BRENTWOOD, Tenn. – The Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC) Executive Board will eliminate up to 16 full- and part-time staff positions over the next several months.
TBC Executive Director/Treasurer Randy C. Davis announced the changes during a mid-August staff meeting at the Baptist Center in Brentwood.
The changes “are not driven by the economy,” Davis emphasized, though “we are certainly sensitive to the impact of a down economy.” Rather, the changes are “driven by strategy to move us forward in accomplishing a clear objective: To assist the local church in winning the lost of Tennessee to Christ.”
The staff reductions will free up nearly $1 million once the process is finished, Davis told the TBC’s Baptist and Reflector newsjournal, noting that the changes “will allow more of our resources to be pushed to the harvest fields.”
In explaining the rationale behind the decision, Davis stated that “having the privilege and accepting the responsibility of leading the gifted and committed Tennessee Baptist team of servant missionaries is one of the clearest calls the Lord has ever placed on my life.” He continued, “Working with the good and great churches of Tennessee to reach the millions of lost people in our state is by far one of the greatest burdens the Lord has ever placed in my life.”
Reversing a half-century-long decline in the number of people reached and baptized in Tennessee must become a reality in the state, Davis said.
“Seeing more people reached with the gospel, baptized and becoming fully devoted followers of Christ through healthy and empowered churches is the target. That is our clear direction,” he emphasized.
Davis described the staff reduction not as “downsizing” but instead “right sizing our ministry.”
The TBC leader said that realigning the convention’s financial, personnel and structural resources will facilitate:
– Intentionally assisting churches with a harvest field focused initiative.
– Taking another step toward seeing the 50/50 distribution of CP funding becoming a reality for TBC and national/international Baptist outreach.
– Enhancing more effective and excellent communications.
– Eliminating unneeded and unwise duplication of ministries.
– Accelerating a much-needed emphasis on serving ethnic and African American ministries.
– Giving greater help in serving and reaching impoverished and underserved children and families from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River.
– Prioritizing TBC work around sending churches, starting churches and strengthening and supporting churches.
Wearing the “hat of the executive director” made him look at the staff positions strategically, Davis said, but “having the heart of the pastor” helps him see beyond the position. He emphasized that “each one of our team members will be treated with the utmost respect and fairness.”
He told the staff, “I see the person. I see you and I know this hurts all of us on a personal level.”
Davis ended the Aug. 15 staff meeting by noting that “we must lean together” on Romans 8:28: “All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.”
One key strategy was outlined to a group of pastors by TBC staff Aug. 2 in which Tennessee Baptist churches would develop small groups that meet outside the church to reach people for Christ and grow their church.
Bobby Welch, TBC associate executive director, led the presentation of the “Harvest Plants” initiative to about 40 ministers from about 35 churches. Before the pastors left the presentation, 28 committed to starting one or more small groups or harvest plants in the next year aimed at five people making professions of faith and being baptized.
The strategy also calls for the harvest plant to reproduce itself by the end of that year, through a “1-5-1” strategy – “1” new plant in one year, winning and baptizing “5” persons and reproducing “1” additional plant.
The small groups can either be a “branch plant” which is an outgrowth of a Sunday School or small group ministry; a “group plant” which comes from the church as a whole rather than an existing ministry; or a “church plant.” Branch plants and group plants do not develop into congregations but remain connected to the church. Certainly all church plants would develop into congregations, explained Steve Holt, the TBC’s leader growth coordinator.
The small groups or harvest plants can be started by a church at no additional cost or practically no cost to the church and by churches in all situations, Welch noted.
“There is no church too small or too large not to do plants in an extremely successful way,” he said.
Churches must do something different, Welch noted. “We’re talking about going outside the church. We’re not getting lost people in the church. They’re not coming. … People are lost and headed to hell,” he declared.
Don Pierson, the TBC’s Kingdom growth coordinator, told of First Baptist Church in Cookeville, which surveyed 800 homes and learned that hundreds of residents would be willing to attend a Bible study in a home. The church has started several small groups meeting in homes.
Phil Young, missions/ministry specialist with the convention, told how Baptist ministry sites like Baptist centers across the state often see a lot of folks make professions of faith who are “not always easily assimilated into established churches.”
He and Welch, after touring several Baptist ministry sites, are encouraging many of the ministry site directors to start harvest plants to evangelize and disciple people “that are falling through the gaps,” Young added.
Holt told of a church in a county seat town which was declining but became committed to starting small group plants. A total of 18 groups have been started by this one church, drawing about 180 people. One good result is that about 30 percent of the folks attending small groups have started attending the church which went from 40 in attendance to 120, Holt reported.
Welch said he isn’t against a church developing satellites as well as harvest plants as it sees fit because of the autonomy of the local church, he added.
Welch said he recommends that lay leaders start and lead the harvest plants. The leaders just need a commitment to evangelism and discipleship. He noted that the small groups must avoid becoming hobby groups that don’t focus on evangelism and discipleship. The focus, he said, must be upon lost persons, not relocating Christians to their meetings.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention; Connie Davis Bushey is the newspaper’s news editor.)