[SLIDESHOW=43550,43551,43552,43553]DENVER (BP) — Set against a backdrop of freshly snow-capped mountains on the front range of Colorado’s Rockies, North American Mission Board trustees saw firsthand how Southern Baptist church planters are countering spiritual darkness in the midst of a recreational paradise.
On the Monday before their Oct. 4-5 meeting, trustees loaded onto buses to visit church planters at their places of ministry. One, Kevin Hasenack, is planting Calvary Church Denver in one of the most diverse communities in the area.
“One in four people here were born outside the United States,” Hasenack told trustees. “We are located close to the largest mosque in Colorado. We hosted a soccer camp this summer and most of the 40 kids who participated were Muslim.”
The greater Denver area, one of NAMB’s 32 Send Cities with a population of 4.3 million, consistently shows up in the top 15 on several “Fastest Growing Cities” lists. Only 12 percent of the population is affiliated with an evangelical church while 63 percent say they are unaffiliated with any religious body.
At a Monday evening dinner before trustees began their meetings, Ed Stetzer affirmed NAMB’s emphasis on evangelistic church planting as the most effective way of reaching cities like Denver.
“The best thing that a Southern Baptist mission [board] can do in North America today is to specifically focus on church planting,” Stetzer told the gathering of trustees as well as local church planters. “Ultimately it’s because men and women need to hear the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Stetzer, who heads Wheaton College’s Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, affirmed the turnaround at NAMB that has taken place in recent years.
“Seriously, I am stunned at the amount of focus that the North American Mission Board has brought to church planting. And what’s happening today is people are coming up to me and saying ‘So tell me, what are Southern Baptists doing? We want to learn from you.'”
After committee meetings Tuesday, NAMB’s full trustee meeting began Wednesday with a devotional by SBC President Steve Gaines, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn.
Gaines began by asking, “Does prayer make a difference?” Using Daniel’s prayer recorded in Daniel 9:4-17 as a model, Gaines said prayer matters because it moves the hand of God, it reveals the will of God and it blesses the heart of God.
“The church was birthed in a prayer meeting, not a business meeting,” Gaines said. “What could God do with the North American Mission Board? What could God do with the Southern Baptist Convention if we would realize that the primary thing we are to do before we do anything else is pray.”
Trustees approved several actions during the sessions:
— an increase in NAMB’s 2016-17 capital budget to allow for needed maintenance and improvements at its Alpharetta, Ga., building.
— a $10 million allocation from investment reserves for research and development that will allow NAMB to test new ministry sites and approaches, especially in cities where access to ministry sites is limited.
— two senior personnel shifts: Clark Logan to the role of chief research officer and Carlos Ferrer serving as chief financial officer in addition to his role as executive vice president.
— a resolution congratulating Gateway Seminary on the occasion of dedicating its new facility in Southern California was also approved.
In his president’s address, Kevin Ezell reminded trustees of the weight each of their decisions carries.
“If you serve an eight-year term as a NAMB trustee, in that eight years you will have been a part of helping Southern Baptists start 10,000 churches. That’s roughly one-fourth of the SBC,” he said.
“You may not understand the incredible magnitude of just one vote, but just one vote several years ago has allowed us to provide loans to church plants that otherwise would never have received them and never would have gone from 200 to 800 in a two-year period. We allowed them to get somewhere in one year that would have taken them 10 years on their own,” Ezell said.
Ezell highlighted several ways NAMB is continuing to help focus Southern Baptists on evangelism including its Engage 24 workshops for pastors and a citywide crusade to be part of Crossover Phoenix in June 2017.
Ramp-up of NAMB’s Send Relief ministry continues, Ezell said. Plans for 2017 include feasibility studies for two or more Send Relief ministry hubs; a safe house for women who have escaped human trafficking; providing Send Relief training labs and continuing to focus on drawing in a younger generation of Send Relief volunteers.
Ezell also demonstrated a new online Cooperative Program Calculator that allows users to select a state Baptist convention, insert a dollar amount and then see how their money is used inside and outside the state.
“So as a pastor you know where every dollar of your Cooperative Program money goes,” Ezell said.
Ezell ended by sharing a new emphasis NAMB will start promoting in 2017.
“I appreciate so much Dr. Gaines’ emphasis on prayer this morning,” he said. “In 2017 that’s going to be our emphasis at NAMB — to get at least 10,000 churches that will commit to pray — just pray — for church plants.”