ATLANTA (BP)–Southern Baptist leaders “need to be full of faith, not full of fear” as the search for a new North American Mission Board president goes on, and many questions linger about how NAMB will implement the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force recommendations, NAMB interim president Richard Harris told almost 500 Baptist state leaders July 25.
“God has given Southern Baptists a prominent role in North America to reach people with the Gospel, but we cannot continue down the same road we’re going,” Harris said. “We are losing North America for Christ, and I don’t think that’s what the Father wants.”
Harris spoke at the North American Mission Board’s annual Summer Senior Leadership Meeting July 25-29 at a hotel near Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Based on current budget commitments to state conventions, current Cooperative Program giving trends will leave NAMB with nothing for other ministry initiatives by 2020, Harris explained to his audience. “We’ve clearly got to do some things differently,” he said.
According to Harris, the GCR recommendations refocus NAMB on three priorities: evangelism/discipleship, church planting and mobilizing a missional movement. Fully half of the board’s future ministry efforts and resources will go toward planting healthy, multiplying churches in the United States and Canada, he said.
“Metropolitan areas, where 63 percent of the population now lives, will be a top priority. We want to reach — with [the International Mission Board’s] help — the 587 under-reached and under-served people groups. We want to make sure our evangelism strategy fits both the setting and the culture.
“To do all this, we must re-prioritize our funding,” Harris said. “The GCR recommendations call for phasing out our cooperative agreements with the states over seven years, but since 2011 budgets are already in place, we will probably not start that process until 2012. We will also re-look at what our metrics of success should be.”
In the first of several listening sessions NAMB will host with key partners, Harris facilitated a lengthy question-and-answer session. Several questions focused on the GCR-recommended “decentralization” of the North American Mission Board.
In response to a question whether the entity’s building would be sold and staff re-deployed out in the field, Harris and NAMB’s trustee chairman, Tim Dowdy, agreed “all options are on the table.”
“The 258 million lost people in North America is our target, our bull’s eye,” said Dowdy, pastor of Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough, Ga. “We are determined to roll up our sleeves and change whatever needs to be changed to reach those 258 million lost people.
“We know you’re in this because you love Jesus and you want to share the Gospel. I know this is a radical, scary time,” Dowdy added. “That’s why we want to hear every comment and question. I want every piece of advice from all of you.”
Dowdy said the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force “did their due diligence. It’s obvious from the report that they spent a lot of time and did a good job of investigating what’s going on in North America.
“As chairman of the NAMB trustees, I’m determined that at this point in Southern Baptist life, it’s not a time to just change the labels on doors and do what we’ve always done. We’re not going to say, ‘Well, Orlando has passed, we’re going to rearrange some titles and organization charts and continue business as usual.’ That’s not the plan.”
Dowdy said the plan is, however, to take seriously what the task force recommended and “put hands and feet to it.”
“We don’t know how it’s going to look yet. It’s going to look differently than it does today, I can tell you that because what we’ve got today is not doing the job,” Dowdy said. “We can’t say how every facet and every feature of NAMB will look in the future. But things will change — things have to change.
“Our mission is not to guard the fort but take the city,” Dowdy added. “We at NAMB are challenged with the task of taking the Gospel to those 258 million lost people. We are a service organization that serves the churches.”
Dowdy said no time is being wasted, that trustee officers and the board’s senior leadership has already met since the recommendations passed. They will meet in two weeks to begin mapping out coming changes, prior to the next scheduled board of trustees meeting, slated for Los Angeles in early October.
At the same time, the NAMB president search committee — chaired by Ted Traylor, former NAMB trustee and pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla. — continues to consider candidates.
Regardless of the changes to come, one major NAMB initiative Harris and other NAMB leaders agreed would continue to be a top priority is the agency’s ongoing GPS (God’s Plan for Sharing) campaign, set to run until 2020.
In this year’s kick-off GPS campaign, between March 1 and April 30, 10,500 SBC churches participated by distributing some 15 million “Find It Here” printed pieces in communities across the nation, reaching nearly 45 million people.
NAMB evangelism team leader Jerry Pipes said the 2012 campaign — “Reaching Across North America” — will be launched with an eight-week media saturation leading into spring 2012. The media campaign — TV, radio, billboards and newspapers — will feature as its tagline: “Hope. Find It Here.”
Pipes asked the state leaders to agree that in 2012, “we will reach 80 percent or 40,000 of our SBC churches. And we want to see 1 million people accept Christ and be baptized in 2012. Can we all agree on that?”
NAMB’s church planting vice president, Ken Weathersby, said church planting will also undergo a major sea change in the months ahead. Weathersby said the coming changes in church planting will “liberate us to the point of seeing more people and churches engaged in church planting. We’re going back to our biblical roots.
“We don’t want to rearrange the body of Christ, we want to plant new churches,” Weathersby said. “And church planting success will be defined by discipling and transformation as the desired outcomes, planting built on biblical and prayerful foundations, and in context of the culture.”
Weathersby said the new church planting framework will add to church planting capacity, not diminish it. For instance, plans call for mobilizing lay people — even those without seminary or college degrees — as church planters. He added the process also will include the revamping of the Nehemiah church planting program.
The third major initiative — the new Metropolitan Missions Focus on the major population centers of the U.S. and Canada — was introduced by Harry Lewis, vice president for partnership missions and mobilization.
With an overall U.S. population of 309 million, Lewis said the U.S. is made up of 366 metropolitan statistical areas with over 250 million people representing 83 percent of the nation’s total population. Canada has 109 metro areas with over 25.5 million people representing over 80 percent of that country’s total population.
“Clearly, most people live in metro areas, in core cities of 50,000 and up,” Lewis told the audience. “There’s at least one metro area in every state convention.”
Lewis said under NAMB’s Metropolitan Missions Focus, work will concentrate on four megalopolis areas in the United States: New York (22 million people), Los Angeles (17 million), Chicago (10 million) and Washington, D.C. (8 million). In addition, six focus states will also be targeted — New Jersey, Michigan, Georgia, Colorado, Texas and Oregon/Washington.
“The U.S. population is growing by one person every 10 seconds,” Lewis said. “A year from now, we’ll have 3 million more people. If churches plant the same number of churches as in the past — which has averaged an annual 1,500 new plants — it means that each one of those new church plants will have to reach 2,000 people just to meet the annual population growth. And if we baptize the same number we typically do, we’ll only reach 11 percent of them. Most of that additional 3 million people will die and go to hell because we’re only reaching a fraction of them.”
Lewis was quick to add that mid-size cities and rural areas can’t be overlooked, either — citing both a small town of 3,300 and a mid-sized city of 40,000 where estimated lostness in each exceeds 90 percent.
Frank Page, the next president of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee in Nashville and until recently, vice president of evangelism for NAMB, capped the meeting with a presentation that used “Why We Do What We Do” as his theme and the story of God’s call to a young Samuel.
“God calls us and wants us to rely upon that call,” Page told the state leaders. “I believe if there’s ever a time, it is now that we listen to the call of God as the reason we do what we do.
“Votes can be taken, councils and task forces can come forth with their recommendations,” Page said. “What will we listen to? Task forces from Nashville? Convention directives? I challenge you to be men and women responding only to God’s call. Your state, your association or your church will not see a revival of God’s Holy Spirit because of some denominational directive. Hear the call, heed the command.”
NAMB’s church planting and evangelism groups closed out the four-day meeting by recognizing individuals and states excelling over the past year:
— Dennis Hampton Rural Church Planting Award, Douglas Lee, associational director of missions, Nebraska
— Baptist General Convention of Texas, largest number of new church plants
— Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists, highest percentage increase in new church plants
— Lifetime Achievement Awards for Church Planting, Willie McPherson and Floyd Tidsworth
— Distinguished Service Award, Jean-Baptiste Thomas, New York City
— “Find It Here” Participation Awards, Kentucky Baptist Convention and Alabama State Board of Missions
— “Find It Here” Percentage Award, West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists and Convention of Southern Baptists of Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands
— “Find It Here” Media Awards, California Southern Baptist Convention and Louisiana Baptist Convention
— “God’s Plan for Sharing” Award, Gary Taylor, Missouri Baptist Convention
— Excellence in Evangelism Awards, South Carolina Baptist Convention (2), State Convention of Baptists in Ohio, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina
— C.E. Autrey Evangelism Award, Florida Baptist Convention
— Charles Roesel Ministry Evangelism Award, Eric Allen, Kentucky Baptist Convention
— Howard Ramsey Evangelism Award, Convention of Southern Baptists of Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands
— Roy Fish Excellence in Evangelism Award, David Burton, Florida Baptist Convention
NAMB also recognized and honored three retiring SBC leaders: Ray Tallman, professor at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary; Herman Rios, Florida Baptist Convention; and Bob Mills, who retired as a jointly funded missionary in the roles of state director of missions/ministry evangelism for the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists. Mills continues to serve as the convention’s executive director.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.