State conventions expand their Kingdom work
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of two stories today recapping state Baptist convention actions and initiatives during this fall's annual meetings.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- "It's a real movement of God to see the focus on reaching unengaged unreached people groups [UUPGs] and churches stepping up to the plate taking on that challenge and church planting in their areas," Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright said as he reflected on the priorities evident during this fall's state Baptist convention meetings.
Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., joined with International Mission Board President Tom Elliff to issue a challenge at the annual SBC meeting this past June for Southern Baptist churches to commit to "embrace" 3,800 UUPGs by next year's annual meeting in New Orleans. To date, Wright said, more than 900 churches have embraced a UUPG.
Dakota and Colorado Baptists were among state conventions appealing to their churches to accept the IMB challenge to embrace a UUPG, as well as the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention which announced a goal of 1,000 Texas churches embracing a UUPG as well as giving $1 million from reserves to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
State convention leadership in Florida was asked to work cooperatively with the IMB to enlist churches' involvement with UUPGs through the "Embrace" initiative. Florida Baptists also approved "Revision Florida," appealing for renewal in their walk with Christ, refocus on the Great Commission and "release of resources in a greater way to further the Kingdom."
Many state conventions saw a resurgence of focus on prayer and evangelism. Louisiana Baptists began their meeting with a solemn assembly and Arizona Baptists planned a sacred assembly for January and endorsed a "fresh examination of our church planting, church strengthening, and evangelism processes to promote success and stronger accountability for every dollar invested." New York Baptists began a 40-day season of prayer following their annual meeting.
In Alabama, a responsibility to share the Gospel with all who are lost was emphasized by resolutions committee chairman Rob Jackson of Decatur, clarifying the responsibility to "share Jesus Christ with everyone, whether the person is in Alabama legally or [not]."
California Baptists emphasized "making disciples of every ethné," recognizing 72 church starters representing 15 ethnic/culture groups in the state. With the addition of three new churches, Hawaii Pacific Baptists now reach a diverse ethnic population worshiping in 14 languages, including congregations in Hawaii, Guam, Saipan, American Samoa, (Western) Samoa as well as Okinawa, Japan, and Seoul, Korea.
The increased focus on church planting and missions led many state conventions to restructure in order to shift more resources toward those priorities in a time of ongoing economic downturn. Georgia Baptists heard a report of budget downsizing to bring expenses in line with income levels, a move which returns the state convention to a level below what was funded in 1999.
For the sixth consecutive year, North Carolina Baptists increased their financial support of church planting and missions priorities. Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia added $300,000 to their budget for multiplying churches, bringing to 18 percent the total amount SBCV invests for mission work in the state.
A plan by Michigan's Future Focus Team received support to restructure the convention for greater effectiveness in reaching the unreached in their communities. "The missions celebration is what we are all about," Executive Director Bobby Gilstrap declared. "There is no greater calling than what God has commissioned us to do."
Each Montana Baptist church was encouraged to grow by 10 percent and start at least one new church by 2020, recognizing that 83 percent of the congregations are plateaued or in serious decline. Ohio Baptists continue to pursue a challenge of reaching 1 million people in 2,020 congregations by the end of 2020.
Dakota Baptists also challenged the convention staff to equip local churches to join church planting efforts throughout the two-state region while Ohio Baptists affirmed the local church as the most effective way of completing the Great Commission.
Missions and evangelism were given primary attention in most every state convention, with some such as Alaska and New Mexico devoting time for a pre-convention missions rally.
Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN and a Baptist Press correspondent.