Last August a sold-out crowd of more than 13,000 people from all 50 states and four Canadian provinces flooded into Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena for the 2015 Send North America conference. Sponsored by the North American Mission Board (NAMB), the popular event called Southern Baptists to celebrate the call of Jesus on all believers and to examine their personal response to life on mission for Christ.
After the event Chuck Register sat in the Nashville airport with a few other North Carolina Baptist leaders and began a discussion that many hope will draw Baptists to a cutting-edge mission conference one year later. Register, executive leader of the Church Planting and Missions Partnerships for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), talked with Steve Hardy and Caleb Bridges* as they waited to board their airplane.
“We began talking about the people we met at the Send conference who are engaged in people group discovery and engagement across the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC),” Register said.
“Clyde Meador happened to walk by so we invited him to join the conversation.” Meador is an International Mission Board (IMB) executive leader with three decades of overseas field experience.
“As we talked it became obvious to us that there really are few Southern Baptist institutions, agencies and state conventions that are engaged in people group discovery and engagement that we were aware of. So we began to talk about how we could heighten the awareness of Southern Baptists to the 45 to 50 million foreign born residents now living in our nation.”
The conversation led to a round table discussion in Atlanta four months later with representatives from IMB, NAMB, Global Gates Network, the Tennessee Baptist Convention, the BSC and Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia. Each group was asked to come to the meeting with the tools and resources they use for people group discovery and engagement.
Register said everyone sitting at the table concluded, “We are, as Southern Baptists, way behind the curve in understanding what nations have come to the United States, understanding the population base of people groups within the U.S., and in the development of resources to use to engage them with the gospel for disciple-making and church planting.”
The Atlanta meeting led to discussions on how to bring denominational leadership in SBC life to a clear-focused mission conference.
They also asked, “How do we bring local church practitioners to one conference to heighten the awareness of Southern Baptists about the nations and to equip people to reach and engage [internationals] in their communities?”
From that roundtable the Reaching the Nations in North America conference was born. The unique missions event will be held at Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood, Tenn., Aug. 26-27, 2016. Ed Stetzer, J.D. Payne, Jenny Yang and other speakers highlight the program.
The promotional brochure says the conference is designed to “heighten the awareness and focus of Southern Baptists upon diaspora missions. Church leaders will be equipped with practical tools for engaging immigrants, refugees and international students with the gospel for disciple-making. The summit will include three main sessions, practical breakout seminars and peer group strategy development.”
Two different tracks are set. One is for denominational leadership – state convention executive director-treasurers, convention directors of missions, Send city missionaries and pastors. A second track is for local church practitioners of diaspora ministries – ministries to immigrants, refugees and international students.
The term “diaspora missions” refers to ministries targeted at people and people groups who are living outside their country of birth – people who have been dispersed to other nations.
The Reaching the Nations conference will focus on unreached people groups from other lands who now live in North America according to Register.
Enoch Wan, professor of Intercultural Studies at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon, is considered one of the leading global experts in the area of migration and missions. He pioneered the study that he labeled “diaspora missiology.”
Wan said more than 230 million are counted among those who have been dispersed across the globe. Reasons for relocating include the search for a better standard-of-living and education, while others are fleeing persecution, war, disease and famine.
Register wants state executive leaders and missions leaders to ask, “In our state, what is the first step and next steps we need to take to assist our churches and associations to engage the nations in our communities?” So after the plenary sessions and breakouts, organizers have scheduled a peer group session. It is reserved for peer group strategy development.
“In that hour we are going to put together peer groups so there will be local church practitioners in one peer group,” he explained.
“There will be seminary and college professors in Baptist life in one peer group. There will be state executive director-treasurers and state mission directors in one peer group.”
The final session features J.D. Payne, pastor for church multiplication at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala. His topic is the subject of his latest book, Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches from New Believers. Payne will underscore how attendees can develop a strategy to reach the nations in their environment.
Terry Sharp is one of the organizing team for the Brentwood conference. He serves as state, association and urban mobilization strategy leader for IMB.
“If people are interested in reaching diaspora people groups, this should be the one conference they attend this year,” Sharp said.
“We want to see people go overseas and reach the unreached people groups – the least reached peoples of the world. But while we must continue to go overseas, we cannot miss the opportunity the Father has given us to reach the nations He has brought to North America. As we love and share the Good News with the immigrants, the refugees and international students, and as they come to Christ, they will … literally become gateways for spreading the gospel to their homelands.”
Sharp said he believes many Baptist churches are “connecting the dots” between international and national missions.
“In recent years IMB, NAMB and some state conventions like North Carolina have been working to map people groups in North America,” he said. “As churches see this they are saying, ‘Okay the same people group we have been praying for and engaged with overseas, are now living here in North America.”
The result, Sharp said, is that many churches have begun working simultaneously with their adopted group overseas and the same people here in the states.
“This is going to be a very practical conference,” Sharp added. “It’s going to provide tools and best practices on how to reach the nations next door. I am very, very excited about this. Missiologist Ralph Winter said something many years ago that I think people are just now understanding. He said, ‘Diaspora missiology may well be the most important undigested reality in mission thinking today.’”