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Baptist Men, RA numbers jump 6% in ’08

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Although total church membership, Sunday School attendance and the number of baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention declined in 2008 from 2007, participation by men and boys in Baptist Men’s ministries and Royal Ambassadors jumped almost six percent in 2008.

According to data collected for the recent Annual Church Profile by LifeWay Christian Resources, the number of men and boys enrolled in Baptist Men and RA programs in SBC churches jumped to 403,575 in 2008, compared to 381,355 in 2007.

The top 10 states in terms of the number of Baptist Men and RAs are Georgia, 81,496; North Carolina, 52,993; Tennessee, 35,641; Alabama, 33,480; South Carolina, 29,630; Mississippi, 23, 970; Florida, 19,395; Kentucky, 13,638; Virginia, 10,476; and Louisiana, 10,318.

Georgia and Tennessee led the way in chalking up the biggest increases in Baptist Men and RA growth in 2008. Georgia men’s ministries grew 21.2 percent last year, a one-year addition of 15,700 men and boys. Among Tennessee’s 3,000 SBC churches, 297 showed a 50 percent or more increase in men’s ministry – an overall 17 percent growth rate for the state convention.

“The emphasis on the Royal Ambassador Centennial last year may have contributed to this upswing,” said Jim Burton, team leader for mission education at the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga. “We heard from many churches in 2008 that realized they needed to re-prioritize teaching boys about missions and developing men to be their leaders.”

The 2008 ACP statistics represent two consecutive years of positive growth in the number of those participating in the Baptist Men and RA ministries in SBC churches — the longest period of sustained growth over the last decade, Burton said.

“We celebrate this evidence of churches prioritizing the development of men and boys in missions. Historically, we know the best indicator of children maintaining their family’s faith tradition as adults is the example of their fathers,” Burton said. “That’s why we are focusing on the development of men who are passionate about missions, challenging them to live their faith in ways that are tangible and dynamic.”

For more than 2 million boys — first- through sixth-grade in age — Royal Ambassadors emphasizes that they are commissioned as Christ’s ambassadors to go into the world and tell the story of Jesus Christ. RAs — which celebrated its 100th anniversary as an organization in 2008 — is one of the oldest Southern Baptist organizations.

After 1908, RA chapters multiplied quickly and by 1935, had grown to some 4,500 chapters in the U.S. In the past 10 years alone, a quarter million young boys have learned to live out the RA pledge: “We are ambassadors for Christ,” based on 2 Corinthians 5:20. After a century, Royal Ambassadors is now an international organization with groups in 14 countries reaching the world with the Gospel.

Fairview Baptist Church, Columbus, Miss., is one Southern Baptist church where RAs is a thriving part of the church’s overall mission education program — thanks to a married couple, Keith and Gayle Fortenberry. Led by pastor Mickey Dalrymple, Fairview runs some 1,200 in Sunday school each week.

Keith Fortenberry, who works for a Columbus cement company, and Gayle, a local high school teacher, have co-directed Fairview’s RA program for the past six years. Each Wednesday night, some 70 to 75 boys show up for RAs at Fairview.

“We think it’s good to separate the boys from the girls,” Gayle said. “It’s a time for the boys to learn it’s cool to be a Christian among your peers. They learn RA virtues like trustworthiness, friendship and loyalty.”

Using North American Mission Board materials such as the award-winning Lad and Crusader magazines, the Fortenberrys also re-instituted an awards program for the Fairview Baptist RAs, including patches, pins and vests. Most of the boys can’t wait to get their vests, said Gayle.

Fairview’s RAs look forward to several major events each year. There are campouts in the spring and fall — a time for fishing, canoeing and horseback riding. The boys’ dads, granddads or father-figures are always invited to attend.

The Fairview RAs also join RAs from all over Mississippi for the annual “RA Day” at a Mississippi Baptist College football game in Jackson. In between campouts and college football, there’s the RA Racing Program.

“Our boys would not learn about missions if they didn’t come to RAs,” said Keith. “Some don’t go to church on Sunday at all -– in fact, RAs is the only time they come to church. We try to give them some fun, but we also give them a program on the Gospel, too.” He added that participating in their son’s RA activities have also led some of the dads to attend Fairview’s worship services on Sunday.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board, www.namb.net. Curriculum and training to teach missions to boys is available online at www.royalambassadors.org. For information on how to develop or re-ignite an RA program, send an e-mail to [email protected] or call 770-410-6494.

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  • Mickey Noah