By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BRENTWOOD — A highlight for Tennessee Baptists in 2015 was the news that baptisms increased in Tennessee Baptist Convention churches for the second year in a row. In 2014, 2,603 TBC churches reported 23,499 baptisms, the largest number of baptisms recorded since 2010. In 2013 churches reported 21,979 baptisms.
The year saw leadership changes with TBC entities. Vickie Anderson began serving Jan. 1 as the executive director/treasurer of Tennessee Woman’s Missionary Union. She was installed later in the year to that position during WMU’s annual meeting. Mark Anderson was elected in December to succeed Kenny Cooper as president of Tennessee Baptist Adult Homes. Cooper will retire Dec. 31 after 20 years in the role while Anderson, a longtime staff member, will assume his new role on Jan. 1. Bryant Millsaps will retire Dec. 31 as president of Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes and will be succeeded by Greg McCoy who served throughout 2015 as president-elect. Several changes occurred on the TBC Executive Board staff, including the retirement of Bobby Welch as associate executive director. Welch, who served since 2011, was instrumental in helping to initiate the 1-5-1 Harvest Plants initiative geared toward sharing the gospel, starting churches, and discipling people.
Progress continued in 2015 on implementing the Five Objectives, a strategic plan focused on:
(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 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 Executive Board reorganized its committees around the Five Objectives and the staff was realigned in order to help accomplish the long-range goals.
Other news of significance during the year included:
• The Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes was given a $1 million gift by former NBA franchise owner George Shinn and his wife Denise of Franklin to be used for foster care program.
• During the 2015 Youth Evangelism Conference held March 13-14 in Nashville, 8,017 students and leaders attended, with 655 teenagers making professions of faith for Jesus Christ.
• The Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention unanimously approved a recommendation March 25 to purchase 2.3 acres of land in the Berry Farms mixed development located south of Franklin off I-65S in Williamson County. The action cleared the way for a permanent facility for the TBC which has been renting office space in Brentwood since the 2013 sale of its property on Franklin Road.
• The United States Supreme Court ruled June 26 that same-sex marriage is protected under the Constitution and is now legal in all 50 states. Tennessee Baptist churches are still processing the historic ruling and trying to determine how it will impact their ministries in years to come.
• A 10-year partnership between the TBC and the Montana Southern Baptist Convention draws to a close on Dec. 31. Leaders from both conventions agree that each have mutually benefited from the partnership.
• The Baptist and Reflector celebrated its 180th anniversary in 2015. A new era began Oct. 7 with the launch of a new, dedicated website for the paper – www.baptistandreflector.org.
• Dozens of Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers traveled to Manning, S.C. following historic flooding in the Palmetto State when 24 inches of rain fell in the area within a three-day period between Oct. 3-5. Volunteers did flood recovery while sharing the gospel. Several professions of faith were recorded.
• In late August the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention announced it would reduce its missionary/staff personnel by 600-800 people. The first wave of cuts were slated to come from voluntary retirement incentives for missionaries and staff over the age of 50 with at least five years of service. Several missionaries with Tennessee ties were among those who had to make life-changing decisions.
• During the November Summit at First Baptist Church, Millington, TBC messengers elected Kingsport pastor Roc Collins as president. Messengers also celebrated 35 years of partnership missions and adopted a new partnership with the Baptist Convention of New England and the Baptist State Convention of Ohio to begin in 2017.