Big birthdays have a way of getting our attention, as they should. Sometimes they even alarm us. Can my parents, or grandparents, really be 80? Am I really 50? Is my church really a hundred? Time really does seem to fly, whether you’re having fun or not.
And so maybe it snuck up on you that our home state turns 200 this year. One verse from the Illinois state song reminds us, “Eighteen-eighteen saw your founding, Illinois, Illinois.” Don’t worry, though, there’s still time to buy a gift. While the official seal of Illinois bears the date August 26, 1818, that was when the first state constitution was ratified. It wasn’t until December 3 that the U.S. government formally made Illinois the 21st state of the union.
And while the Illinois bicentennial may be receiving less fanfare than the national one back in 1976, this big birthday should still be getting our attention. There were only about 35,000 people in Illinois in 1818, but today there are at least 8.2 million who do not claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. These two hundred years have brought a lot of people into our state mission field, and our Great Commission challenge as churches here is now bigger than ever.
That’s why we are embracing the Illinois bicentennial in our theme for this year’s IBSA Annual Meeting, “Pioneering Spirit – 200 and Counting.” As we now count two hundred years of statehood, we are also asking “what should we be counting?” and “what should really count?” today, if we are to have the same pioneering spirit as our Baptist forebears.
Beginning with last year’s annual meeting, IBSA has been challenging Illinois Baptist churches and leaders to join together and “count to 200” in four strategic, missional ways:
First, we have identified 200 places or people groups in Illinois where a new church is desperately needed. We are inviting churches to adopt one or more of those 200 by praying for them, or partnering with resources or volunteers, or actually sponsoring the plant as the mother church.
Second, we are praying for at least 200 churches that will seek to become more frequently baptizing churches, by setting annual baptism goals and equipping their members to intentionally have gospel conversations and participate in evangelistic events and mission trips. We are praying for churches that will set their sights on baptizing at least once a month, or more than their previous 3-year average.
Third, we are praying for at least 200 churches that will commit a specific percentage of their annual budgets to Cooperative Program missions, and then seek to increase that percentage annually toward 10% or more.
And finally, we are praying for at least 200 churches that will commit to intentional leadership development processes—not only for the pastor and current leaders, but also for tomorrow’s pastors, church planters, and missionaries.
You can learn more about these commitments, and register your church’s pledge to them, by visiting pioneeringspirit.org, or by calling John Carruthers at (217) 391-3110. There are currently 166 churches that have registered a commitment, and we are hoping to celebrate 200, in more ways than one, when we gather at First Baptist Maryville for the IBSA Annual Meeting.
Of course, some churches are fulfilling one or more of these challenges already. But for the overwhelming majority of IBSA churches, these challenges will be a major stretch. In fact, as our Annual Meeting theme suggests, moving beyond our status quo into these types of commitments will take a true “pioneering spirit.” It’s the kind of spirit that brought Baptist pioneers to Illinois more than 200 years ago.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.