horrible faux pas. One man reached down and pulled her garment back down to protect her modesty.

“To be quite honest with you I did not notice,” she said.

Those men disregarded their cultural boundaries to help she and her husband escape the vehicle and get them to a military hospital.

“I share these glimpses to see the heart of the Iraqi people,” she said, “and also to see the sovereignty of God that day.”

Those men faced repercussions within their community by helping them.  

Medical emergency
McDonnall remembers David talking to the doctors and soldiers at the hospital, before being taken into surgery. She lost a lot of blood and they considered amputation of some of her limbs. Doctors operated on McDonnall for 10 hours in Iraq, enough to stabilize her. Then, they flew her to Germany and on to Texas.

Doctors put her in a medically induced coma. She received wounds in the chest, face, and all four limbs. Small arms fire shattered bones in her right arm and leg. It wasn’t until several days after she woke up in the hospital in Texas that she learned David had died.

“I couldn’t move a thing,” she said about when she first awakened.

It was in the hospital in Texas where McDonnall learned about the depths the psalmist talks about in Psalm 23.

But even with the blinds down and McDonnall spiritually and physically wanting to be in a fetal position, “even those days He was faithful. My heart was shattered and I had plenty of wounds. We hold fast to Him,” she said referring to Heb. 10:23.

She was in the hospital about a month. “Of all the things I had lost God assured me I had not lost Him nor had she faced more than Christ had on the cross,” she said.

In a Baptist Press article just five months after the attack, McDonnall said she didn’t regret the decision to go:

“You go into a place that is so dark and a place that just does not have hope, and you go and you offer hope and you offer it because you have the love of Christ in you,” she said. “People see that. They ask, ‘Why do you do this?’ We tell them, ‘I love the Iraqi people and I love them because Christ loves me.’ The people just don’t have a hope, and some of that stems from being under Saddam and some of it is just from the fact that they don’t know Christ — a lot of it is from that.”  

Carry On Ministries
Today McDonnall is back at Southwestern working on finishing her degree. As founder of Carry On Ministries, she speaks to various groups about her experience and tries to encourage Christians to be obedient and faithful to the call God has for them. She wrote a book — Facing Terror — in 2005 that chronicled her and David’s experience together.

Then and now people still ask, “Why would you go to a place like that?”

She responds, “Are you reading the same Bible I am?”

She stresses that “Christ love compels us.”

“It compelled David and I to Iraq,” she said. “We could not hold it to ourselves.”

She said she continues to share her testimony because “there are so many people hurting.”
12/15/2010 2:50:00 AM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor | with 2 comments

Mark Gray tries unorthodox recruiting technique

December 15 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Mark Gray’s style for recruiting church planters is a little unorthodox.

“If I can talk you out of planting a church, then you probably shouldn’t plant one,” says Gray, a member of the Baptist State Convention’s church planting team since 2005 and its leader since 2006. 

He tells prospective planters the job is lonely, threatens some people and often requires significant personal sacrifice. He wants any church planter to go into the job with eyes wide open.

But the truth is, Gray doesn’t recruit much. Instead, he fields calls from all over the country from men who indicate that God is calling them to plant a church in North Carolina. Just as a diverse population is migrating to North Carolina, Gray sees God drawing men to start churches to reach that population.

Church planting is one of the seven pillars guiding Baptist State Convention ministry. In the past five years 719 new churches have been added to the Convention through planting or affiliation.

BR photo by Norman Jameson

Mark Gray, leader of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s church planting team, considers starting a church and priming tobacco the two hardest things he’s ever done.

Gray, 55, describes himself as a “called servant of the Lord who is passionate about doing whatever it takes to reach people for Jesus and to disciple them.”

Raised in Mayodan, he was baptized in the Mayo River following his response to God during Vacation Bible School commencement at Beaver Island Baptist Church.

Always a hard worker like his father who worked in a mill and directed Sunday School and VBS at Beaver Island, Gray says the two hardest things he’s ever done are to prime tobacco and to start a church.

Analytical about people groups, assessments of potential planters, training and procedures, Gray said that North Carolina Baptists are beginning to see the fruits of their support for church planting. “Boot camp” training for church planters is continually refined to be more effective. Recent changes added emphasis on evangelism and discipleship.

No church planting prospect is funded or trained without undergoing an assessment that will give leadership a sense of the man’s potential effectiveness.

“Our goal is to help them be where God has called them to be,” Gray says. Even if the result shows church planting is not the best place for an individual, “everybody wins in an assessment.”

Assessors are looking for 13 characteristics. Among them: visioning capacity, ability to relate to the lost, spousal approval, resilience and adaptability.  

Measuring effectiveness
Gray tracks “effectiveness” of church planters “to make sure we’re not just leading a conference … we don’t want to teach material, we want to teach people.” Effectiveness measures such tangibles as evangelistic visits, baptisms, attendance and giving.

Gray is most interested in helping to start churches that reach lost and unchurched people, not in creating new destinations for disgruntled members of other churches.

Through October 2010 church plants in the current funding cycle — which includes about 120 churches in a number that fluctuates each month as new starts begin and others mature out of the cycle — have recorded 2,400 professions of faith and are averaging almost 8,000 in attendance.

Evangelistic contacts are up 29,000 over last year, to more than 90,000 “because we’ve been emphasizing that,” Gray said. “What we resource is guys who are passionate about reaching the lost and unchurched.”

In 2010 Gray projects 140 new churches will be added to the Convention, including 18 affiliates, which were started outside the Convention’s network, but chose to affiliate with the Convention.

While a study of 10 denominations detailed in the book Viral Churches says 68 percent of new churches are still around after four years, the North Carolina “success rate” over four years is 82 percent, Gray said. It is 91 percent after two years, and “we’re pleased about that.”

With 234 heart languages spoken in the state a diversity of new plants is required to meet the spiritual needs of those people groups. Sixty-four of the new churches North Carolina Baptists started this year were Hispanic, multi-ethnic or Asian, Gray said.

He is also pleased that church planting by Protestant churches in the United States is up to 4,000 per year, surpassing by 500 the number of churches that close.

Still, to reach the need, Gray says Christians must focus on multiplication, not just church addition. “We are looking for someone who will plant a church that will plant churches that will plant churches,” he said.

Gray calls himself a blue collar guy, a significant identity when you learn that a church planter relates most effectively to “the people with whom you related at age 13.” He started a church in a country club area of Greensboro, but it was hard work because connecting with that population did not come naturally.  

Donor churches grow

Addressing one of the fears that established churches have over sending out families to be the core group for a new church, Gray said that on average, a “mother” church’s attendance grows 22 percent over five years after starting a new church.

The sponsoring church is energized by the vision recast by its efforts to plant another.

Gray is a 1978 graduate of Mars Hill College. He graduated in 1984 from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary after attending Asbury Seminary in Kentucky for two years.

He is restarting his DMin process at Southeastern this year.

His wife Esther teaches at the Newcomers School in Greensboro where refugees and immigrants first attend to become oriented to the U.S. and to learn English. She teaches high school math and says, “I’m a missionary and the world has come to me.”

They have two children and five acres on which Gray gardens. He fishes “a little” on the family farm of his in-laws near Thomasville.

Related stories
Gray plants church in his own home
BSC resources help Ignite Greenville church
12/15/2010 2:37:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Gray plants church in his own home

December 15 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Mark Gray doesn’t just lead others to plant churches. He has planted churches himself and is in the middle of planting an “Epoch” church in his own home.

“We’ll never have the money we need to start all the churches we need in North Carolina,” he said.

Epoch churches meet in homes. After a fellowship period participants watch a dramatized chapter of the Bible on DVD and then talk about it.

Conversation is guided by three questions:
  • Light bulb — What light bulbs came on for you tonight? What insights did God give you about Himself and yourself?
  • Question mark — What questions came to your mind that have not occurred before?
  • Arrow — What direction did you gain for your life this week?
Because there are no salaries or building costs, Gray’s Epoch church gives 99 percent of its income to missions.

They’ve seen people saved and have adopted a Burmese group to provide English as a Second Language training.

“Anyone dedicated to God” can start an Epoch church in their home and can receive training.

Gray’s goal is to mentor future Epoch leaders in this “different and new model.”

“We’re a full fledged church but our focus is missionary,” said Gray, who called his home church “One of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.”

Related stories
Mark Gray tries unorthodox recruiting technique
BSC resources help Ignite Greenville church
12/15/2010 2:35:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

BSC resources help Ignite Greenville church

December 15 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

When ministers and brothers Jason and Christopher Lineberger felt God telling them to “start something new,” they waded into a river of resources flowing past their door.

They contacted Phil Frady, director of missions in South Roanoke Baptist Association, which encompasses Greenville, where they felt led to start a church. Frady directed them to Mark Gray and Frank White at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina who began to encourage the brothers and offer step-by-step advice.

The Linebergers jumped into the church planter’s boot camp in March 2009, which they found “extremely helpful.”

Gray and White have been an “invaluable resource in planning, support and providing information” Jason Lineberger said during a telephone interview Dec. 6.

With no people and no money, Jason, Christopher and Alex and Beth Harding came to Greenville, found part time jobs to support their vision and got to work.

The Baptist State Convention provided church planting funds, which were “not a whole lot, but when you don’t have any, it makes a difference,” Jason said.

Contributed photo

Jason Lineberger

They used the funds to advertise monthly meetings and after six months, Ignite Church launched, in January 2010.

Eighty-five people were on board with the vision prior to launch and over 200 showed up at the first service, held in a movie theater that seats 250. Approaching their first anniversary next month, Ignite has seen almost 100 professions of faith and averages 450 attending.

They’ve moved to Hendricks Theater in the East Carolina University student center. It seats 750 and attendance some Sundays tells Lineberger he needs to consider a second service.

Worship style is “very contemporary,” he said. Although he calls it  “nothing too radical” the church offers earplugs. The music is “really loud, passionate and upbeat.”

The words “passion” and “excellence” rain frequently through Lineberger’s speech. He is convinced those qualities resonate to a population saturated with head knowledge about God but turned off to the church.

Lineberger said many people who are far from God have actually been baptized, but they think of the church today as “boring, critical and out of date.” 

“These people are real and passionate about what they believe,” Lineberger said. “We are in a savvy time. Whether on TV or at the mall, they have excellence all around them.”

Consequently, “if sister Sue sings a solo and she can’t hit a note, that sends a message. If God is the God of the universe, we should give our very best.

“We need to be excellent. We need to be presenting Christ and worshipping and loving and everything we do we need to do it as excellently as we can.”

Ignite started with four fulltime staff members. Jason Lineberger is teaching pastor and Christopher and the Hardings direct other ministry areas. Ministries to “kids, worship and music were top notch from the getgo,” he said.

Lineberger is 28 and 60 percent of the church is between 18 and 38.

He said Ignite “has been very blessed” to strike a positive and rapid chord. “There are a ton of people who don’t know Christ, but who are open to religious things, they are open to things of the church,” he said. Could such dramatic growth be possible in an established church in the same area?

“It can be done if a church is willing to refocus on its original mission,” said Lineberger, who was on church staff in Everetts, about 30 miles from Greenville. “New churches have no mission in mind other than reaching their community for Christ.

“What happens to so many is they lose sight of that mission and we begin to major in the minors.”

He quoted Atlanta area pastor Andy Stanley who said as long as there is money in the bank and members love each other many churches “are not panicked about not winning people for Christ.” 

Ignite’s next issue might be where to meet. He is committed to remaining inside the city and if the church decides to buy permanent space, he would love to renovate currently vacant retail space. As a young pastor in a church where everything is new, Lineberger appreciates the local and state Baptist resources. “If those connections had never been made, it would have been a lot harder,” he said.

Related stories

Mark Gray tries unorthodox recruiting technique
Gray plants church in his own home
12/15/2010 2:26:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

‘God’s time for Cuba’: churches multiplying

December 13 2010 by Baptist Press

When Osvier Acosta Ferrero, 72, and Ricardo Tadeo Soria Perez, 58, pedal down dirt roads on their bicycles, they’re not out for exercise. They’re praying for Cubans who need Christ.

These Baptist men sing hymns as they cycle for miles, traveling to rural communities to lead Bible studies. “If someday God sends us to another country, we’ll go,” Osvier says.

“We have the joy of evangelization, always asking God for wisdom, a love for people and the joy of proclaiming His Word.”

BP photo

One worker in Cuba’s spiritual harvest is retired Baptist pastor Victor Gonzalez, right, a 90-year-old widower. Last year Gonzalez made 2,640 home visits — all on foot — to share Christ with rural Cubans.

Their zeal is typical among Christians in Cuba who are seeing one of the most rapid rates of church growth in the world.

How vast is that growth? Cuban Baptist churches numbered 210 in 1960. Over the next 30 years, that total increased to just 238. In the 1990s, a church-planting movement began sweeping the island nation; today, there aren’t enough churches to hold all the believers.

The number of Cuban Baptist traditional churches, missions and house churches exceeds 6,200. Some 5,600 of these congregations worship in houses, garages, yards or on rooftops.

This remarkable growth has created a huge need for more church leaders. To help meet that need, a team of International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries travels periodically to the island to help Cuban Baptists train leaders.

Gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Cooperative Program support this ministry.

“This is God’s time for Cuba,” one of the IMB missionaries says. “Pray God will raise up church leaders for the harvest. Pray a sufficient number of leaders will be trained.”

North Carolina Baptist Men are involved with Cuban Baptists, building a retirement facility for pastors or their widows who have nowhere to go when their active ministry is finished because they could never participate in the government work and retirement program.

An estimated one of every five people in Cuba is involved in music in some way.

When the Holy Spirit sparked the church-planting movement in Cuba, many musicians began accepting Christ. In response, Cuban Baptists and IMB missionaries developed several schools to teach musicians to grow as disciples and to use their skills in leading worship. Today, there are more than 50 of these schools. They train about 1,000 Cuban Baptists each year. Some of these musicians even organize music mission trips across Cuba.

The schools also spurred a renewal of corporate worship, which God is using to draw more people to Christ.

A special addition to that worship is the first Cuban Baptist hymnal — Alabanza Cubana — published in 2005 with the help of several IMB missionaries.

God also is at work among professional musicians. Many are committing their lives to Christ and, in turn, finding creative ways to share their faith with colleagues.

“It’s incredible what God is doing,” says an IMB missionary working with musicians. “There’s no telling where He’s going to go with all of this.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering supplements Cooperative Program giving to support more than 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries as they share the gospel overseas. This year’s offering goal is $175 million. The focus is on celebrating what God has done in recent years, praising Him for allowing Southern Baptists to be a part of His work, while emphasizing that reaching those who remain untouched by the gospel is a doable task, but these will be the hardest people groups to reach — requiring that believers pray, go, partner and give as never before.  To find resources to promote the offering in your church, go to
12/13/2010 9:09:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Children’s Homes dedicates facility

December 13 2010 by J. Blake Ragsdale, BCH Communications

Bitter wind and melting snow did not deter 250 of Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina’s (BCH) friends from gathering Dec. 5 to celebrate the opening of Britton Ministries, a new group home in Ahoskie to serve as many as nine boys and girls who are at risk for abuse or neglect.

The new home is a dream shared by friends in the northeast that dates back to BCH’s origins in 1885, when the first BCH resident in Thomasville came from that area.

BCH photo

BCH President Michael C. Blackwell cuts the ribbon to dedicate Britton Ministries facility in Ahoskie, the final public celebration in BCH’s 125th anniversary observance.

“It may sound cliché, but the building of Britton Ministries has been a labor of love between BCH and North Carolina Baptists in Hertford County and the surrounding area,” said BCH president Michael C. Blackwell. “This home has been on the hearts and in the minds of our supporters and friends for well more than a decade.”

According to Blackwell, BCH has come “full circle” by building Britton Ministries in 2010, the year of BCH’s 125th anniversary. In early 1885, churches comprising the Chowan Baptist Association in Ahoskie, known today as the West Chowan Baptist Association, agreed to give a $1,250 donation towards establishing BCH’s first location in Thomasville. Baptists from the same association gave to found Britton Ministries.

“The church and community support we have received has been unparalleled,” Blackwell said. “It makes a remarkable difference when you have such a strong relationship in place. Going forward, that continued relationship will be very meaningful to the children who will come to call Britton Ministries ‘home.’”

Ahoskie resident Mary Presson became the very first BCH resident on Nov. 11, 1885. John Mitchell, pastor of Ahoskie Baptist Church (now First Baptist), escorted nine-year-old Mary by train to her new home at the Thomasville Baptist Orphanage. 

“It is a God thing that we dedicate Britton Ministries on December 5 the day after Mary Presson’s birthday and the day before the anniversary of her death,” said Mary Anne Britton Croom, whose family donated the property. “I hope the children who come here find hope, love, joy and peace. This is holy land on which we stand.”
12/13/2010 6:03:00 AM by J. Blake Ragsdale, BCH Communications | with 0 comments

Students experience ‘Metanoia’

December 13 2010 by Mars Hill College Communications

Mars Hill photo

Students from Mars Hill College worked at Metanoia Community Development Ministry in North Charleston, S.C., over fall break. Front, from left: Paige Bedard, Rachel Connor, and Jameson Donnell. Back, from left: Annie Sutton, Chandler Hill, Shelby Johnson, Breanna Mason and Hilary Modlin.

North Charleston, S.C., is an area riddled with poverty and crime. Eight students from Mars Hill College used their fall break to make a difference there, painting a house used in ministry by Metanoia, which means “pushing forward” or “creating positive change.”

Metanoia addresses needs through a housing program that helps renters become home owners; an afterschool program that teaches children to be young leaders and entrepreneurs; and financial education for adults designed to help them make responsible decisions for themselves and their families. Mars Hill College Christian Student Movement missions chair Annie Sutton said this is the third year that students from Mars Hill have gone to Metanoia over fall break.

According to Metanoia, the increase in home ownership automatically decreases the crime rate, because home owners “take ownership” of their community, report crimes, and take steps to keep their neighborhood safe. 
12/13/2010 6:00:00 AM by Mars Hill College Communications | with 0 comments

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