When Hurricane Sandy churned up devastation in the Northeast last week, fresh Southern Baptist church plants—part of a new urban emphasis the Convention rolled out this summer—mobilized to help.
"I keep thinking, 'What if we weren't here?'" said Sterling Edwards, who planted a Southern Baptist church in Long Island six years ago, and a second about eight months ago. "What if we weren't mobilized and not able to reach out? Because we're seeing impact."
Edwards has opened up both his churches for disaster relief, offering showers, food storage, and a place to sleep for a team of about 50 disaster relief workers.
"One of the major obstacles for church planters [in New York] is that we live in a community with no perceivable, tangible need," he said. "So when a storm like Sandy comes along, it reveals the vulnerability of our community and in that sense, there is opportunity for us to be able to truly minister to people."
While the material need isn't always there, the spiritual need on Long Island is great, he said.
Indeed, the northeast is now the most un-churched part of the country, according to a 2008 American Religious Identification Survey. About 22 percent of adults in the northeast self-identified their religion as "none" in 2008, up from 8 percent in 1990.
"In Mississippi, there are about 65 people per square mile, and one evangelical church for every 750 people," said Aaron Coe, vice president for mobilization at the SBC's North American Mission Board (NAMB). "In New Jersey, there are 1,100 people per square mile, and one church for every 7,500 people."
That need hasn't gone unnoticed ...