In late September, an informal group of nine state Baptist editors was invited to meet with members of a new media network for the International Mission Board. Gathering outside of London, England, the meeting served two chief purposes: to share still-unfolding plans for communicating stories from the field with Southern Baptists, and to provide a vision tour of one of the first five cities in its Global Cities Initiative.
After the International Mission Board announced it was dismantling its Richmond Communications office, Baptist editors raised concerns about dismissing 30 of its stateside, veteran staff members. For more than a year now, some editors have been frustrated by a perceived lack of flow of news and missionary stories, fearing that it might negatively impact Cooperative Program gifts and Lottie Moon offerings in the long run.
At the recent meeting, Eric King, church mobilization leader, Bryson Holtson*, media network leader, and other team members outlined plans to establish a global network of media professionals charged with producing stories, videos and resource materials focused on the IMB’s mobilization and engagement goals. Unfortunately, distribution primarily will be through a newly designed, web-based platform and social media, however, rather than print—unless state papers pick up stories from its website.
Shifting focus to the Global Cities Initiative, Chad Rigney, an IMB worker, told the editors, “London is the most ethnically diverse, and arguably, the most influential city on the planet.” Home to some 270 nationalities who speak more than 300 languages, London is a primary driver for business, finance, music and culture for Europe and the West. “Reach London, and you will reach the world,” he counseled.
Once giving us the King James Version in the people’s English and the hymn “Amazing Grace,” London has grown increasingly apathetic as of late toward Christianity. Anglicans, boasting nearly two-thirds of the population in the 1960s, now represent only 31 percent; and other Christians, comprising 23 percent in the 1960s, now make up less than 7.6 percent. In fact, almost 45 percent of Londoners are not affiliated with any faith. Although numerous church buildings dot the cityscape, many of them sit empty, averaging 20 or fewer in attendance.
Chad, who works with the city’s millennials, stunned the group, asserting that “97 percent of young adults in their 20s had never met a follower of Christ.” How can this be? The vast majority are part of a recent migration. An estimated 37 percent of Londoners herald from outside England, many having arrived in the last five years. They’ve come seeking employment, or they are the very wealthy looking to make investments. Among its 7 million residents are at least 66 of the world’s unreached people groups, including 28 of its unengaged people groups. Walking down its streets, one encounters Algerians, Bangladeshis, Chinese, Indians, Iranians, Jamaicans, Nigerians, Pakistanis, Poles, Russians, Somalis, Sri Lankans, Turks, Vietnamese—not tourists, but residents. Religions, subsequently, are as diverse.
The GCI objective is to send limitless workers to impact a city’s lostness. But, how does one do that with limited finances? One answer is to engage business professionals, students and retirees, i.e., self-support people using their vocational skill sets to fill needs in the job market—engineers, teachers, medical doctors, nurses, bankers, lawyers, etc. While there, they cultivate relationships, assist in starting new ministries among affinity groups, invite acquaintances to Bible studies and, hopefully, be instrumental in starting churches.
Shane Mikeska, a Southern Seminary graduate who works among students in a university community on London’s outskirts, said, “As we look at the city and see its desperate needs, God has opened our eyes to Western Europe and its need of the gospel. We see their apathy, and it breaks our hearts.” He hopes that some of the 50,000 U.S. students who study abroad in England each year as well as groups visiting from Baptist schools will join his team in engaging the city’s numerous campuses.
If it proves effective, we just may be seeing the future of Southern Baptist missions. Trends indicate the vast majority of people will soon inhabit cities. By 2025, there will be more than 600 megacities. English is the world’s leading business language for the moment, but the next three largest language groups include Mandarin Chinese, with 848 million speakers; Spanish, 399 million, and Portuguese, 203 million. London is a pilot project, and what our teams learn there about creating limitless pathways for missions may be the key to engaging other megacities with the gospel.