By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
SILVER SPRING, Md.—It’s a staggering statistic. According to missiologist Curt Watke, 93 percent of the people who inhabit the lower part of Maryland’s Montgomery County do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
And that really burdens the heart of Ron Blankenship, the director of missions/church planting catalyst for the Montgomery Baptist Association (MBA), which represents “churches on mission in fellowship for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ” in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
Even before he became director of missions at the association’s Gaithersburg, Md., office, Blankenship believes God communicated a vision to him. His message: “I have set before you an open door, and no one will shut it.” He believes Embrace Silver Spring is one of those open doors.
Like other city-reaching efforts, Embrace Silver Spring seeks to combine cooperative efforts from churches throughout the county, state and nation to impact the area with the life-saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
The association’s priorities are to start new churches (new church work), strengthen existing churches, cooperate with churches in their extended ministries (cooperative ministries), and encourage ministers, other church staff and lay leaders (encouraging leaders).
“Every time I’ve walked through an open door, God has blessed that vision,” Blankenship said. “[God] told me also that Montgomery County was the door to Maryland, and Maryland was the door to the Northeast.”
Most of the churches in Montgomery Baptist Association are uniquely situated on the northern apex of Washington, D.C., which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is the fourth most populous place in Maryland, after Baltimore, Columbia and Germantown. (Other MBA churches come from as far as Virginia and Washington, D.C.)
The oldest part of Silver Spring is a major business hub that borders the nation’s capital. In addition to government facilities, the area is home to the world headquarters of Discovery Communications, the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center and the headquarters of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
The downtown community has undergone a significant renaissance, with the addition of major retail, residential and office developments, and has been dubbed “Downtown Silver Spring,” self-described as vibrant, laid-back and eclectic with a mix of dining, shopping and entertainment.
Beyond Silver Spring proper, which alone boasts 71,452 people (as of the 2010 census), residents of the huge stretch of towns throughout Montgomery County have Silver Spring mailing addresses.
This entire area extends roughly from the Washington, D.C., Prince George’s County, Md., and Howard County, Md., lines to the south, east and north, and Rock Creek Park and Plyers Mill Road to the west and northwest. These boundaries make Silver Spring larger in area than any city in Maryland except for Baltimore.
Focusing on diversity, the 2010 Census reported the racial makeup of Montgomery County as 45.7 percent White, 27.8 percent African American, 0.6 percent Native American, 7.9 percent Asian, 0.1 percent Pacific Islander, 13.2 percent from other races, and 4.8 percent from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino people of any race consist of 26.3 percent of the population.
Indeed, there are more language people groups in Silver Spring than perhaps any other city of its size in America, shared Blankenship. As it turns out, the greater Silver Spring region is comprised of the most ethnically diverse zip codes in the United States, he said.
Among the many ethnic groups in the area is the Korean population. Blankenship noted over 700 Korean churches have originated from the Korean Baptist Church of Washington, D.C., which was started in 1956.
In fact, the Korean Baptist Church of Washington is “the mother of all Korean churches in America. Every time I say that, I get a chill,” Blankenship said.
“When you look at that concept of reproduction and church multiplication, that is the model,” he said. “If somebody hadn’t had the vision to start this church, there wouldn’t have been 700 churches started.”
He added, “God never blesses anything we hold to ourselves.”
Blankenship also shared about the challenges churches face in the area. “Because of the crowded urban environment, churches are having great difficulty in finding places to meet. However, we are seeing a wave of God’s movement. We’re seeing a groundswell of open doors,” he said.
Blankenship, Michael Mattar, missionary to language churches in Montgomery Baptist Association and the founding pastor of Hope Fellowship Church in Sterling, Va., and the entire Embrace Silver Spring team are excited about the growing momentum.
Four existing churches, nine church plants and five multi-site churches either joined or began the watchcare process in the Montgomery Baptist Association in 2011. This year already, eight or nine potential church plants and existing churches have contacted the association.
“We envision church planters and church groups coming into this area sharing the Gospel. We can see concerts in the open air so that people can hear the Gospel. We are wanting to motivate existing churches to share the Gospel throughout this whole region through servant evangelism,” Blankenship said.
“We invite you to walk through this amazing open door with us,” he said.
To join in the effort, contact the Montgomery Baptist Association at (301) 740-7144 or online at www.montgomeryba.com/contact.