HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (BRN) – Nearly 150 registrants gathered online for the Baptist Resource Network (BRN) of Pennsylvania/South Jersey’s November 5 “Kingdom Vision Virtual Mini-Conference,” which replaced what would have been the network’s 50th anniversary celebration and annual meeting.

Due to COVID-19 concerns, BRN’s Executive Board determined that it was necessary to cancel the BRN Annual Business Session and Annual Gathering for 2020, originally slated for November 5-6. After careful consideration and consultation with legal counsel, it was determined that it was not possible to hold the planned annual meeting and comply with the orders issued by the Governors of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Accordingly, the Executive Board voted to adopt the 2020 budget as approved by the 2019 messengers and to keep the messenger-approved officers from 2019 for another year. In lieu of the anniversary celebration, the BRN will celebrate its 50-year legacy all throughout 2021.

The approved budget from last year is $3,012,000 and allocates 30 percent of Cooperative Program (CP) receipts to SBC national and international missions and ministries. The remaining 70 percent will go toward Pennsylvania/South Jersey missions and ministries. The budget does not include any shared ministry expenses.

Officers continuing in their roles are: Chris “Buff” McNickle, pastor of Grace Falls Church in Absecon, N.J., president; John Weathersby, pastor of Transcend Church in Harrisburg, Pa., vice president; and Jennifer Musser, community engagement director at ChoiceOne Pregnancy and Sexual Health Resource Centers, and wife of Brian Musser, collegiate minister at Drexel University in Philadelphia, secretary.

Additionally, Board members approved this alternative virtual mini-conference, which was presented on a special interactive platform that mimicked actual in-person meetings—complete with a plenary stage, breakout stages, a virtual exhibit hall, and other interactive elements on an easy-to-navigate web portal.

The conference featured keynote presentations from Jeff Christopherson, co-founder and missiologist for Send Institute, and Barry Whitworth, BRN executive director, as well as breakouts on a variety of topics based on the theme, “Kingdom Vision,” from Revelation 7:9.

Filmed prior to the national election, Christopherson’s remarks pointed to today’s culture, which is “tilted away from the church,” and to the evangelical “brand,” which is becoming more and more socially disadvantageous.

Stressing a Kingdom-mindedness instead, Christopherson said Christians must “begin to realize that God is not looking for sides to join. God is revealing His Kingdom and allowing us to join in what He is doing.”

Christopherson, the author of Kingdom First: Starting Churches that Shape Movements, Kingdom Matrix: Designing a Church for the Kingdom of God, and the recently released, Venal Dogmata, A Parable of the Future Church, also serves as executive director of Church Planting Canada, Multiplying Church Catalyst for CNBC, weekly columnist at Christianity Today’s Missio Mondays, and co-vocational pastor for The Sanctuary in Ontario, Canada.

We need a different kind of church and a different kind of church planter/leader, stressed Christopherson, pointing to realities forced by the pandemic. “Rather than a hyper-focus on the gathering, we must prioritize equipping people for a disciple-making movement” and “shifts to invading the secular space.”

He also said we need a different level of “gospel collaboration.”

“Think about how foolish the question, ‘How many did you have?’ sounds right now,” he urged, noting the change is for our good. “Now we must think less about ourselves and more about the spiritual state of our communities. And to that end, we must work together with other churches to see that everyone has a chance to see, hear, and respond to the good news invitation of Jesus Christ.”

Whitworth’s keynote address focused on creating gospel movement across the Pennsylvania/South Jersey landscape, where according to statistics, 14 million people do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Unless something changes, these people will not be among the vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before Jesus Christ’s eternal throne.

“Our greatest desire at the BRN is to see our churches accelerate towards becoming a healthy multiplying church; that is a church that reproduces new disciples, leaders, ministries and church starts that ultimately reproduce new disciples, leaders, ministries and church starts to the glory of God,” he said.

“But, none of this comes to fruition with just a continual focus on building organizational structures and religious behavior. A movement like this is only birthed through replicating and representing the heart of our King, Jesus,” he added, pointing to Jesus’ heart as explicitly shared in the gospel of Matthew (chapters 22, 25 and 28), typically expressed as the “three” greats: the Great Commandment, the Great Compassion, and the Great Commission.

“But how can this be done? Mainly through a Kingdom focus, having a Kingdom vision. … It looks like King Jesus getting His way, God ruling and reigning in the hearts of people.”

Revelation 7:9 shows us a glimpse of what heaven will look like, Whitworth said. “My hope is that somehow and someway, in our lifetime, we can and will get this right… We can either be a part of fostering this reality or we can be a part of advancing earthly or worldly domains. It’s our choice.”

In a report to the BRN churches, Whitworth shared about God’s miraculous provision in the face of budget cuts brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“God provided the BRN nearly $1.5 million in resources, through many different avenues, to help us resource BRN churches so they could love their neighbors,” Whitworth said. “Much needed food, sanitizer, masks, gloves, and other products were given to us to distribute through churches so they could impact their communities with the Gospel.”

This all occurred in the face of funding freezes and cuts from our partners and from an expected decrease in Cooperative Program giving, he said, noting that after two record years of Cooperative Program giving, there was CP giving decrease of 8.62% during the SBC fiscal year (ending Sept 30).

He also shared how the BRN team has made over 8,500 connections with pastors, churches, and partners through numerous roundtable discussions, virtual trainings and hundreds of phone calls during this very challenging year.

Despite the challenges, the network experienced a 6% growth in new churches across Pennsylvania and South Jersey. Twenty-four new church plants and six new church affiliates joined our network family, he said.

During the pandemic, the BRN also continued the racial unity conversation started by a coalition of African American and Anglo pastors in Philadelphia three years ago.

They “have continued diligently in their work to show the community outside of Christ what it looks like when people of different races and backgrounds come together in the name of Jesus Christ,” Whitworth exclaimed, explaining that birthed out of the coalition, among other shared ministries between the represented churches, is a shared effort between the pastors and their churches to love on and reach Strawberry Mansion, an underprivileged neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia.

Also, to help the network to become a more proficient resource for its 330 churches, Whitworth reported that the BRN has focused on learning how to build a “next step operating system” with the group Denominee, led by author Will Mancini, founder/church consultant and ministry entrepreneur for Future Church Company. The effort is “already clarifying our mission, unifying our team, and amplifying our impact,” he said.