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FIRST-PERSON: By all possible means

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) — When the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9 about being all things to all people so that, “by all possible means,” he might win a few for the sake of the Gospel, he wasn’t talking about changing or watering down the message of Jesus but about presenting it in a way that everyone could understand and relate to.

That is the approach we must use as we plant evangelistic churches across North America — especially in those areas where Southern Baptists have such a small presence. No single church can reach every type of person, so we need all kinds of Christ-centered churches that will proclaim the truth in their communities in a way people can hear and embrace.

With the North American Mission Board’s Send North America strategy, we are working toward helping Southern Baptists start 15,000 new churches over 10 years. We are especially focusing those efforts on our large cities where SBC church-to-population ratios have fallen to very low levels in the last 50 years.

But another important part of our strategy is to be sure we are starting churches where people feel at home. That might be a little different for others than it is for you and me. Again, there is no changing or compromising of the Gospel message, but a recognition that God created all of us uniquely.

This is so critical to our mission as Southern Baptists and it is why NAMB is in the process of bringing on board three new national Church Planting Catalysts (CPCs) who will focus on starting churches for specific groups of people.

Churches for the deaf — Our new national CPC for the deaf will work with leaders throughout North America to identify where the next 100 deaf churches need to be planted. We will have a national map indicating the area of greatest need for deaf churches and ministries. Many churches have deaf ministries that are doing a great job. What we want to do is help start deaf churches where those who are deaf and profoundly hearing impaired will have a place to call home if they prefer it.

Military churches — This national CPC will focus on starting churches for members of the military. Research shows that 80 percent of U.S. military members stationed stateside live off-base. Some churches are doing a great job of ministering to them. But churches specifically started for military will take into account the transient nature of military life, the difficulties that come with deployment, the challenges for children whose families move a lot or who must go on with life without seeing a parent for months at a time. I believe churches designed for and led by those in the military will have great potential for attracting military members who currently don’t attend church.

Missional communities — Many people who would not initially attend a church would come to a small group that was meeting in their neighborhood or a friend’s house. Our new national CPC for missional communities will work in our 32 Send North America cities to start missional communities where unchurched people will gather in small groups to study the Bible and learn about Jesus. These groups will be organized with the hope that they will one day be combined with other missional communities and become a church. Missional communities are great starting points for many people — especially in crowded cities where access to churches is often limited and inconvenient.

I spoke recently to one of our church planters in Canada who is bringing together three missional communities to form a church among South Asian immigrants. Our hope is that many of these groups eventually will grow into new churches. Our hope is that by 2020 we will have 100 of these groups going at all times in each one of our 32 Send North America cities.

If we are serious about pushing back lostness in North America, we will have to be both industrious and creative to reach this culture that has become so hardened to the Gospel. If Southern Baptists will embrace the challenge, I believe we have exciting days ahead.
Kevin Ezell is president of the North American Mission Board. To learn more about Send North America, visit namb.net/mobilize-me). Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Kevin Ezell