Boston and Las Vegas.
The two cities represent in many ways two of our nation's extremes, from the old-world cultural and academic center of New England to the open-all-night playground of the West. But for Southern Baptists this year, both cities represent opportunities for expressing the love of Jesus Christ and the hope of the gospel on a larger scale than has ever been attempted.
The two cities will be recipients of large-scale ministry efforts in 2001 through Strategic Focus Cities, Southern Baptists' effort to impact major cities in the United States and Canada with the gospel.
Thousands of people will be given the opportunity to respond to Christ through media efforts and evangelistic initiatives. New churches will be planted to help disciple thousands of new Christians in unchurched areas. Existing churches will be strengthened to equip them for increased effectiveness in the ongoing fulfillment of the Great Commission.
And thousands of volunteers from Southern Baptist churches locally and nationwide have the opportunity to participate in the harvest.
Coordinators for the efforts - ministering under the names "Loving Las Vegas" and "Hearts for Boston" — say they are excited about the possibilities.
"Las Vegas is one of the newest and fastest-growing major cities, less traditional in its customs and history than Boston. And I think that diversity mirrors the challenge we have across North America," said Robert E. Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board.
In Boston, the approach has been to work with existing churches and ministries in determining which methods for outreach will have the best long-term impact, said Ignatius Meimaris, director of missions for the Greater Boston Baptist Association.
"We want to see Hearts for Boston as not an emphasis that culminates in 2001, but rather as an opportunity for us to kick off all types of evangelistic and church-planting processes," he said. "Although in Strategic Focus Cities terms we talk about 2001 as a year of implementation, I am looking at it in terms of the year of initiation."
The citywide events will include ministry to fans along the route of the Boston Marathon, coordinating efforts of churches offering such ministries as parking, water, shelters, and volunteers providing crowd control.
Also, during the month of July, plans call for a continuous presence by Southern Baptist volunteers in Boston Commons, the city's most well known public park. Many of the volunteers will provide entertainment-based evangelism through musical groups or clowns, while others will pass out tourism guides to the city that include information about the gospel of Christ.
Other areas of activity include the full roster of church-based ministry — block parties, backyard Bible clubs, Scripture distribution, survey work, literacy training, food and clothing distribution, and other efforts.
"I think one of the neatest things that's happening in Boston is with our student work," said Bob Moore, NAMB strategy coordinator for the effort. A fulltime campus evangelism missionary is working with local churches to help establish Christian clubs on school campuses. "We're into about fifteen high schools now and growing," he said.
Local leaders also have set a goal of planting twenty churches in the Boston area, a significant increase in the seventy-four Southern Baptist churches already in place. Prestonwood Baptist Church in suburban Dallas and First Baptist Church of Euless, Texas, are key partners in the church-planting efforts.
Hearts for Boston also will use existing networks to help the relatively small number of Southern Baptist churches maximize the impact among the region's 4.2 million people, Meimaris said.
"We want to go through those doors that we have already, so that we will not do something parallel to what God is already doing — but rather work in sync with what God is doing," he said. "At some points we want to help expand that, and in other points start new things."
Individuals or groups interested in praying for or serving as volunteers in the Boston effort should visit the www.boston2000.net Internet site or contact volunteer coordinator Anna Ramirez toll-free at 1-888-839-3331.
"You can be one of our most valuable resources," Ramirez writes on the website, "by organizing a mission trip to participate in one of our many strategic projects in the areas of evangelism, church planting, collegiate ministry, student/youth ministry, ministry evangelism, and church strengthening. Pastors and church leaders are submitting requests for people to lead in block parties, VBS, community outreach and evangelism."
In Las Vegas, NAMB strategy coordinator Ritche Carney said the fastest-growing city in the country "cries out" for the gospel. "This city influences so many countless millions, it's obvious that we need to be here to share our faith and the love of Jesus," he said.
The Loving Las Vegas team plans a similar combination of church-based initiatives as well as multi-church park events, concerts and other ministries. The plan calls for starting new churches that are given the resources to succeed and thrive, including a multi-staff flagship congregation funded jointly by NAMB and First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga.
Another cornerstone of the effort will be a cooperative Vacation Bible School emphasis modeled after a successful effort last year in Phoenix.
"We're going to try to repeat the blessing we saw in Phoenix by partnering with local churches to host Vacation Bible Schools all across the city, with NAMB and LifeWay Christian Services jointly supporting this effort," Carney said.
And while the casinos and tourist industry might be what has made the city famous, Carney said the strategy is directed more toward reaching residents with the gospel. "We'll seek to impact the lives of 1.3 million people with the truth and love Jesus provides and let them carry that message on to countless millions visiting Las Vegas," he said.
Already the effort has seen strong indicators of success, with a "Kickoff Jubilee" training event held this fall in Las Vegas that drew more than 500 participants.
"Experiential events" held in conjunction with the training - including two block parties and a feeding ministry in a city park — allowed participants to minister to 1,700 people and lead 159 individuals to make professions of faith in Christ.
In both cities, the special events and other activities will be accompanied by advertising campaigns aimed at introducing residents to Christ and local church partners of Hearts for Boston and Loving Las Vegas.
One of the most exciting aspects of the Loving Las Vegas strategy to Carney is a two-phase advertising campaign, beginning in the spring with a series of ads based on the theme "Look for a church with a heart."
"We're going to show that our churches love Las Vegas," he said.
The second phase will be more evangelistic in nature, building on the familiarity gained through the earlier campaign and other contacts with Southern Baptists throughout the summer.
"What's unique about this is the aspect that we're going to have a chance to reach thousands of people we wouldn't normally be able to reach," Carney said. "The number of churches in the community is not anywhere near enough to reach this many people, but by doing a mass media campaign we are able to do that. It's going to be mammoth, but we're already mobilizing to do the follow-up."
All of the efforts, he said, are based on the principle that to be successful Southern Baptists must not only be harvesters, but also till the soil and plant the seed through efforts such as ministry evangelism and friendship evangelism.
"Our intention is both to evangelize and to save the fruit," Carney said. "Instead of just having training on how to do a block party, we also have training on follow up."
More information on prayer needs and volunteer opportunities is available at www.lovinglasvegas.com or by contacting volunteer coordinator Glenn Rogers toll-free at 1-877-356-8464. The website includes news updates, specific prayer requests and a calendar of volunteer needs for the year.
"Hundreds of volunteers will be needed to help churches in Las Vegas as they carry jars of water to those waiting by the wells," Rogers states. "Please consider the incredible opportunity God has given you to participate in a monumental ministry experience."