They call Chicago "the windy city," a moniker drawn from the constant breezes blasting off Lake Michigan. But this year Southern Baptists and other evangelicals are praying a fresh breeze of Spirit-led revival will make its presence known with just as much intensity.
Chicago is one of two cities receiving special attention from Southern Baptists nationally this year through a North American Mission Board-coordinated effort known as Strategic Focus Cities. Beginning this year in Chicago and Phoenix, the mission is to impact two major cities each year with the gospel of Jesus Christ as never before.
Activities are planned throughout the year in the four Southern Baptist associations and 276 churches that make up what locals refer to as Chicagoland - training conferences, block parties, prayer journey, revival meetings, area wide-crusades, even two evangelistic circuses planned for two locations in June. And to help new Christians grow in their faith and serve effectively, new churches of all varieties are being started.
But the central focus for the effort is the one-day evangelistic blitz planned for July 8 known as SearchLight.
Through SearchLight, tens of thousands of evangelical Christians will draw together to "search out" those in need of the gospel and share with them the light of Jesus Christ - in homes, public areas, and through a variety of events on the shore of Lake Michigan in downtown Chicago's Grant Park.
"We have to take on the responsibility for which God has called us," said SearchLight director Tom Kleinfeldt. He noted the parable in Luke 15:8-10, where Christ teaches that in the same way a woman will rejoice after finding one lost coin out of ten, "there is joy in the presence of God's angels when even one sinner repents."
"The lost coin is not going to become unlost by itself," Kleinfeldt said. "Somebody has to reach out and find it. So we feel like our call is to go looking for people who don't know Jesus, and then when we find them we share the light."
One key aspect of SearchLight is the distribution of The Book of Hope, a small evangelistic book with Scripture portions that presents the hope of the gospel through a question-and-answer format.
"We'll use them door-to-door, at Taste of Chicago [an event being held the same day in Grant Park] and at block parties," said Kleinfeldt, who serves on the staff of the Chicago Metropolitan Baptist Association.
The booklet also has helped broaden the base for SearchLight to the broader evangelical community.
"The participation level within the evangelical church is starting to grow about as fast as we can handle," he said.
Local church efforts will be focused on the primary themes of the "Lighthouses of Prayer" movement that is also a part of the emphasis: praying for people, caring for people and ultimately sharing the gospel. While all three are present in most of the efforts, the theme illustrates the varied aspects of effective evangelism.
One group of about sixty North American Mission Board employees will spend much of their time the week before SearchLight working through the Chicago Grace Place, a new Southern Baptist ministry center being funded by Strategic Focus Cities in a high-density area of the city. "They will doing everything from food, to medical ministry, to games and sports ministry," Kleinfeldt said.
The event in Grant Park will involve daylong entertainment - including a gospel music festival - as well as volunteers who will walk throughout the park sharing Christ. The "Taste of Chicago" event is expected to bring thousands to the area.
In the evening, volunteers participating from across the city will converge on the park for an evening celebration.
"It would just be prayer, celebration and testimonies of what people have experienced," said Bill Seitz, special projects implementer for the association. "There might be a chance to do some more witnessing," he added, noting that other plans are still being developed.
For information on involvement in SearchLight and other opportunities related to Strategic Focus Cities effort in Chicago, visit the www.chicago2000.net Internet site or call 1-800-645-2412.