WICKER PARK — Scott Venable is a pastor and a church "planter" who has built a 120-member congregation in Wicker Park over the past two years.
On a recent fall afternoon, he briefed a busload of trustees from the North American Mission Board on how he had been able to do it. The trustees, in Chicago for their annual convention, were touring some of the communities where they provided funding for church startups.
The Mosaic Church pastor then filled the visitors in, about how decisions were made in Chicago.
"Alderman are like mini-mayors. Ours is a famous one. He tried to block Chick-fil-A," Venable said, referring to Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), drawing chuckles from his visitors.
The Mission Board is an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention and contributes to 37 newly "planted" churches in Illinois. At an annual board meeting in Chicago, it approved $1 million in funding to aid evangelists such as Venable, who is minister to "unreached people groups" by starting new churches.
Two years ago, Venable came to Wicker Park from Dallas, Texas along with his wife, Ashley. They quickly embedded themselves in the community hoping to engage local believers. Today their Mosaic church has nearly 120 members representing six different nationalities, but about 70 percent of the Mosaic community is African-American. The church also provides a Friday night program for young people in the Wicker Park field house.
Venable began receiving a monthly stipend from the mission board last year, to rent space in the field house, as well as space in the Flat Iron Arts Building, where a core group of congregation members worship on Sunday mornings in a studio usually occupied by a theater troupe. Recently, Venable used a portion of his stipend to purchase a motorized wheelchair for a congregant.
During the mission board's tour, Venable gave trustees background on the relationships he's forged within the community over the past few years, particularly with the Wicker Park Advisory Council, a community group that organizes park programs such as Movies in the Park and a Boopalooza Halloween fest.
After the tour, Venable told DNAinfo Chicago that while the Southern Baptist convention helped to fund his church, it didn't necessarily mean his church's mission was in total alignment with the SBC.
'We are a non-denominational church and don't like labels. It puts us in a box. Churches are more known for what they stand against than what they're for, so we wanted to say let's start over and start something free of those labels," he said.
Rick Camp, pastor of a church in Florence, Alabama and a former church "planter" was also on the tour.
"A church plant is just a term for a new church. Our hope and goal is to see [Mosaic] sustain themselves. Scott is doing a fantastic job in reaching people and making an impact in the community. He is making a dynamic presence felt. He's going in there and saying we're here to serve," Camp said.
Wicker Park Advisory Council secretary Doug Wood, in a telephone interview, praised Venable for his church's work in the community. "[Mosaic] helps with all sorts of things. They do a great job. They installed 1,600 feet of fences to protect trees, garden and assets from people who attended the [Green Music] beer fest. They have a great attitude. Since the day that they came to Wicker Park we were involved with them."