Launched in May 2004 by the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board in cooperation with Baptist state conventions and associations, the Acts 1:8 Challenge is designed to encourage Southern Baptist churches, both English- and Spanish-speaking, to take a fresh look at how they plan and execute their missions efforts.
Acts 1:8 state coordinators, state leaders and entity representatives addressed the direction of the Acts 1:8 Challenge at their annual coordination meeting July 6-7 at the North American Mission Board offices in Alpharetta, Ga.
"The question is still the same," said Neal Hughes, NAMB's mobilization coordinator. "How do we move Southern Baptists and mobilize them from their heart's desire to where God wants them to be."
The overarching question for the group, though, was how will state convention partners, local associations and their churches interact with NAMB with its regionalized focus and with the IMB as it assists churches to reach unreached people groups in North America.
Illinois Baptist State Association Executive Director Nate Adams, who authored The Acts 1:8 Challenge manual, emphasized via Skype the design of the Acts 1:8 Challenge as a paradigm and not program, calling it a "grassroots" intention rooted in Southern Baptists' local church heritage. The consensus among the group was that the Acts 1:8 Challenge will continue to be most effective as a church-based effort.
"All we're saying is how do we get the Gospel to 6,476 unreached people groups around the world, 3,800 of which have no access to the Gospel," said Eric King, IMB's director of missional church strategists team. "The only way we'll do this is if we continue to partner with churches who desire to reach unreached people groups.
"We are challenging churches to pray and explore God's direction for the long haul," King added. "We're looking for churches to commit and do whatever it's going to take and however long it's going to take to see an effective church planting strategy for these people groups.
"It's not an easy call. We admit that, but we are doing everything we can to come alongside local churches."
IMB mobilizer Terry Sharp emphasized the importance of reaching North America's cities in order to reach the world.
"Don't just think about those over there in the 10/40 window. Don't neglect the fact God may have brought that people group here," said Sharp, who works with Southern Baptist state conventions and associations and facilitates urban strategies. "I'm excited about how all of this is coming together. God is up to something."
Sharp noted, "The cities of North America are changing, and the unreached people groups of the world are coming to our cities. They're hard to get to and it's dangerous to get into their own countries, but God is bringing them to our cities."
Shane Critser, NAMB's church mobilization team leader, echoed Sharp in emphasizing the importance of reaching North America's cities through evangelistic church planting.
"As we plant churches and evangelize communities to reach the fourth most lost nation in the world, we will see more churches go to unreached people groups throughout the world," Critser said. " committed to seeing healthy reproducing churches in the key cities of each region.
"To do this we need a coalition of likeminded people who can pull together all our strategies and resources and support each other to impact lostness."
In the days ahead, Acts 1:8 Challenge momentum will hinge on state- and association-based implementation as leaders ramp up efforts to mobilize churches in missions, evangelistic church planting and evangelism.
"It was a giant step to see the concept of Acts 1:8 associations accepted," said Sid Hopkins, director of missions for the Gwinnett Metro Baptist Association and chairman of the 430-member Network of Baptist Associations. "Whatever things come and go, the biblical mandate of Acts 1:8 will always be there. I think our gathering sowed solidarity of thinking about the Acts 1:8 strategy of missions."
Mark Emerson, mission involvement director for the Illinois Baptist State Association, said he was glad to see a renewed vigor as Acts 1:8 was embraced by the missions entities at the meeting and further grafted into state and associational strategies.
"We use that model as the way that we can help lead pastors and congregations to establish missions strategy in their church," Emerson said.
The next Acts 1:8 Fellowship Roundtable will be July 18-19, 2012, in Raleigh, N.C., facilitated by Mike Sowers, senior consultant at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina for church planting and missions development.
To learn more about what it means to be an Acts 1:8 church, visit www.actsone8.com; call 1-800-422-8718; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.
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