KANSAS CITY — Interstate 29/49 is now a symbol of cooperative church planting among Southern Baptists in the Heartland following a Nov. 16 collaboration meeting here at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS).
Interstate 29 runs north from Kansas City, Mo., to Winnipeg, Manitoba. The idea is to push upward into Iowa and all the way to Canada, then outward into areas of the upper Midwest where there is little or no Southern Baptist or evangelical presence. There was some discussion among highway officials that would have taken the I-29 designation from Carthage to Winnipeg. December, 2012, Missouri Dept. of Transportation officials are introducing I-49 signage to US 71 from Carthage to Kansas City. Eventually, I-49 is slated to run all the way to New Orleans.
About 35 leaders from five state conventions—with Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Executive Director John Yeats spurring strategy development—met at the Koehn & Myers Center for World Evangelism.
Leo Endel, executive director for the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention, cast the vision. Yeats and his counterparts from Kansas-Nebraska, Iowa, and the Dakotas all spoke to what Endel called “the embryonic idea” of the corridor. Besides the five state convention execs, participants included directors of missions, state staff members, pastors, and seminary officials. Half of the eight MBC team leaders sat at one of the four roundtables where strategy was discussed.
One of the more seasoned leaders from Midwestern Seminary, Rodney Harrison, explained why the I-29/I-49 Corridor plan is needed. Harrison, vice president for institutional effectiveness, dean of online education, director of doctoral studies, and associate professor of Christian education at MBTS, has served at the seminary nine years, including seven on the VP level.
“We need to reinvest in the Heartland churches,” he said. “This is a worthy endeavor. Let’s not neglect the Heartland.”
Endel talked about the opportunity.
“There is openness in our world right now—in Minnesota-Wisconsin, in Iowa, and the Dakotas—to some group that would proclaim the gospel in clear ways so that people could be able to respond to it,” he said. “That’s our challenge to you, to consider the possibility.”
Yeats, who also serves as recording secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), is ready to deploy an MBC church planting assessment and training process that has a 90 percent survival rate with new works. He also thinks the Heartland Highway idea that includes I-49 has potential for some southern partners to engage in this process.
“We want to partner with our partners for Heartland mobilization of volunteers for special events and special projects,” he said.
The next step in the process is to appoint a task force. In the weeks to come, the state execs will be examining ways to accomplish that. Connecting with local church pastors and laymen is a priority.
“If it’s going to go someplace it’s going to have to take place in the hearts of our pastors,” Endel said.
The meeting ended with words of encouragement and a prayer from Steve Davis, vice president, South Region, North American Mission Board (NAMB), who said that God is bringing all of the pieces together at just the right time along the I-29 spine of the Midwest, which is the aorta of the Heartland.
“Think and plan and work from each of your strengths as full partners in the process,” Davis said. “Some of you may not be able to bring as many people resources or financial resources and those kinds of things to the table, but each of you has some key strengths in your conventions and in your associations.”