PHILADELPHIA (BP) — A goal of 55,901 Southern Baptist congregations by the end of 2020 has been set by North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell as part of the Send North America strategy NAMB is implementing in evangelistic church planting. The goal would mean a net gain of 5,112 SBC congregations in less than a decade — more gained than in any decade since 1900.
“This should be the golden age of church planting in the Southern Baptist Convention,” Ezell said during the Oct. 17-19 meeting of NAMB’s trustees in Philadelphia.
The growth is based on projections of new church plants, new affiliations and church deaths between 2011 and 2020. Reaching the goal would require nearly a doubling of the SBC church birth rate by the end of the 10-year period. The 55,901 “congregation” target includes new self-supporting churches as well as church-type missions which will become new churches at some point. The goal was shared with trustees during an informal update by Aaron Coe, vice president of mobilization at NAMB, a day before their meeting.
NAMB’s trustees also approved a $115 million budget for 2012, toured new ethnic church plants and — with state convention and local association leaders and church planters — celebrated groundbreaking church-planting efforts now under way in the historic “City of Brotherly Love.”
“This trustee meeting in Philadelphia has been good for us,” Ezell said in his presentation to the trustees. “In a lot of the places we live, there’s a high population of Southern Baptist churches. Where I live in Atlanta, there’s one stretch with nine evangelical churches in a two-mile area.
“Driving into Philadelphia, we saw one evangelical church. It reminds us of our priority of impacting people’s lives with the Gospel. We can’t get away from that. We need to stay focused on impacting the lost with the Gospel.”
Ezell’s report to trustees and many of the activities surrounding the meeting focused on Send North America, the NAMB initiative focusing on church planting — especially in North America’s largest cities and least-reached areas.
NAMB continues to make progress toward its goal to transition 50 percent of the mission entity’s budget to church planting, Ezell reported.
“In 2009, NAMB spent 28 percent of its budget on church planting. In 2011, we are spending 37 percent and, in 2012, we will spend at least 42 percent of our budget on church planting,” Ezell said. “So we are progressing rapidly toward our minimal goal of 50 percent.”
In his third-quarter financial report to NAMB trustees, NAMB chief financial officer Carlos Ferrer announced year-to-date total revenues of $101 million, down about 2 percent. But Annie Armstrong Easter Offering revenues are 3.5 percent higher over the same period last year, Ferrer said.
Trustees approved a proposed budget of $115 million for 2012, a 5.4 percent decrease from this year’s $121.5 million budget. Ferrer said the budget decrease resulted in part from the transfer of the World Changers/Power Plant missions programs — and associated revenues — from NAMB to LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. The decrease also reflects a general belt-tightening trend at the entity, which is funded almost entirely by offerings given in Southern Baptist churches.
DISASTER RELIEF RESPONSIVENESS
To better support Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR), trustees approved $1.5 million in NAMB 2011 under-spending for the purchase of three 18-wheelers, two smaller trucks and some pick-up trucks for deployment to future disaster sites across America. The vehicles will support state convention disaster relief efforts and will be designed toward giving Southern Baptists an almost immediate presence after a disaster.
“The purchase of this equipment for disaster relief is significant,” Ezell said. “We want to bring more to the table when we arrive on the scene at future disasters. This is a significant upgrade, the largest NAMB has ever done in the disaster relief area.”
Southern Baptists have more than 85,000 trained disaster relief volunteers and more than 1,500 units across North America, making Southern Baptists among the top three largest responders to disasters.
Ezell also thanked David Self, a NAMB trustee and executive pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church, following the church’s $175,000 gift to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. The entirety of that gift was forwarded to state conventions that have expended considerable resources this year on disaster relief responses.
VP’S ADDED DUTIES
Trustees approved additional responsibilities for Jeff Christopherson as regional vice president for the Northeast Region as well as Canada. Christopherson, 47, was appointed vice president – Canadian Region earlier this year, based in Toronto, as part of a regional restructuring by NAMB. He reports directly to Ezell.
Prior to coming to NAMB, Christopherson, a native Canadian, had served since 2009 as National Church Starting Team leader for the Canadian National Baptist Convention in Oakville, Ontario. He has worked as a church planter in various areas in Canada since 1995. He also served as senior pastor of First Baptist Church in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, from 1989-95.
In line with reducing expense and shifting savings to church planting, NAMB trustees, following a lengthy discussion, adopted a motion whereby NAMB would phase out — over five years — the entity’s traditional provision of benefits to some missionary personnel who receive less than half their salary from NAMB. Over the years, NAMB has jointly funded many missionaries with state conventions and local associations and covered the cost of health insurance for some.
The change will primarily impact missionaries in southern states where state convention partners are the primary employer and have the most resources to pick up missionary insurance coverage. The motion is in keeping with advice from NAMB’s legal counsel and with the entity’s efforts to place more resources in under-reached and under-served areas.
Under the change, affected missionaries will have until January 2013 to be absorbed into other insurance programs. After that, NAMB will provide $1,000 per month, per non-missionary, to help state and associational partners with the transition, and then phase down that amount by 20 percent a year over five years.
“This will save $2.6 million [over five years] in the South Region alone, and all of that savings will go to church planting,” Ezell said. “We will continue to pay benefits to missionaries whose salaries we fund at a level of 50 percent or more.”
Ezell emphasized that NAMB would not be cutting money from state budgets in 2013 and 2014, “just shifting money to church planting. We’re just trying to add more church planters, and take care of their salaries, benefits and retirement. They have done without long enough. We’re going to take care of our church planting missionaries.”
Ezell said NAMB’s new regional strategy is “working exceptionally well and is helping us to better communicate with our state partners as well as our missionaries.”
He took time to apologize to state convention partners who may have felt criticized by his report on church planting numbers at the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix this past June.
“We must establish a base of how many churches we are actually planting,” Ezell said. “Our sole intent is accuracy and consistency in the counting of new church plants. At no time in the past did I mean to imply that any state or association was being dishonest or giving us false information. Some misinterpreted that. Sometimes it was NAMB’s own fault because we didn’t ask for the right information. Maybe we always didn’t ask for the numbers to be itemized.
“There are 42 state conventions and all plant churches in different ways and count them differently. Some count new plants on the basis of first baptisms, and others on the basis of the first dollars given to the Cooperative Program.”
Ezell said NAMB is now working with all state conventions to establish a consistent, across-the-board method to count new church plants.
“We have to change our mindset. Church planting is not neat, not compartmentalized, not a science, not exact. But we have to pull out all the stops. We must be more creative. We must think with a Kingdom mindset.”
Ezell said within the Southern Baptist Convention in 1900 in America, there was one SBC church for every 3,900 people. Today, there is one SBC church for every 6,700. In Mississippi, there is one SBC congregation for every 1,400 people. In Canada, there is one congregation for every 124,000; in New Jersey, one congregation for every 76,000; and in New York, only one SBC congregation for every 60,000.
“Clearly, we have to do a better job,” Ezell said.
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.