By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BRENTWOOD — After a full year under its belt, the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s 1-5-1 Harvest Plants initiative is showing positive results.
“1-5-1 is meeting and exceeding our expectations,” said Bobby Welch, associate executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
Welch and other TBC staff members came up with the concept which encourages churches to establish small groups and/or new churches.
The concept was piloted in 2013 and introduced to messengers during The Summit held that year in Chattanooga. It officially launched in 2014.
Welch noted that the idea for 1-5-1 was birthed from a survey he conducted after he joined the TBC staff. The survey asked, “Are you/your church willing to start an off-campus evangelistic group meeting?”
Most everyone responded “yes” and many of them have actually followed up with small groups, Welch said.
1-5-1 proved to be the “strategy” phase of what Welch called the “dynamic trio” which was launched to counter the decline in baptisms across the state.
The trio included the GPS (God’s Plan for Sharing) and More Life evangelistic emphases.
“That trio, in varied formats, is continuing even now to be very successful when applied together,” Welch observed.
He added that 1-5-1 was “the critical component as the launch was made to start climbing out of the deep hole we had found ourselves in” so a turnaround could be experienced in winning and discipling the lost and beginning new churches.
Harvest Plants are off-campus efforts (outside the four walls of the church) geared toward people who don’t know Christ as their Savior for the purpose of sharing the gospel, discipling people, and starting churches.
Churches that embrace this strategy made a commitment to start no less than 1 plant in the next year, making an effort, with the Lord’s help to reach, win, and baptize 5 people through each plant, with the goal for each plant to start 1 plant by the end of the first year.
After the first year of 1-5-1 Harvest Plants, Welch is confident the convention’s churches are heading in the right direction.
A survey was conducted from August through November of last year of churches that had indicated an interest in 1-5-1.
Of the 367 churches surveyed, 207 churches reported starting a new plant of some kind.
Churches reported 118 church plants, 458 new groups, and 207 new branches.
The good news, Welch said, is that the new starts reported 1,184 total baptisms last year.
And though churches are still reporting Annual Church Profile data for last year, he is confident that baptisms will increase for the second consecutive year.
He said research has shown that 1-5-1 has had and is continuing to have a large role “in bringing our TBC churches upward and outward of our critical declines.”
In addition to baptisms, 1-5-1 has helped increase the number of new churches in the convention.
Over the last 10 years the convention averaged about 35 new church plants a year, Welch said.
Last year the TBC added 159 church plants. While not all of those were a direct result of 1-5-1, at least 118 could be attributed to the strategy, Welch said.
“That’s a pretty drastic turnaround,” he said.
“What God is using around the world in church multiplication movements we are now seeing in Tennessee,” observed Randy C. Davis, executive director/treasurer of the TBC.
“Vast numbers of people globally are coming to Christ because small groups of believers are getting beyond the walls of the church and starting the kind of groups that characterize 1-5-1,” he added.
Welch acknowledged that while other factors may also have contributed to the upturn in baptisms and church starts, 1-5-1 has had “a direct impact.”
Welch is convinced that 1-5-1 will have an even larger impact in the future as it relates to the 5 Objectives that were approved by messengers during The Summit held last November at Brentwood Baptist Church.
The 5 Objectives are:
(1) Seeing at least 50,000 Tennesseans annually saved, baptized, and set on the road to discipleship by 2024;
(2) Having at least 500 Tennessee Baptist churches revitalized by 2024;
(3) Planting and strategically engaging at least 1,000 new churches by 2024;
(4) Realizing an increase in local church giving through the Cooperative Program that reaches at least 10 percent by 2024; and
(5) Realizing an increase in annual giving for the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions that reaches at least $3 million by 2024.
“The 1-5-1 process forms the foundation for these 5 Objectives,” Welch said. Furthermore, he added, 1-5-1 will be instrumental in helping accomplish each of the objectives.
Welch is refreshingly candid.
He is the first to admit that there are many other approaches and that no church has to embrace 1-5-1 to succeed.
“By all means, if your church already has a successful process, stay with it.
“But for those who are looking for a fresh, innovative, new approach, 1-5-1 can’t be beat,” Welch maintained.
Steve Holt, TBC church services director, agreed. “There are many strategies and plans for helping church members get outside the walls of their church and engage lost people with the gospel and many of our churches have been successful in reaching the lost in their communities without using the 1-5-1 Harvest Plant Strategy. “
Holt stressed, however, that “it is my strong conviction that any size church could implement the concepts of 1-5-1 in their community and experience evangelistic success.
“Because of the generous Cooperative Program and Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions giving from our churches, we have been able to make the training and resources available to TBC churches without charge.
“That fact makes 1-5-1 Harvest Plant Strategy even more accessible to the churches in the TBC network,” Holt said.
Welch and Holt expressed gratitude for what is occurring across the state.
“Praise God that TBC churches are now in an upward move in all these areas, and we have every reason to believe that in 2015 and beyond we can see even more of the same,” Welch said.
“We are hopeful that as the people of the Tennessee Baptist family of churches continue to sense an overwhelming burden over the spiritual lostness of our culture and particularly our friends, family, classmates, and neighbors, they will be even more willing to reach out to lost people where they live, work, and play,” Holt noted.