BROWNSVILLE — Ben Cowell stood before nearly 80 of his peers and offered a testimony to the power of prayer and the emerging opportunity Tennessee Baptists have to reach the nations for Christ.
“Our church has been praying that God would do something through us in relation to Blue Oval City,” said the pastor of Brownsville Baptist Church. “Then I met a man visiting our church who was from Michigan, and he said that when he woke up that morning he felt God was telling him he needed to be in church. He said he opened his app looking for a church and Brownsville Baptist popped up so this is where he came.”
Cowell’s story wasn’t unique among the nearly 80 pastors who gathered Wednesday at Brownsville Baptist Church for a regional Blue Oval City informational meeting. Several pastors offered testimonies of encounters they’ve had with people who have already moved to the area near Stanton where Ford Motor Company is building the largest automotive production plant in the United States and one of the largest in the world.
“The truth is we’ve moved beyond saying it’s coming,” said Danny Sinquefield, Tennessee Baptist Mission Board specialist spearheading the TBMB’s initiative to support pastors and churches in the area. “We’ve got thousands of construction workers on site and the buildings are going up. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Sinquefield updated pastors on the most recent projections related to the plant, staffing and eventual residential growth in the surrounding area that spreads throughout the entire West Tennessee region.
• The plant investment will be $5.6 billion and cover 4,100 acres.
• There are currently 3,000 construction workers on site.
• There will be more than 10,000 employees at the time of full operation.
• Blue Oval City will be 40 percent larger than the Saturn plant General Motors built in Spring Hill.
• Ford intends to invest more than $500 million in growth incentives to support infrastructure, roads and schools.
• The population within a 20-minute drive of the area will grow by an estimated 92,000 people within 10 years.
“If you were to group all of those people into a city, they would constitute the ninth largest city in Tennessee,” Sinquefield said.
William Burton, the TBMB’s head of church planting initiatives, told the group that the goal is to plant at least 40 new churches in the area in the next 10 years. These churches would be scattered across the region.
“We feel with projections there needs to be at least 40,” Burton said. “But we’re okay if God wants to do more.”
Millington is roughly a 40-minute drive from the west to the Blue Oval City site, but Derek Westmoreland, pastor of First Baptist Church, Millington, said he sees the impact being far ranging, and mentioned the broad scope of the churches he sees that are needed.
“Many of those who live 20 minutes west of the Blue Oval City may visit or get involved in our church,” he said. “So we want to be a part of what’s going on. But we also see the possibilities of partnering with other churches and possibly send a church planter. I also see the need for different types of churches.
“We know there are already Koreans and Hispanics on site and those people need a church where they can worship. But all kinds of people are coming so there is the possibility for there to be all types of churches. This is a great moment to see God do something special and we want to be a part of it.”
A common theme among pastors at the meeting is that this is a “Golden Opportunity,” as Cowell called it, for Tennessee Baptists, not just pastors and churches in Tennessee. Many stated this is a “Macedonian Call” across the state for churches throughout the state to participate in this “Great Commission Moment,” Sinquefield said.
“This is not just a West Tennessee initiative,” he said. “We literally have people moving here from across the country and from around the world. We know that many of them have never heard a clear presentation of the gospel. God is bringing the nations to us. The is an opportunity for all Tennessee Baptists to seize a unique moment to glorify Jesus.”
Sinquefield communicated there are plenty of opportunities for strategic partnerships for churches from around the state that want to get involved. The primary opportunity is to make praying for all things related to Blue Oval City a priority. He also mentioned evangelism, ministry among workers currently on site, partnership to strengthen and stabilize existing churches, sending church planters and general mobilization for seeing this as a missions opportunity.
“This is an unprecedented moment for Tennessee Baptists,” Sinquefield said. “The plant is set to open in 2025 but that will be here before we know it. Now is the time to get out in front of the curve as much as possible so that as this ramps up, we are in place to serve people and tell them about Jesus.”
TBMB president and executive director Randy C. Davis closed the meeting by putting the opportunity into perspective with a story about Gen. Robert Neyland, war veteran and longtime University of Tennessee football coach. Neyland graduated from The U.S. Military Academy as an engineer then studied engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“When Gen. Neyland designed the stadium he designed it to be expanded to seat 100,000,” Davis said. “It was nowhere near that when he died in 1962. It was more than 30 years later when capacity reached 100,000. Gen. Neyland had a vision for something he’d never see in his lifetime.
“Blue Oval City is an opportunity for Tennessee Baptists to do something whose impact won’t be fully realized for generations to come. This is a God moment that we want to be a part of.” B&R