North Carolina Baptists are pushing back spiritual darkness and making disciples in the state, across the nation and around the world at increasingly growing rates, according to Executive Director-Treasurer Milton A. Hollifield Jr. and other Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) ministry leaders.
More and more churches have embraced the BSC strategy of “impacting lostness through disciple-making” since its implementation in January 2014. The result has been steady growth in the number of people engaged with the gospel who are growing and making disciples through efforts like missions giving, church planting, collegiate ministry, missions partnerships and more.
Hollifield and other leaders provided an update on the progress being made in fulfillment of the strategy to the state convention’s Board of Directors during a meeting held Jan. 29-30 at Caraway Conference Center and Camp near Asheboro.
“This [strategy] drives what we are about,” Hollifield said.
Pockets of lostness
Hollifield said the strategy utilizes an “Acts 1:8 model” which emphasizes evangelizing and discipling individuals from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds, beginning in local communities and extending to North America and the entire world.
Based on research conducted prior to the strategy’s implementation, state convention officials identified 250 “pockets of lostness,” which are small geographic areas where the overwhelming majority of people do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The top 100 of these pockets are located in and around the eight major urban areas across North Carolina – Asheville, Hickory, the Triad (Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point), the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill), Charlotte, Fayetteville, Greenville and Wilmington. The remaining 150 pockets are located in rural areas all across the state.
BSC strategy coordinators assigned to each region work with local churches to identify and engage pockets of lostness in their respective areas. To date, strategy coordinators have worked with churches to begin reaching 68 of the top 100 and 51 of the next 150 pockets of lostness.
BSC Associate Executive Director-Treasurer Brian Davis said that while the convention and local ministry leaders have learned a great deal in working to reach pockets of lostness, the ongoing work “is going to take our best investment over the long haul.”
Reaching unreached people groups
Additionally, state convention leaders have identified representatives from 158 unreached people groups living in North Carolina. An unreached people group is one whose total population has less than 2 percent who are evangelical Christians. Many members of unreached people groups living in North Carolina also reside in one of the 250 pockets of lostness.
Thanks to the BSC Office of Great Commission Partnerships working alongside local churches, 85 of those 158 unreached people groups in North Carolina have been engaged with the gospel.
Increase in missions partnerships, church plants
Additionally, the Great Commission Partnerships’ office has seen tremendous growth in the number of N.C. Baptist churches that have engaged in North American or international missions partnerships. In 2014, just 79 N.C. Baptist churches were involved in a missions partnership in North America or around the world. That figure has grown to 348 churches through the end of 2017, an increase of more than 340 percent in four years.
“We’re making great strides in the area of mobilization,” said Chuck Register, BSC executive leader for the Church Planting and Missions Partnerships Group.
Register also said the BSC has welcomed 408 new churches to the convention’s fellowship since 2014 as either new church plants or new affiliate churches. Of these churches, 290 (71 percent) were non-Anglo congregations, and 127 (31 percent) were located in one of the 250 identified pockets of lostness. In 2017 alone, the convention worked with 101 new churches that reported more than 6,800 professions of faith and more than 5,400 in average weekly worship attendance.
Reaching college students
The implementation of the convention’s disciple-making strategy in 2014 marked a new approach to collegiate ministry. BSC consultants now work with local churches to help them engage college, community college and university campuses in their area.
In 2014, only nine of the state’s 148 campuses were being engaged with the gospel by a ministry affiliated with the state convention. Through the end of 2017, 52 campuses are being engaged by local churches, which represents an increase of 478 percent in four years.
In 2017, 310 college students in North Carolina made professions of faith, more than 1,900 were discipled in groups, more than 1,000 received evangelism training, more than 750 received leadership training and more than 400 served as summer missionaries, Register said.
In addition to planting new churches, the convention strategy also emphasizes strengthening existing churches through church health and revitalization efforts.
Lynn Sasser, BSC executive leader for the Evangelism and Discipleship Group, said studies show that the “great majority” of churches nationwide are either plateaued or declining, adding that approximately 900 Southern Baptist churches close each year.
While acknowledging that church revitalization is a “spiritual issue” and ultimately a work of God, Sasser said convention staffers and contract workers have connected with more than 2,100 associational leaders, pastors and lay leaders representing nearly 850 different associations and churches to assist with revitalization.
“Our revitalization specialists help pastors and church leaders assess their current reality, envision a future of making disciples and build strategies to impact their communities with the gospel,” Sasser said.
Reaching the next generation
One of the underlying goals of the strategy is to reach individuals at every age and stage of life, Sasser said. Each year, numerous middle and high school students respond to the gospel during Summer Youth Weeks sponsored by the BSC Youth Evangelism and Discipleship Ministry at the N.C. Baptist Assembly at Fort Caswell.
Since 2014, nearly 26,000 people have attended youth weeks, with nearly 1,500 making first-time professions of faith, more than 6,800 rededicating their lives to Christ and more than 1,100 answering a call to vocational ministry.
Additionally, in 2017 the convention launched a ministry titled “Faith at Home,” which is designed to help churches equip parents and grandparents to be the primary disciple-makers of their children and grandchildren. In the Faith at Home ministry’s first year, more than 70 pastors from 32 N.C. Baptist churches learned how to implement Faith at Home principles into their churches through a series of conferences held last spring.
Increased missions support
North Carolina Baptists continue to be generous financial supporters of local, state, national and international missions and ministry efforts, said John Butler, the BSC executive leader for Business Services.
Butler said North Carolina is the only state convention to increase its Cooperative Program (CP) allocation to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in each of the past 11 years.
North Carolina Baptists have also ranked first in giving to the SBC’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions in each of the past five years and first in giving the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions in four of the past five years and nine of the last 10.
Through CP, special offerings and other giving, North Carolina Baptist churches have contributed more than $152 million to SBC causes in the past five years, which has included record single-year contributions in both 2016 and 2017.
“We are not only engaging lostness in North Carolina, but through the strategy and financial planning that we’ve been able to do, we are doing more to engage lostness in this nation and around the world than we ever have before,” Butler said.
‘We give God the glory’
Hollifield said the missions and ministry progress of the past four years has been a work of God as pastors, leaders and members of N.C. Baptist churches have become “personally engaged” with the strategy.
“We give God the glory for the great things He’s doing,” Hollifield said. “It’s the people in the churches who are making this happen, and we give God the praise and the glory.”