COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP) — North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell shared highlights of a year of ministry expansion and introduced what he called “NAMB Phase II” to messengers in Wednesday morning’s (June 17) session at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“I want to thank Southern Baptists for their generous and sacrificial support for the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering,” Ezell said. “Thanks to the leadership of our pastors and the generosity of our congregations, the Annie offering was up 2 percent this past year.
Ezell continued, “I am happy to say that last year Southern Baptists started 985 new churches — a 5 percent increase over the previous year. But, if we are to reach North America for Christ, our church plants must look like North America. That is why I am pleased to report that 58 percent of the churches Southern Baptists started in 2014 were non-Anglo,” Ezell said.
Ezell told messengers that former SBC president Fred Luter has accepted the role of NAMB Ambassador to African American churches. In addition to continuing as senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, Luter will assist NAMB with the goal of increasing African American congregations in the SBC from the present 4,000 to 5,000 by 2020.
Part of NAMB Phase II and the continuing Send North America strategy to reach North America through evangelistic church planting includes the Boulevard Experience. Boulevard is a focused effort to bring biblical discipleship to the urban context. Ezell introduced Dhati Lewis, director of NAMB’s Urban Initiatives, to outline Boulevard.
“A sociologist once said if we are to solve the problems we face in North America, we must solve the problems we face in the city,” Lewis said. Ultimately, Lewis said, the foundational challenge is to address the lack of men and solid male role models in the homes within cities.
“The Boulevard Experience exists for one reason alone — we want to be the last generation who had to leave the urban environment to receive sound theological training,” Lewis said as he outlined the initiative’s “four pillars” as church-centered, discipleship-driven, local-church-based and urban focused.
“We want to embrace the density and diversity — the beauty and the complexity — that come with the challenges in the city. Our desire is to equip urban practitioners to make disciples in the city,” Lewis said.
Reporting on the “church planting class of 2010,” Ezell said the class’ 757 surviving churches represent 80 percent of the original number planted that year. The same cohort gave $3.3 million to SBC missions in 2014. The class of 2011 has a survival rate of 87 percent.
“In NAMB Phase II, numbers are still important — we want as many churches as possible,” Ezell said. “But we will not sacrifice quality for quantity. We are raising the bar in every area. We will stop at nothing to have the very best assessment, training and coaching for Southern Baptist church planters.”
Ezell told messengers the 3 Circles: Life Conversation Guide, introduced at the 2014 annual meeting in Baltimore, has 1.4 million print copies in circulation with an additional 38,000-plus phone and tablet app downloads.
“We have just introduced a Spanish version of the 3 Circles guide in print and app form,” Ezell said. “We are giving away the print guides through the end of the year and you can always get the app for free.”
Ezell concluded his report by inviting messengers to the Aug. 3-4 Send North America Conference in Nashville. The event is co-sponsored by the International Mission Board. Ezell noted the conference has more than 12,000 paid registrants, with less than 1,500 seats still available.
“Who would have dreamed that we will more than likely have a waiting list for a missions conference?” Ezell asked. “Southern Baptists, thank you again for your faithful prayers, your participation and your giving. We exist to serve you and it is a privilege to do so.”