CHICAGO – Named one of only 10 Alpha Global Cities in the world by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network (GaWC), Chicago and its surrounding suburbs are home to 9.3 million people.
Two-thirds of those, or 6 million people, live in Cook and DuPage counties which make up the Chicago Metro Baptist Association’s (CMBA) mission field.
For perspective, according to the 2010 census, the entire state of Missouri counted 5,988,927 people, showing Missouri’s population as slightly less than the Chicago metro area. In another startling comparison, the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) includes almost 2,000 churches throughout the state. The Chicago Metro Baptist Association, with essentially equal population, has 211.
“Chicago is one of many large cities that is vastly unreached,” said Robert Goette, executive church planting coordinator for the CMBA. “We need people to come here and be intentional in their outreach. Whether we like it or not, our nation’s cities are microcosms of the entire world. Even the city’s suburbs are not concentrated with people from this or that ethnic background. It’s more like putting cultures in salt and pepper shakers and then scattering them throughout Chicagoland.”
He compared the difficulties of reaching Chicago to a familiar situation all people face from time to time.
“Too much of the time we look at huge cities like Chicago like we are driving down the street trying to find a restaurant to eat at,” Goette said. “There is a Mexican restaurant and burger joint but then you see something unique like an Indian or Thai restaurant and you think to yourself, ‘What’s that?’ But, too many questions and uncertainties there, so you just drive by. We know it’s different and we are not denying that it intrigues us but that’s about it. You go somewhere more familiar, more comfortable. That’s how Chicago and cities like it have been bypassed by the vast majority all these years.”
But not anymore. Missouri Baptists turned their heads toward Chicago in 2010 after a partnership was formed between Northern Illinois and the MBC. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and North American Mission Board (NAMB) have also set their sights on Chicago and have set goals to be part of thousands of new church plants in the coming years.
“You could accomplish all of Acts 1:8 in one neighborhood in Chicago,” said Rick Hedger, partnership missions specialist for the MBC. “We need Missouri Baptists to pray asking is this some place God is wanting to send you? In Southern Illinois they have an average of one church for every 500 people, which is a lot. But, in Northern Illinois and Chicago there is one church for every 29-35,000 people. They need help.”
Chicago’s Alpha City status is not based on population alone. The GaWC defines an Alpha City as a city that has a direct and tangible effect on global affairs in areas such as economics, trade, culture, politics, medicine, art, education and entertainment. In essence, reaching Chicago for Christ impacts the world for Christ.
“Because Chicago has such a direct connection to the world, our greatest prayer is that the Gospel will ‘piggyback’ through these conduits from Chicago back to countries and people groups around the world,” Goette said. “We do impact the world from Chicago. My prayer is that someday soon it will be with the Gospel of Christ.”
KAYLA RINKER/contributing writer