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Criticism leveled at NAMB ‘GPS’ plan

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The North American Mission Board’s management of its new “GPS — God’s Plan for Sharing” national evangelism initiative was criticized Nov. 20 in a front-page article, labeled as “analysis,” in The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.

The 5,000-word article — a mix of reporting, assertion and anonymous sources -– was written by Index managing editor Joe Westbury with additional reporting by Index editor J. Gerald Harris. It criticizes the North American Mission Board for not setting aside substantial amounts of money to conduct a nationwide media blitz in support of the 10-year GPS initiative, which is currently in pilot stages and will officially launch nationwide in 2010.

The article rehearses the 20-year history of national Southern Baptist evangelism campaigns, beginning with “Good News, America” in 1986. It notes that Southern Baptists’ domestic missions entity usually placed funds in reserve to make nationwide media purchases supporting each campaign and points out that no such reserve has been built up to make nationwide media purchases for the GPS initiative.

The article also criticizes the North American Mission Board for not having a line item for the GPS national evangelism initiative in its 2009 budget and says Baptist state convention leaders were told by NAMB President Geoff Hammond that purchasing advertisements for the initiative would be their responsibility.

The article says those state convention leaders “declined to be quoted due to a possible harming of funding they receive” from NAMB. The article quotes Alan Quigley, evangelism director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, as saying in a letter to his counterparts in other states that “NAMB’s decision against a media buy ‘has undermined the entire strategy.'”

Hammond, however, in a Nov. 14 interview with Westbury and Harris, said the mission board is charting a different media strategy for GPS than has been used in previous national campaigns. In the new initiative, the board had decided to make targeted media purchases in specific locations, rather than a bulk purchase of advertising to blanket North America.

“Every market is different…. What would work in New York may not work out in Idaho,” Hammond said, according to a transcript of the interview obtained by Baptist Press from the North American Mission Board. “We’re trying to do it very scientifically with some research and objective facts that we don’t just say this is what every American’s thinking about in every neighborhood about the Gospel.”

The board also is studying a broader variety of media that might be used, said Brandon Pickett, communications team leader for the North American Mission Board.

“We are getting research from the top 200 markets,” Pickett said, according to the interview transcript. “We’re finding that some areas television would be the best way to do it. Some it’s actually putting an ad on Google because it’s more social media … or Facebook.

“I mean some pioneer areas it’s actually putting things at the Wal-Mart because Wal-Mart is the place that everybody goes but there’s not a whole lot of television coverage,” Pickett continued. “So we’re looking at those markets to find out which would be the best media campaign and that’s why we’re calling it targeted media campaign based on the region.”

Hammond said in the interview that the entity’s budget doesn’t have a line item for the national evangelism initiative because “this is so much bigger than one line item.”

“We need to bring all of NAMB’s resources to bear on NEI,” Hammond said, according to the transcript. “So for example in the Evangelism Group in the 2009 budget, every MMA [Major Ministry Action] will have something related to NEI in it.”

Hammond re-emphasized this point later in the interview. “Every missionary, every time we go train, we’ve got to say … we’re engaging witnessing in the harvest and this is a part of GPS.”

In 2006, Westbury wrote an article in The Christian Index critical of former NAMB President Bob Reccord over his leadership and management, particularly in the areas of evangelism and church planting strategies, NAMB’s method of counting missionaries, its relationship with a private media firm and Reccord’s speaking engagements.

The Christian Index article can be read in its entirety here. The unedited transcript of the conversation during The Index interview can be read here.
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.

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