HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania – During the inaugural Accelerate Conference, the new annual meeting format for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey, 143 messengers and 108 guests, representing 101 churches, celebrated the network’s 50th anniversary, examined the future of church, and urge churches to love their neighbors through a three-phase initiative called #LovePASJ (Love Pennsylvania/South Jersey).
During the business session at the October 5 meeting at the Sheraton Harrisburg Hersey Hotel, messengers elected Bryan McClelland, senior pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, as president of the BRN Executive Board and approved a BRN budget of $2,139,750, which includes a one percent increase of Cooperative Program receipts forwarded to national and international Baptist causes (from 30% to 31%).
Outgoing president Buff McNickle shared about the “highly productive time for the BRN” throughout the pandemic, including the ability to help meet churches’ needs, despite a 40% decrease in the budget due to pandemic losses in partnerships and support.
“I am proud of the fact that we didn’t have to let anyone go from the staff, and we were able to help navigate the safety of the team and visitors by making sure we had all the up-to-date appropriate safety protocols,” McNickle said.
He also applauded the network’s efforts in racial reconciliation, sexual abuse prevention, evangelism, new affiliations, and the #LovePASJ initiative, which seeks to help churches “know” their neighbors through exegesis and prayerwalking, “show” Christ’s love to them through evangelism and compassion ministries, and “grow” them in the Lord through intentional discipleship and leadership development.
As COVID-19 halted ministry gatherings worldwide, the BRN decided to postpone its 50th anniversary celebration from 2020 to this year, kicking off the Accelerate Conference with a celebratory video highlighting the BRN’s 50 years of ministry. This year’s 96-page program also highlighted history with several articles and a historical timeline, which can also be found at www.brnunited.org/history.
This year’s annual gathering of churches was shortened to one day, beginning with a brief business session at 9 a.m., followed by a full day of worship and engaging content. A month earlier — now in October instead of November, to better accommodate schedules and hotel availability – the format was designed to feel more like a conference than an annual meeting.
In his address, BRN Executive Director Barry Whitworth explained the new format for the annual gathering. “Accelerate is designed to help encourage and challenge the BRN family of churches to be fueled and inspired to accelerate Kingdom movement across Pennsylvania and South Jersey.”
Whitworth, pointing to 2 Chronicles 15:1-6, where God is speaking through the prophet Azariah to King Asa of Judah,” told those in attendance, “The Lord is with you when you are with Him.”
During King Asa’s time, God’s people had “forgotten God was the all-powerful, awe-inspiring Creator of the universe” and “turned their eyes away from the true God, closed their ears to the truth, and turned their backs on God’s Word,” Whitworth noted.
“I think the question for us today is, ‘What are we seeking, and whose agenda are we really pursuing? Christ’s Kingdom agenda or our own?’” he said, then pointing to Exodus 14, where God instructs Moses to “not be afraid” (v. 13) because the “Lord will fight for you” (v. 14).
Whitworth stressed, “God steps in and does something no one was expecting. He communicates to Moses, ‘Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to MOVE ON’” (Exodus 14:15).
“Does that sound familiar to the church that is currently stuck in the middle of a pandemic?” Whitworth asked. “God told the Israelites to ‘move on, move forward’ with Him, so He alone would gain the glory for what would happen next… if we turn completely in faith to Him, we will find Him, and He will be glorified through the work He does through His people.”
For the past two years, the BRN has been in partnership with Denominee, one of the inter-connected organizations of Future Church Co., which guides leaders of denominations and networks through a process to bring increased value to churches they serve by designing a new operating system that will guide them into the future. Ministry entrepreneur, Will Mancini, author of the recently published “Future Church: Seven Laws of Real Church Growth,” co-written by Cory Hartman, led these efforts and was this year’s conference keynote speaker.
Out of that work emerged the BRN’s new mission statement, “Helping churches accelerate Kingdom movement,” particularly focused on helping churches love their neighbors in such a way that the statistic of 14 million lost people in PA/SJ is dramatically reduced — or even abolished!
“Our mission at the BRN moving forward is to help any BRN church take their next step towards accelerating movement for our King, Jesus,” Whitworth explained. “We want to help you to identify whatever it is you believe God’s next step is for you as a church. We believe if we can see churches take a step moving forward, this will give them a faith boost, and synergy, to see movement in their neighborhoods and local community.”
Whitworth added, “Our goal over the next year is to see movement among 50 churches that decided to take their next step towards getting healthier and stronger.”
In other sessions, Mancini examined the premise that many churches in North America are “faking disciples” rather than making them. He defined the “functional Great Commission” of most churches in America, which has become “Go into all the world and make more worship attenders, baptizing them in the name of small groups, and teaching them to volunteer a few hours a month.”
But that is not the mission Jesus gave His life for, he stressed, noting the church in North America is “dramatically over-programmed and under-discipled.”
“The paradigm for church we’ve embraced … is perfectly designed to produce the limited results we’re getting. We can do better,” he said, summarizing “seven laws of real church growth” that point to the future church. “Real church growth starts with a culture of mission, powered by the gospel, validated by unity, and it’s always local. And it grows people, led by calling, and it’s energized by shared imagination.”
Mancini and co-author Hartman tag-teamed a look back through four eras of church growth, to show the different changes and to prove the point of how far the church has fallen away from its original mission to make disciples, which Jesus modeled in Luke 8:1, Luke 9:1, and Luke 10:1.
This year’s conference was based on the theme #LovePASJ, a three-phase initiative that seeks to accelerate a Kingdom movement of Baptist Resource Network churches. Participants received kits, chock full of resources to help church leaders and members exegete and prayerwalk their communities.
Through this effort, the BRN seeks to enlist 100 churches to exegete their communities; establish, identify, or recognize a gospel footprint in at least 500 neighborhoods; engage in at least 5,000 gospel conversations; and in celebration of the network’s 50th anniversary, ultimately to embrace and adopt 50 new neighborhoods for the gospel. Learn more at www.lovepasj.com.
Replays of the main sessions are available at www.acceleratepasj.com.
The BRN will host its inaugural Advance Evangelism conference on March 21, 2022, focusing on three key areas: Reaching the Post-COVID World (overcoming Division and Distance), Reaching the Digital World (from Social Media/Social Ministry), and Reaching the Next Gen (with a Biblical Apologetic and a Loving Hermeneutic). Learn more at www.advancepasj.com.