By Randy C. Davis
TBC Executive Director
There are churches everywhere in Nashville.
Let’s take a ride. For instance, nine large churches sit adjacent to Franklin Road in a two-mile stretch if you drive north from Old Hickory in Brentwood. If you drive south another two or three miles through Brentwood you can add another five large churches, bringing the total to 13 just in that one short stretch. Travel that distance east to west and you can add probably a dozen more. Expand the circle to the greater Nashville area and word is there is easily more than 1,000 churches. It begs the question: Do we really need any more churches?
The short and emphatic answer is … yes!
In my previous two columns I began sharing the Five Objectives that are shaping your TBC Executive Board ministries. Our board of directors affirmed these at our spring board meeting and I’ll bring them to The Summit in November for messengers to our annual state convention to affirm. The first two objectives are, “Seeing at least 50,000 Tennesseans annually saved, baptized, and set on the road to discipleship by 2024,” and, “Having at least 500 Tennessee Baptist churches revitalized by 2024.” The third objective is: Planting and strategically engaging at least 1,000 new churches by 2024.
Our TBC staff is focusing with laser precision on these three objectives (and the other two which I’ll share over the next few weeks) because we want to see God move in a mighty way across Tennessee for the glory of Christ as a result of a renewed passion for reaching 3.65 million spiritually lost Tennesseans. I’m hopeful Tennessee Baptists will share that vision.
But with thousands of churches scattered from the delta farmlands of the west to the mountains and hollows of the east, don’t we already have enough churches?
Maybe, if our population holds steady to what it was in 1960.
Maybe, if all of our churches were healthy, unified, people-reaching, disciple-making, gospel lighthouses in this spiritually darkening culture.
Maybe, if our current network of churches was keeping up with the population boom of 50,000 to 60,000 new Tennesseans each year.
Maybe, if we are content with losing a generation by seeing one- third fewer people saved, baptized, and set on the road to discipleship in this current generation compared to the previous one.
I simply can’t reconcile those thoughts with my Great Commission calling; can you?
Here is our statistical reality. Over the next decade, 450 to 550 of our Tennessee Baptist churches —one in four — will die if the decline they’ve been on for the last 10 to 20 years continues. At the same time our population is rapidly escalating and changing, so much so that missiologists have determined our state will more closely resemble the demographic and spiritual makeup of Colorado in five years and California in 10 years.
To call Tennessee the Buckle of the Bible Belt is to affix to us an antiquated label while peering through nostalgic lenses. We are not the buckle. We are a state that is spiritually rotting. We are a state comprised of more than 120 global people groups who desperately need to hear about Jesus.
We are a missions field.
I confess, planting and strategically engaging 1,000 new churches in the TBC in the next 10 years looks impossible, especially when you consider that our largest church growth period happened between 1940 and 1960. During that 20 years — not 10 — we grew by 700-plus churches, a period when Tennessee Baptists had their greatest impact on spiritual lostness. The task ahead is enormous, which is why we seek God with humble hearts in pursuit of personal purity. We’re asking for His plans and His blessing because we know there is a direct correlation between the number of people sharing the gospel, the number of people coming to Christ, and the number of new churches being planted.
We also know the healthiest churches are planted by a local church body that is strategically, passionately, and sacrificially pouring itself into the new work for the sake of souls. It’s always been the church that begins a new church and the TBC’s desire is to serve along side you to help you succeed.
So do we really need 1,000 new churches over the next decade in our state? Yes, and probably 1,000 more beyond that. Throughout history nothing has indicated a great move of God that has resulted in multitudes of spiritually lost people coming to Christ like a church planting movement. What if hundreds of TBC churches recaptured our pioneering Baptist forefathers’ passion of evangelizing the spiritually lost and beginning new churches? Maybe He will then allow us to enjoy the fruit of a great number of precious Tennessee people coming to Christ.
And that’s a ride worth taking.