HIS planning continues up Heartland corridor

Lee Warren/contributing writer

OMAHA, Neb. – The Heartland Interstate Strategy (HIS) task force met at the Eastern Nebraska Baptist Association building, Dec. 17, to discuss choosing a director, how the task force will determine success moving forward and when to hold a vision tour.

As the task force met along the I-29 corridor throughout 2013, the focus changed from the theoretical (determining the hub cities, and then prospective areas in those cities to actually plant churches) to specifics (developing hub city profiles to assist prospective church planters, determining funding sources, deciding who to select as a director).

Specifics were certainly the order of the day at this particular meeting.

“I think we’ve made good progress,” MBC church planting strategist and vice chair Kurt Simon told The Pathway after the meeting. “On one hand it’s kind of scary because you see the immensity of the task, which makes us wonder how we’ll accomplish this, but we have to go back to the fact that God is orchestrating this and we just have to walk with him and see where he takes it.”

“We’re getting pretty close to where the rubber hits the road, toward implementation,” said HIS chair Mark Elliott after the meeting. “We’re moving from theory to closer to practice. Having local church planters at the last several meetings has been good. They’ve come in and shared a little bit about their pilgrimage, and that builds momentum and encouragement toward what is happening along the I-29 corridor and also what still needs to happen.”

HIS is prayerfully seeking to plant churches up and down the I-29 corridor from Kansas City to Winnipeg. At the meeting, the task force defined a church plant as one that includes the following seven characteristics: evangelistic, intentional/proactive, transformational, accountable, multiplying, aligned, and relational.

“I want to be able to say to our church planters who are coming in, ‘We’re not hiring you, supporting you and paying you to start a church. We’re doing these things in order for you to operate in evangelism that results in a church,’” said David Sundeen during the meeting. He is a former evangelism and stewardship catalyst for the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention who recently accepted a position as the director of online education at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“We don’t want them stealing from other people’s flocks,” he continued. “We want them doing the outreach.”

The task force discussed this notion of planting “multiplying churches” at length, setting a four-year goal to help facilitate the planting of such churches in each of the seven hub cities: Winnipeg, Manitoba; Grand Forks, ND; Fargo/Moorhead; Sioux Falls, SD; Sioux City, Iowa; Omaha/Council Bluffs; and the St. Joseph area (including northeast Kansas).

Bob Mills, executive director of the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists, led a discussion about funding support and structure issues as it relates to the convention and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) support for the HIS coordinator.

He floated the idea of having two coordinators – one for the northern region of the corridor and the other for the southern region. But the task force was unanimous in asking the conventions to consider supporting a single coordinator to fulfill the role. Ellis agreed to take the request back to the executives for further discussion.

Baptist Press previously reported that a historic shift had taken place in the funding relationship between NAMB and state conventions throughout the South Region, making $1 million available to HIS over the next four years to help plant churches along the corridor. The funding doesn’t provide for a coordinator.

As such, the task force discussed the following commitments for the coordinator position: the Missouri Executive Board approved $25-30,000, the Minnesota Wisconsin Baptist Convention committed up to $5,000 and Steve Patterson from the Spring River Baptist Association committed to $2,000. This list is not necessarily comprehensive or complete.

Near the end of the meeting, HIS discussed the possibility of a spring vision tour, but decided instead for a tour on the week of Aug. 18. The tour will be staged from Omaha with stops in Sioux City and Sioux Falls before returning to Omaha. The task force will coordinate the promotion of the hub city of St. Joseph while in Omaha and of the Dakotas while in Sioux Falls. The task force plans to invite those who want to participate from Winnipeg in any of the stops that will be most convenient for them.

“I think this represents a great opportunity for Missouri Baptist churches,” said Simon, speaking about the overall work of planting churches along the corridor in places where Southern Baptist presence is sparse. “A lot of times, we do really well at local missions, and we do really well at foreign missions, but we don’t always consider how we are impacting the United States.

“What are we doing for the people who are pretty close to who we are? Their worldview is just a little different. This represents a perfect opportunity for Missouri Baptists to drive four or five hours to be on mission in places that really need the gospel – in places that are dark and in places that are hurting – to make an impact for the kingdom.”

HIS plans to reconvene in Kansas City on Feb. 25.