Georgia Baptists developing ongoing partnership with Pittsburgh churches

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Bill Barker, left in light dress shirt, prays with others over the city of Pittsburgh. The gathering came in anticipation of a missions partnership between Georgia Baptists and the Pennsylvania/South Jersey Baptist Convention and Baptist Association of Southwest Pennsylvania. Barker serves as director of the Georgia Baptist Appalachain Mountain Ministry. FRANK NUCKOLLS/Special

PITTSBURGH — Frank Nuckolls has been working with churches around the city of Pittsburgh for nearly 15 years. In that time, he’s developed relationships with pastors and ministry leaders. From that as well as 27 years of experience with Georgia Baptists, he anticipates great opportunities for the ministry partnership currently taking hold between the two groups.

John “Free” Freeman, center, talks about his work at H2O Church, a collegiate church plant near the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. FRANK NUCKOLLS/Special

“We’re looking for Georgia Baptists to partner with Pittsburgh-area churches through three-to-five-year ‘connections,’” said Nuckolls, who serves in Associational Missions and Convention Planning. In anticipation of that, he added, a group of Georgia Baptist leaders traveled to Pittsburgh last month to meet with local pastors.

Georgia Baptists can begin those partnerships as early as this summer. However, Nuckolls emphasized the goal of building longer-term partnerships.

Those efforts, he said, will foster missional accountability in helping Pittsburgh churches build a connection with their community. “The result of this connection can be stronger churches, both in Pittsburgh and Georgia, as well as reducing lostness,” he pointed out.

“The Pittsburgh Initiative” will happen through connecting with churches in the Baptist Association of Southwest Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania/South Jersey Baptist Convention (Baptist Resource Network). Last year The Brookings Institution labeled Pittsburgh as on pace to become a top global city. Once known for its steel plants, Pittsburgh now draws attention for its technology base and institutions for such workers. In fact, some 40 college and universities in the area bring students from around the world.

That points to not only an opportunity, but responsibility to help strengthen churches. In listening to local pastors, Nuckolls feels the need is urgent and time to respond is now.

“Our Mission Discovery Team is meeting May 24 at 11 a.m. at Flat Creek Baptist in Fayetteville to discuss follow-through plans from what we’ve learned,” he said.

Priorities in partnership

A report on the April 23-27 trip describes Pittsburgh as considered to be the most religious city in Appalachia, yet only five percent evangelical. Furthermore, the Baptist Association of Southwest Pennsylvania stated most churches as being ministered by bivocational pastors and averaging 50 or less in attendance.

Charleroi Baptist Church in Charleroi, outside Pittsburgh, is one of the rural churches with which Georgia Baptists can partner for a long-term missions connection. FRANK NUCKOLLS/Special

With Pittsburgh located at the northern end of Appalachia, the partnership would coincide with Georgia Baptist work in that region led by Bill Barker. Three years ago Barry Whitworth, executive director of the Pennsylvania/South Jersey Baptist Convention, approached Barker and Nuckolls to talk about the prospects of such a connection.

“Since then we’ve taken two vision trips to the area,” said Nuckolls in a phone call to The Index while in Pittsburgh. “Already, Houston Association and other churches have developed connections here. Already, we’ve had two students from Brewton-Parker College move here after graduation and start working at a church plant.”

Three priorities exist for the church-to-church partnerships:

  • Missional engagement
  • Intentional discipleship
  • Leadership development

“A team helping facilitate block party or providing minor repair work to buildings would be a part of missional engagement,” explained Nuckolls.

Partnerships wouldn’t be limited to the city of Pittsburgh itself, but extend into nearby rural areas, he added. Nuckolls and the team of Georgia Baptists visited 28 churches on the most recent trip.

“There are a lot of needs,” he admitted. “Groups can expect to take part in activities like prayer-walking, surveying the community, talking to people, and finding out how the church can minister to their needs.

“Pastors here are longing for relationships not only with other pastors locally, but those from Georgia.”

For more information contact Georgia Baptist Mission Board Associational Missions.

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