These words are the familiar disclaimer of the “Mission Impossible? franchise. In 2014, Tennessee Baptists began a less famous and yet eternally more significant mission. And we chose to accept it together.
The Five Objectives of that mission 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 annual church giving through the Cooperative Program (CP) that reaches at least 10 percent by 2024.
5. Realizing an increase in annual giving for the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions that reaches at least $3 million by 2024.
At the time, I was pastor of Indian Springs Baptist Church in Kingsport. I knew this was a challenge for all Tennessee Baptist churches. That included my church in East Tennessee.
What an amazing ride it’s been so far. And just like the old Mission Impossible TV shows I watched growing up, the journey was filled with hairpin turns and heart racing discoveries.
We experienced revivals, pandemics, unexpected events and amazing stories. In 2017, I had the privilege of leading our Strategic Objectives team at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
As God moved, I saw them do some amazing things, but the impossible things always revolved around the pastors and churches of Tennessee, from Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis to Roan Creek Baptist Church in Mountain City. So, here we are, it’s 2024. The question is how are we doing with these objectives?
Objective 1: We have not reached the 50,000 annual baptisms in this 10-year period. However, there have been some tremendous strides made and the overall emphasis on baptisms and discipleship have impacted Tennessee.
For instance, baptisms have increased over the past two years, and the early numbers from 2023 look like another year of increase. We have been the third highest baptizing state in the Southern Baptist Convention for the past two years.
The really exciting news is that before the final 2023 baptism numbers are counted, we have seen more than 163,000 people come to know Jesus, follow Him in baptism, and be set on the road to discipleship. We need just over 37,000 people to come to Christ, baptized and set on the road to discipleship to see over 200,000 in the 10 years of the Objectives.
History will record that these 10 years will be one of the strongest baptizing decades in Tennessee Baptist life. Praise be to God!
Objective 2: As I traveled the state over the past few years, the Lord reminded me that churches are constantly being revitalized. The need for church revitalization was never viewed more clearly than in the wake of a worldwide pandemic. But God went before us, preparing us for revival and revitalization. Even through those difficult days, He showed Himself strong on behalf of His people.
We have more than 300 churches that are being revitalized, and we are confident that we will reach the objective of 500 churches revitalized by the end of 2024. The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board provided resources and training, but the real heroes in this adventure were the pastors and leaders who led courageously to make changes and implement new practices.
Objective 3: New churches are being planted and others strategically engaged at a record setting pace. Back in 2014, no one had ever heard of BlueOval City, because it didn’t exist. Now we have made it our goal to plant more than 40 new churches around this growing area in the next 10 years.
Tennessee Baptists are rising to the occasion to plant churches in West Tennessee with great urgency, but that’s not the only place that churches are being planted. Tennessee Baptists are planting churches all over our beloved state — cowboy churches, satellite churches, language churches, inner-city churches and churches in underserved areas. Over the past 10 years, churches for scores of people groups and thousands of refugees have all been planted.
In a 10-year period you planted our 100th Hispanic church. From Memphis to Mountain City and all points in between, we are seeing new churches reaching the lost for Jesus. Objective 3 has seen 519 churches planted and strategically engaged. I’m praying and believing that we’ll shatter the 600 new churches mark by the end of 2024.
Objective 4: The Cooperative Program is a constant and important vehicle to fulfill the work of Baptists. Our objective to see a 10 percent giving increase across Tennessee Baptist churches is not realized yet.
However, we are seeing strong giving, and we maintain an average per church that is above the national average for SBC churches.
Considering the difficult financial environment we’ve all experienced in 2023, Tennessee Baptists giving through the Cooperative Program has been nothing short of heroic! Last year alone, Tennessee Baptist churches gave more than $34.5 million through CP to support missions and ministries here and around the world.
Objective 5: The Golden Offering for Tennessee has been a continual bright spot. For a number of years, we have experienced record offerings. Before we began the Five Objectives journey, Golden Offering gifts were just over $1.5 million. Last year we saw Tennessee Baptist churches sacrificially give more than $2.25 million! But more importantly, these funds are doing so much around Tennessee as we offer compassion, new beginnings, support new churches and provide evangelism and ministry across Tennessee!
The best is yet to come.
We aren’t diffusing bombs, jumping out of airplanes or sabotaging the work of nefarious double agents, but we are making an eternal difference together in what some might call a Mission Impossible. In 2014, we chose to accept it and the mission hasn’t self-destructed in 10 years. It’s still happening, and amazing things are yet to come! As Paul reminded us: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man. The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
It’s the end of an era, but the mission continues. B&R