HARRISBURG –On February 24, the Baptist Resource Network’s first Executive Board meeting of 2023, board members heard reports on the BRN’s 2022 accomplishments and current Cooperative Program receipts, agreed to fund a “13th check” for GuideStone Financial Services’ Mission:Dignity® recipients in Pennsylvania/South Jersey, approved moving forward in the exploration of building a new warehouse property to house Disaster Relief equipment, and discussed ways to help the Cooperative Program remain strong in BRN churches.
In his report, BRN Executive Director Barry Whitworth, now entering his sixth year as executive director, shared about the BRN’s reputation in national circles. National leaders, including Willie McLaurin, interim CEO/President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, have said the BRN is “small but mighty,” and that the BRN has learned how to make “bricks with limited straw,” Whitworth said.
Even so, there were more churches closed in 2022 than in recent years, he said, pointing to the fallout of the pandemic now beginning to take its toll, as well as the SBC issues from the mishandling of sex abuse accusations, Critical Race Theory, concerns about North American Mission Board issues, and “quite frankly, some false and fabricated issues streaming across social media.”
Altogether last year, the BRN ended 2022 with 290 churches, 20 church plants, and 20 new churches in the works.
Notwithstanding, Whitworth shared there are many exciting things to report from 2022. Financially, the Cooperative Program giving was at 99% of the BRN’s budget. BRN churches gave $1,085,614 to the Cooperative Program, which equated to a $4,550 average annual gift per church. The giving for the Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions and the Lottie Moon Offering for International Missions was slightly down, he reported.
The #LovePASJ State Missions Offering received $27,065, which equated to 54% of the BRN’s goal. But most surprising this year was the #LegacyPASJ fund, in which $67,000 was given despite little communication about the fund just yet. This fund seeks to build an endowment through planned gift arrangements of outright gifts such as cash, property, stocks and bonds, mutual funds and real estate.
Pointing to an infographic designed by the BRN communications team, Whitworth shared noteworthy accomplishments for 2022:
BRN gave away 270 evangelism kits to churches, church plants, other non-BRN SBC churches, and even some non-affiliated BRN/SBC churches. These kits included the #LovePASJ “Know” and “Show” Kits, and the NAMB-related “3 Circles” and “Who’s Your One?” campaigns.
Team BRN members made over 7,000 connections with pastors, churches and SBC partners. This includes 201 “Next Step” conversations with pastors.
BRN’s Communication team produced over 100 videos, 51 BRN United weekly e-newsletters (that are released every Thursday evening), and 15 podcasts promoting #LovePASJ and Stories of Transformation. Also, the BRN website was updated to provide helpful and accessible information for our churches. The team also helped introduce the new Woven Women newsletter, emphasized church evangelism and baptism stories in “This Week in the BRN Family” series, and produced the #LovePASJ “Show” kit that was handed out at the Accelerate Conference last October.
The BRN gave away $144,338 in ministry grants to BRN churches, up 40% from previous years. A total of 180 grants were awarded to BRN churches, up by 117%. These grants included 86 church evangelism grants, eight collegiate evangelism grants, 59 compassion/hunger grants, and 27 ministry grants for various reasons to pastors and churches within the BRN.
The BRN’s two conferences, Accelerate and Advance, had 434 people in attendance last year. In Harrisburg, 246 attended the Accelerate Conference, and in State College, 188 attended the Advance Conference. The BRN was blessed with 22 sponsors and vendors to financially support the Accelerate Conference. The Advance Conference is generously supported by a partnership with the North American Mission Board.
The BRN saw 27 different groups utilize the three BRN Mission and Guest Houses properties last year. Dewey and Kathie Aiken, BRN’s partnership coordinators from N.C. Baptists on Mission, were the key to helping promote mission opportunities and partners for our BRN churches. The Aikens will be returning in April again this year to assist churches in already scheduled mission projects across the BRN.
BRN churches collected new clothing and funds, with the help of Send Relief, to provide winter relief for Ukrainians. Over 1,652 pounds of winter clothing were donated, and $30,000 was donated to purchase more winter clothing for people in eight different regions. Two of these churches are in the “Red Zone,” where the war is being waged against Russia. The BRN also gave over $3,400 to the Voices of Ukraine for local refugee assistance.
The BRN launched its Pastoral Wellness Initiative last year. This initiative provides rest, recreation, reassurance, and re-strengthening for our pastors and includes free access to the Full Strength Network’s counseling, coaching, peer huddles, and respite opportunities. Nine Pastoral Blessing events were conducted across the BRN to help encourage pastors, their wives, and families.
Whitworth shared that 2023 will continue to focus on pastoral wellness, as well as virtual cohorts in discipleship, compassion ministry, and a new one for pastors called, “Iron Sharpening Iron.” The BRN again will provide conferences to inspire and challenge pastors and churches in evangelism, discipleship, and leadership development.
Whitworth also shared about Send Relief’s “Serve Tour” on September 15-16 in Philadelphia. All BRN churches are invited to be a part of this event, which will serve the city with the love of Jesus Christ.
“We believe this event will open doors for the gospel, compassion ministry, and church planting. Our hope is that this Serve Tour is so successful that Send Relief would consider doing the same event in Pittsburgh the following year, and that we could replicate this in our smaller cities within the next 5-7 years,” Whitworth said.
Whitworth shared that the BRN team has consistently fasted and prayed together throughout 2022 and will do so again in 2023.
“This year we are going to stay focused on our mission, doing everything we can to keep the distractions on the outside from hindering what God is accomplishing on the inside of the BRN,” he said.
Whitworth also shared some of the challenges he has observed churches are facing, including secular influence on the church, church closures and churches desiring to unaffiliate because of the poor SBC climate, tightening of resources, pastoral health and aging, and pride.
“What can you do? We can all pray for God to tear down barriers and open doors,” he said.
“We need to pray and ask God at this time to reveal Himself mightily to our BRN pastors and churches, for revival to break out across PA and NJ, and for an awakening of the good news of Jesus Christ to permeate hundreds of thousands of hearts across our two-state area.”
In their business session, the Executive Board approved giving Mission:Dignity® recipients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey an extra check — a 13th check — to assist retired SBC ministry leaders with extra money needed for housing, food and vital medications.
They also approved allowing Kenton Hunt to lead an exploration of cost for a new disaster relief storage building on property owned by Winfield Baptist Church.
The board members also discussed ways to communicate the Cooperative Program and how much it supports the work being done in our region.
Chuck Knox, BRN’s new legacy coach, shared about the workshops that he leads to help churches maximize their charitable goals and benefit their families, their churches, and the Baptist Resource Network.
In his remarks, Brian King, Executive Board president, spoke on the necessity of good endings in ministry, stressing the good that comes out difficulties.
“Do you know there are certain places in your life where God can’t talk you without a good enemy?” asked King, pastor of Ezekiel Baptist Church in Philadelphia. Referencing Psalm 119:71, which says, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes,” he said, “God is getting ready to work in you and elevate you.”