CORDOVA — The Acts 2:17 Initiative was officially launched during the Tuesday afternoon session (Nov. 15) of the annual meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Convention held during The Summit at Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova.
The Acts 2:17 Initiative will provide Tennessee Baptists across the state the opportunity to speak into future priorities of the state convention. Messengers gathered in small groups to begin the process and 24 other listening sessions are scheduled across Tennessee beginning in January of 2023. See list of meeting locations to the right and visit tnbaptist.org/Acts217 for regular updated information.
Prior to the Summit, Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, wrote in a Clarity column (see Oct. 26 issue of the Baptist and Reflector) that the initiative “could become the most consequential process in the TBC’s recent history and at its heart is us working together in seeking God’s preferable future for our network of churches.
“We want to understand what opportunities God wants us to seize together; what needs He wants us to meet across our state and hearing what dreams and visions He will speak through grassroots Tennessee Baptists,” Davis wrote.
TBC president Clay Hallmark, who was reelected to a second term, called the Acts 2:17 Initiative “a watershed mark in our history. We have been working and praying for this day,” he said.
Claude King, coauthor of Experiencing God, led specific prayer times prior to the breakout sessions and Ryan Keaton, next generations specialist for the TBMB, shared what the future will look like for Tennessee Baptists.
“There have been times in our past where we have had plans, events changed what we thought the future would be, and our plans had to adapt,” Keaton observed. He encouraged Tennessee Baptists “to dream with us as we have the opportunity to look ahead at the future.”
Keaton observed that trend assessments are essential for organizations to proactively plan for the future. “Our desire is to be proactive,” Keaton said.
The TBMB specialist noted that visioning is not a new concept. “Jesus was a futurist and encouraged His followers to look to the future and be prepared for it.”
Keaton cited five major trends that Tennessee Baptists need to be aware of as they plan for the future.
Population: The state’s population is expected to rise by 14 percent in the next 20 years, Keaton said. Factors leading to the population shift include people migrating to Tennessee from other states as well as immigrants coming into the country and settling in the state. He also noted the life span of Americans is expected to increase over the next 20 years. A surprising trend is that natural birth does not project to be a factor for the increased population because many couples are getting married later in life and delaying having families, Keaton said.
Hardships: Tennesseans will have to cope with a rise in drug-related deaths and overdoses that are impacting communities, Keaton shared. “We are seeing a rise in suicide rates and mental illness.” Another hardship is increasing inflation, he added.
Economic: “It is expected that new technologies in automation could displace 20 million manufacturing jobs by 2030. You probably experience this trend when you go to Walmart and use the self-checkout line,” he said. Other trends include more people working remotely from home and a decline in farming and agricultural jobs, he said. Keaton also noted that burnout from “public-facing jobs” such as teachers, nurses and ministers could result in a shortage in those areas.
Societal: By 2030, one-fifth of the population will be retirees, Keaton said. “This projection dramatically impacts the way churches will and should approach their senior adult ministries in the future.” Another trend, he noted, is traditional families are decreasing and blended families and families headed by grandparents are increasing. There is also a rising distrust in institutions including government, he said.
Church: By 2070 Christians are predicted to be the minority in the U.S., Keaton said. “We see this decline reflected in statistics given in 2020. In 2020, 64 percent of Americans identified as Christians while 30 percent identified as no religious affiliation or “NONES.”
Keaton acknowledged that “we can’t do anything about the future in our own strength, but God can. We have great hope in being in the presence of God and seeking His preferable future. … God has placed us here for this time and for this purpose. May we seek Him in ways that future generations can stand on the shoulders of our faithfulness.”
Messengers were able to attend one of about 22 small group listening sessions. “It felt like a brainstorming session,” said Matt Stamper of First Baptist Church, Ridgetop. “It was a chance to really think through what the future is going to look like in Tennessee. It also gave us a chance to examine the plans in which Tennessee Baptists can best get the gospel to the people of our state,” he said.
Ben Baxley of First Baptist Church, Hendersonville, said the session he attended “was productive. It was good to hear from different perspectives — we had churches from all over the state — and it was neat to hear from different-sized churches. And there was actually a lot of similar thought processes from around the room.
“I’m grateful for the attitude of our church leaders. It’s really neat to see the different opportunities that exist in different population areas around the state. … Everyone felt free to speak and everyone felt heard,” he added.
Brandon James of Green Hill Baptist Church, Mount Juliet, said the listening session was “an opportunity for everyone to have a voice, to be able to speak into the vision and future of how God wants to work in our state through our convention. It was a powerful picture of the body of Christ coming together.
“Any time we can work together, cooperate together, and come to a strategy for the sake of the gospel, it’s a great thing,” James added.
Ralph Carter of First Baptist Church, Ridgetop, noted the presentation on the future before the listening session was helpful. “I would love to see (the listening sessions) happen more often in terms of getting the church input. I think it was good to hear from different churches in different areas of the state and to hear what they are going through,” Carter said.
Steve Holt, church services director for the TBMB, was pleased with the first round of listening sessions.
“We heard from many passionate Tennessee Baptists representing all kinds of churches from across our state.
“The Acts 2:17 team will take all the input from today’s listening sessions along with others that will be happening across the state in early 2023 to discover the themes that will help us discern God’s preferred future for the Tennessee Baptist Convention,” Holt explained.
He encouraged Tennessee Baptists to participate in one of the listening sessions in 2023. “There will also be an opportunity to respond to a statewide survey. Our vision team truly desires to hear the heartbeat of our convention. B&R