The Bible Belt does not buckle in Illinois. Many of my neighbors don't even own a Bible. Most have never been to a Southern Baptist church and don't know anything about potluck socials, Lottie Moon, or the Cooperative Program ("Is that kind of like a Christmas program?").
But I know this — my neighbors in Illinois need the forgiveness of sins and the love of Jesus just as much as lost people anywhere do. And I know God can use me to help them hear the Good News.
In the last few weeks, I have shared the Good News with people from all kinds of backgrounds. I shared with a Mormon family who had tried in vain to earn salvation through baptism and good works. They discovered the truth of God's Word and trusted Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of the only true God, as Savior. I led a young immigrant from Poland to discover a personal relationship with Christ that was more than empty religious rituals.
A family from a liberal Protestant background came to know that the Bible is trustworthy and true, and they gave their hearts to the Savior described in its pages. A young lady who had never owned a Bible found a meaning in life she did not know existed. She now devours the pages of her copy of God's Word with a deep spiritual hunger and a new joy born of a new faith.
Our SBC church in Illinois now baptizes more than a hundred people like this every year. Over sixteen hundred people worship in our church each week. We have discovered that God can use us to reach people far from the center of the Bible Belt.
The country beyond the Bible Belt can be difficult for Southern Baptists. Churches for transplanted Southerners seldom make much impact on the surrounding culture. The culture of the northern world often has less connection to church life and less appreciation of biblical truth. But don't believe for a minute that the Good News doesn't work here. God's Word is living and effective (Hebrews 4:12) whether preached in the North or the South. The gospel is still God's power for salvation (Romans 1:16) whether shared in Illinois or Alabama.
The Lord has raised up Southern Baptists to be a national convention. This isn't a new thing. Illinois Baptists, looking for a Bible-believing denomination, joined the Convention in 1906. My father and my grandfather were saved in a revival meeting in a Southern Baptist Church in Illinois way back in the 1930s. We now have SBC congregations in every state and province throughout the United States and Canada. We worship in every tongue, come from every race, and live in every region.
I am grateful that God continues to work in SBC congregations in Atlanta and Nashville and Dallas. But aren't you glad the Good News still changes lives in St. Louis and Cleveland and Seattle? Aren't you glad to know that the Good News is being proclaimed in places where people don't own Bibles and haven't yet discovered the joy of grits for breakfast?
God is big enough to changes lives — wherever those lives may be lived. Our joy and privilege is to share the Good News with people and watch the Holy Spirit convict and convince. And let's ask God to continue to grow churches and reach people far from the buckle of that Bible Belt — even if they've never eaten a sweet potato pie!
Doug Munton is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in O'Fallon, Illinois.