By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Many of you may be in Nashville for the first time while this may be a regular place to visit for others. Even without Opryland, a theme park that used to bring thousands of people to the city each summer (the park closed in 1997), there is still a lot to see and do in Music City.
I would daresay that many of our visitors think they have arrived at the “buckle of the Bible belt.” After all, Nashville is the home of the SBC Executive Committee and Lifeway Christian Resources, the publishing and distribution arm of the SBC.
No doubt that every other person you pass on the street will be sitting in a pew on Sunday morning, right? Well, not really.
Lewis McMullen, church planting specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, summed it up well when he addressed seminary students who were in town last week to participate in Crossover, an evangelistic event that has been held in the host city of the annual meeting for more than 30 years.
He told the students, “The belt has broken.”
When I suggested that one out of every two people you pass on the street would be in church on Sunday, that was wishful thinking.
According to McMullen, about 85 percent of Nashvillians are unchurched and presumed lost — hardly an impressive number for the “buckle of the Bible Belt.”
Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the TBMB, often tells people, “Any way you slice it, Tennessee is a mission field.” Nashville is no exception.
The world has come to Tennessee in general and to Nashville in particular. Nashville has the largest Kurdish population within the United States, with about 14,000 Kurds and is home to the second largest Hindu temple in the U.S. There are 131 different languages spoken in the city. Nashville has 11,080 Asian Indians, 12,000 Chinese, 8,000 Somalians, 18,641 Asians and more than 60,000 Hispanic/Latino speaking people.
McMullen said, “Cities in the South are now very diverse and very unreached.”
It is the hope and prayer of Tennessee Baptists that our Southern Baptist friends from across the nation will be “planting gospel seeds” while they are at the convention.
Nashvillians will be watching, wondering which “Southern Baptist” will be in town.
Will it be the Southern Baptist who loves Jesus and lets His light shine through them, or will it be the Southern Baptist who comes to town with an ax to grind and doesn’t care what people think?
Personally, we need Southern Baptists who let their lights shine for Christ daily. We need Southern Baptists who greet the people they meet on the streets with a smile and a friendly “hello.”
We need Southern Baptists who will tip generously when eating out in restaurants in the city. Keep in mind that the SBC is probably the largest single event held in Nashville since COVID-19 closed businesses down for months last year.
We also need Southern Baptists who “will speak the truth in love” during the business sessions without personal attacks. Southern Baptists this year are facing issues that will be divisive, but they can be dealt with if everyone acts as Christ would want us to act.
If Lewis McMullen is right and 85 percent of the city’s population does not know Jesus Christ, you might be the only “Jesus” they will see this week. Let’s strive to plant gospel seeds that can be harvested by churches in Nashville and Middle Tennessee, not seeds of discord.
Enjoy your time in Nashville and let your gospel light shine brightly in the city. B&R