Last year’s “first of its kind” Reaching the Nations conference in Brentwood, Tenn., was so successful, planners scheduled a second conference – this time in North Carolina.
Chuck Register, one of the event’s organizers, said he was “more than pleased” with the response to last year’s conference. “There were just under 400 registered participants, which was beyond our expectation. We hoped for around 175.”
According to J.D. Payne, one of the keynote speakers, it was the largest gathering of Southern Baptists to address diaspora ministry ever.
“We had practitioners from all across America – 25 states were represented by the group,” said Register, who is executive leader for church planting and missions partnerships for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC). “They came together for inspiration about diaspora ministry, information about diaspora ministry but also the practical breakout sessions. In my opinion this was the most helpful aspect of the conference.”
Breakout sessions provided tools and strategies for participants to return to their communities and begin to engage immigrants, refugees and international students.
The conference will be Oct. 27-28 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) in Wake Forest. Sponsors include the International Mission Board (IMB), North American Mission Board (NAMB), SEBTS and the BSC. Keynote speakers are Danny Akin, president of SEBTS; J. D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church, Durham; Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Marietta, Ga.; J.D. Payne, pastor for church multiplication at The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, Ala.; and Chris Clayman, associate director of Global Gates Network.
At least 32 breakouts will be led by BSC staff, SEBTS faculty, key leaders at IMB and NAMB and other mission strategists. “We feel like we have an extremely strong lineup of plenary speakers,” Register said. “We have some very strategic field personnel from IMB and NAMB who will be leading breakout sessions on how to engage different world views with an understanding of the gospel.”
The original plan was to schedule a second Reaching the Nations conference for 2018, but attendees last year requested momentum, according to Register. “They felt it was excellent training for them, and they wanted to get the next conference on their schedule soon. So the planning committee agreed but moved the conference later into the 2017 fall season. The location allows more students to participate in the event.”
Register told the Biblical Recorder this conference is needed because “Southern Baptists are behind the curve in responding to diaspora ministry in the U.S., compared to other denominations. We’ve got a lot of ground to make up in mobilizing local churches to be engaged with diaspora ministry.” Conference organizers say having another conference one year later shines a spotlight on both the opportunity and the challenge of diaspora ministry. Diaspora missions refers to ministries targeted at people and people groups who are living outside their country of birth – those who have been dispersed to other nations.
“There are 45 million foreign born residents in the U.S. and another seven million in Canada,” said Register. “The average Southern Baptist church is probably not as engaged in diaspora ministry as she needs to be. Having a conference each year gives us the opportunity to blow this trumpet, to shine a light on what God has done in bringing the nations to North America and our Great Commission responsibility to respond to that challenge. The conference gives local churches some practical handles on how to engage in diaspora ministry.”
The target audience for the event is mission leaders and mission practitioners in local churches, associations and other Great Commission ministries. “We certainly hope the pastor, who is primarily the spiritual leader of the congregation, is there, along with anyone who may be responsible for the missions program of the church,” Register added. “But also, those practitioners, the laity, who is involved in implementing the mission strategy of a local congregation. All would profit from this conference.
“With 32 breakouts, you really need to strategically assign different people from your church to different topics. There is something there for everyone.”
Three of the breakouts and all five plenary sessions will be live-streamed.
Brett Gibson, worship pastor at Holly Ridge Baptist in Simpsonville, S.C., who attended the 2016 conference, said others in upstate S.C. who attended the event separately, began meeting together soon after they returned home.
“We shared a vision for bringing churches together in the upstate of South Carolina in order to map out and engage people groups in the upstate,” Gibson said. “We continue to meet monthly to pray and share stories. We are currently working on a way to involve church members across the upstate to discover and engage people groups.”
Sandi McDowell, who serves as a volunteer International Campus Catalyst with Baptist Campus Ministry (BCM) in Richmond, Ky., said, “Last year’s conference has changed my world! God used the conference to open my eyes to the nations around me.”
Returning home, McDowell was motivated to meet international students at her local university. “I have begun an international student program with the help of the local BCM and my state director, Brett Martin. Our state ministry is Connect International. My local team is comprised of people from various churches in the local association.”
Last year they held a “Thanksmas” dinner to introduce internationals to the Christian ideas behind Thanksgiving and Christmas.
At the dinner, they invited the students to visit an American home over the holidays. Eighteen internationals accepted the invitation.
This fall the ministry is focusing on the 300 international students in the area. They are hosting a Welcome to America party in September and talking to pastors and church members about being a host family for two students for one year.
McDowell said, “I can’t wait for this year’s conference and a chance to learn more!”
To register, visit Reachingthenations.net.