History was recently made in my hometown.

A town which boasts a population of only 6,685 residents, Pikeville, Kentucky is not a location where one would expect a state Baptist convention to be held. And yet, two weeks ago, the Kentucky Baptist Convention held their 2018 Annual Meeting (and other associated events) in this small town located deep in the mountains of eastern Kentucky for the first time. Ever.

As I have reflected on this historic occasion, here are ten takeaways about my experience when the state convention came to town:

  1. Abundance of Details. This was my first time participating in the “behind the scenes” planning and discussions of the Annual Meeting activities. I was simply amazed as I observed the abundance of details that go into planning an event of this magnitude. From recruiting volunteers to serve as greeters to locating four matching high-back chairs for the stage to coordinating shuttle services, the number of details seemed endless at times!
  2. “Behind the Scenes” Heroes. Many of those “behind the scenes” details would have fallen through the cracks without a host of “behind the scenes” staff and volunteers who tirelessly worked to make sure that everything went off without a hitch. One of those KBC staff members was Cheryl Frerman. Cheryl assumed responsibility for planning the annual meeting earlier this year after the retirement of another KBC staff member, and she did a wonderful job in a very short amount of time. One of the volunteers was Jeff Hensley, a member at First Baptist Pikeville, who selflessly drove a shuttle bus around the city of Pikeville for the better part of three full days. These are only two of countless unsung heroes who served behind the scenes to ensure that things ran smoothly.
  3. The Beauty of Cooperation. Several other events preceded the Annual Meeting and involved multiple churches from across the state. There was an evangelistic basketball clinic where nearly 100 local children heard the gospel. There were 30 volunteers who prepared 90 Thanksgiving meals for low-income families in the area. Another 40 volunteers knocked on doors throughout the city. Then, nearly 1,000 volunteers worked side-by-side during the Hope For The Mountains evangelistic crusade.  This event had an estimated 3,000 people in attendance, and at least 53 people made professions of faith in Christ.  As an eastern Kentucky native, I can say without question that these things would not have been possible for a single church working alone. But, when churches work together, the kingdom impact is much greater!
  4. Boost for Local Churches and Community. The evangelistic events and Hope For The Mountains crusade made an immediate positive impact on our local churches. Several churches have already baptized individuals who made professions of faith during one of the KBC events. All of our churches are encouraged and excited that God will use these recent events as a spark to bring about a great spiritual awakening to a region that is over 90% unchurched. In addition to the spiritual impact, the state convention also made a positive economic impact in the region. Fully booked hotels and crowded restaurants were clear signs that the Baptists were in town! The financial impact for an economically depressed region cannot be overstated.
  5. Hospitality of Local Residents. At each of Pikeville’s two main exits, large banners read, “The City of Pikeville Welcomes the KBC.” Local churches and city officials understood the significance of the convention being held in our corner of the state, and we tried our best to show some mountain hospitality while Kentucky Baptists were in town.  I heard several fellow Kentucky Baptists who commented on the friendliness and hospitality of the locals. I’d like to say that I was surprised, but folks here are proud of our little town.  And we like to show it off whenever guests are here!
  6. Raised Awareness of Eastern Kentucky Needs. In the months leading up to the Annual Meeting, the communications staff at the KBC and Western Recorder did a fantastic job raising awareness of the unique needs and opportunities in the eastern part of the state. In addition to the well-documented economic challenges, fellow Kentucky Baptists were made aware of the vast amounts of lostness and urgent need for church planting efforts throughout the region. However, the news wasn’t all bad. Fellow Kentucky Baptists were also told about all of the wonderful things that the mountain region has to offer.
  7. Greater Appreciation for Eastern Kentucky Baptists. The comment that I heard more often than any other pertained to how far folks had to travel to Pikeville. Believe me, we know.  Several pastors from the Pike Association made the 7+ hour drive when the Annual Meeting was held in Paducah a few years ago. And we know how far the drive is to Bowling Green and Elizabethtown and Louisville and Lexington and Florence, as we make it every year.  As fellow Kentucky Baptists made the drive to Pikeville this year, I believe many now have a greater appreciation for those in the east who have made a similar drive every year but this one.
  8. Greater Appreciation for the State Convention. Since the KBC was held in Pikeville this year, several eastern Kentucky pastors and church members were able to experience the Annual Meeting and associated events for the first time. And I have heard nothing but positive feedback. Many have expressed deep appreciation for the fact that the KBC was willing to take the steps necessary to come to Pikeville. Many have expressed a desire to be more informed and engaged regarding the cooperative work of Kentucky Baptists. And many have expressed hope that the KBC will return to the mountains in the future.
  9. Solid Attendance. When the KBC announced the Annual Meeting would be held in Pikeville in 2018, no one really knew if folks would attend. I have to be honest, I wondered about those things as well. But, much to my delight, the attendance exceeded my expectations during Hope For The Mountains.  While the attendance at the Pastors Conference and Annual Meeting was slightly lower by my unscientific estimations, it did not seem to be significantly lower than past years.
  10. Many Lessons Learned. Hosting the Annual Meeting in Pikeville was a first for everyone. Organizing an evangelistic crusade as part of the activities was also a first for everyone. I, for one, learned many lessons throughout this process. But, at the end of the day, I was very pleased with the results, and I will always look back on the time when the state convention came to town with deep gratitude.

To my fellow Kentucky Baptists, I hope you enjoyed your time in our little corner of the state.  And I believe many other Eastern Kentucky Baptists would join me in saying, “Y’all come back now, ya hear!”

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