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GCR Evaluation Task Force releases report, recommendations to come

NASHVILLE (BP) — Did the Great Commission Resurgence accomplish its goal of reversing the decline of baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention?

According to the final report from a task force commissioned to answer that question, “the answer is a clear and decisive, No.” Where the blame lies is complicated, but there is plenty to go around, the task force said.

The GCR Evaluation Task Force (not to be confused with 2009/2010’s Great Commission Resurgence Task Force) was formed with the approval of messengers to the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans to study the impact, if any, of the adoption of the recommendations put forth by the original GCR Task Force in 2010.

“Jay Adkins and his team of scholars and analysts have met more than 20 times since the Southern Baptist Convention last convened in New Orleans,” said SBC President Bart Barber.

“They have taken their work very seriously, and we are indebted to them. Ultimately, God has entrusted the Great Commission to the churches, and the task of implementing it belongs to us all. Praise God for recent data that reveal our increasing faithfulness to do so.” Barber was referring to last week’s release of statistics showing an uptick in church attendance and baptisms in the SBC.

Adkins, the group’s chairman, posted May 12 on X that their work had been a “monumental task.”

“I pray this report would be taken as seriously as we took our responsibility to produce it and that ultimately, God would be glorified and our convention be unified as we move forward together,” he wrote.

Southern Baptist messengers voted to move forward with the original GCRTF’s recommendations in 2010 after much debate. Major changes adopted included a change in terminology about giving to Southern Baptist causes that fell short of expectations as well as a fundamental change in the mission of the North American Mission Board, with the steps to get there fracturing many relationships that remain strained to this day.

Recommendations based on the current task force’s report will be released no later than a week before the upcoming annual meeting, the group said. In addition to Adkins, the other members appointed by Barber to serve on the task force were Robin Foster, Adam Groza, Luke Holmes, Chris Shaffer and Jeremy Westbrook.

Response to original GCR recommendations

The 2010 GCRTF placed seven recommendations, based on seven components of the group’s report, before the Convention:

  • Adopt a mission statement to present the Gospel and make disciples throughout the world.
  • Adopt a set of core values for that work.
  • Encourage Cooperative Program giving and other Great Commission giving.
  • Consider revising the ministry assignment of NAMB.
  • Consider revising the International Mission Board’s ministry assignment to remove geographical limitations in its mission.
  • Promote the Cooperative Program and elevate stewardship.
  • Decrease the SBC Executive Committee’s CP allocation by 1 percentage point, which would be given to the IMB.

From the evaluation task force’s perspective, only two of the recommendations “were ever fully implemented.” Those are No. 4 regarding NAMB’s ministry assignment and No. 5 calling for NAMB and the IMB to work together toward reaching underserved people groups in North America.

To accomplish its work, the evaluation group took steps such as studying the final report of the GCR Task Force from June 16, 2010, reviewing nearly 150 Baptist Press articles and conducting formal and informal interviews. Additional research was conducted at the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives (SBHLA) in Nashville.

Permission was sought to have “limited and confidential access” to sealed materials about the GCR housed at the SBHLA – documents that are scheduled to be opened on June 16, 2025. That request was ultimately denied.

A culture in crisis

A primary way of checking through the implementation of GCR recommendations was looking through subsequent SBC annuals. This showed that many of the points from the GCR were quickly forgotten. For instance, Component Two called for the implementation of eight core values – Christ-likeness, truth, unity, relationships, trust, future, local church and kingdom.

The evaluation task force found that not only were these not implemented, but that no further discussion of them could be documented. There was “no significant emphasis placed on platforming these core values.”

While acknowledging that the SBC has “an army of humble, Christ-following servants” working and volunteering in all aspects of church life, both in the U.S. and internationally, the overall tenor in the Convention has taken a downward turn.

Component Two’s objective was to promote a healthy culture in the SBC and cool down from discussions that precipitated the GCR. The task force concluded that the temperature has actually moved in the other direction, with “all discernable evidence [pointing] to the contrary.”

“Current objective evidence” points to “a clear erosion of ‘trust, transparency and truth’ from within our convention,” the task force wrote. Such erosion has been observed, the group said, in Executive Committee “overreach” and through cases of “dereliction of duty.”

“Notable and numerous moral failures” have plagued pastors and other leaders, not to mention “varying sorts of examples of dishonest and bereft leadership in the SBC at large leading to terminations and resignations.”

The growth of social media hasn’t helped, as the task force noted “uncharitable and unChristlike behavior” on those platforms.

A new giving label didn’t stick

“Great Commission Giving was poorly defined and never fully adopted by the broader Southern Baptist family,” the task force said.

Most of the interviews conducted by the task force reflected that the category of Great Commission Giving, those financial gifts toward Southern Baptist causes outside of the Cooperative Program, came about because of low CP giving percentages among some large churches.

Higher percentages reflected through Great Commission Giving would be published in Baptist Press, the report said, adding that the pastors of some large churches wanted a number “more palatable” associated with them in case they were nominated to Convention office or elected as an entity head.

After a “robust beginning,” Great Commission Giving had a steady decline alongside CP giving. A call for local churches to make CP a priority led to a bump in support from associations and eventually state conventions. As more state conventions moved toward a 50-50 split, where half of their gifts were forwarded to the SBC national allocation budget, CP figures began to increase. From the 2010-2011 fiscal year through 2022-2023, the average percentage states forward directly to national CP increased from 38.2 percent to 41.98 percent.

Meanwhile, a call also went out to give sacrificially to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. With annual goals of $100 million to the former and $200 million to the latter, both offerings experienced increased giving even if the goal was met only once (LMCO in 2022).

Ultimately, both the Cooperative Program and Great Commission Giving continue to experience decline. “While Great Commission giving did not necessarily hurt the Cooperative Program in any discernably measurable way,” the task force said, “it certainly did not help it in any measurable way.”

Changes to NAMB, IMB

By 2010, a church planting movement was well underway, but Southern Baptists were largely absent from the conversation. This was partly due, the task force said, to a lack of a “homogenous strategy” that would train, track, assess and report Southern Baptist church plants.

Today’s report pointed to the difficulty prior to 2010 in getting actual church planting statistics due to each state convention’s keeping its own records. At one point, 42 different assessments existed for church planters with variables dependent on where one chose to plant. Pre-2010, Annual Church Profile (ACP) statistics were as varied as the number of state conventions reporting them to NAMB.

The phrase “bloated bureaucracy” was used quite often in discussions about the need for a Great Commission Resurgence, with that moniker applied most directly to the North American Mission Board.

The 1997 restructuring, Covenant for a New Century, folded the Radio and Television Commission, Brotherhood Commission and Home Mission Board together into NAMB, with the agency swelling to more than 450 employees, the task force report said. The 2006 SBC Annual described its ministries as including evangelism, church planting, collegiate ministries, disaster relief, men’s ministry revivals, ethnic ministries, volunteer missions, missions education, communication technologies and strengthening associations.

“As a result of these varied concentrations, NAMB lacked focus and direction,” the report said, adding a comparison by someone that it had become “an octopus with all tentacles and no head.”

The task force also reported that NAMB experienced “poor leadership at the highest levels, lacking united direction and focus,” leading up to 2010. A February 2006 analysis by The Christian Index, Georgia Baptists’ newspaper, dug into criticisms of NAMB’s first president Bob Reccord, before doing so again in November 2008 for Reccord’s successor, Geoff Hammond. Both resigned shortly after those articles.

The implementation of Component Four to “consider any revision to the ministry assignment” of NAMB has “been a major point of contention,” today’s report said, with many pointing out the decline “in certain numerical categories since 2010.”

While acknowledging “disappointing numbers,” the current task force report noted positives such as record levels of giving through the Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings, not to mention the robust effort toward Southern Baptist church planting efforts.

A desire to focus more on church planting led to the phasing out of long-standing “Cooperative Agreements” between NAMB and state Baptist conventions. In those arrangements, NAMB funded positions such as directors of missions, Baptist Collegiate Ministry directors, secretaries on convention staffs, and in one case, seven urban strategists in Nebraska, the report said.

“Among those we interviewed, there was near unanimous agreement that NAMB desperately needed reorganization and refocusing on its primary tasks,” it said. “In addition, most everyone agreed that Cooperative Agreements, in place for at least 40-50 years, needed retooling or replacement, and a new method for dispersing funds was required.”

Later, the report stated, “Following the Covenant for a New Century, [NAMB] had become a bloated, multi-focused organization and needed to be streamlined.”

NAMB’s new ministry direction came about as “a clear mandate” from the messengers. But even as the entity became more streamlined in personnel and focus, the report said, it came at the expense of favor with some pastors and churches, largely due to the phasing out of Cooperative Agreements with state conventions.

The task force called it a “paradox,” as messengers voted for the change but then many were left frustrated by the results, including a decrease in baptisms and church starts. Per the GCR report, NAMB would focus at least half of its ministry efforts towards church planting. That part of the entity’s budget would eventually grow by $56.4 million.

Prior to 2010, Southern Baptists took note of the resources offered through church planting networks like Acts 29, which led to the development of the Send City Strategy adopted by NAMB that today has roughly 4,700 churches that self-identify as a supporting or sending church and just over 1,600 endorsed church planters.

Of all baptisms in 2022 in non-South states, 27 percent came from churches started since 2010, the task force noted. More than half of the Southern Baptist churches in Canada have been planted since then, with the Send Network active in new works in Puerto Rico, Canada and New England.

For all those efforts, though, the task force reported that the number of church plants actually decreased by 364 when comparing 2011 and 2022. Baptisms decreased as well.

According to an internal review, NAMB reported that 90 percent of churches planted by its Send Network survive to at least four years. “However, there are no published reports about the survivability rates of churches beyond these four years once funding ceases,” the task force report said.

The GCR solved some problems while creating new ones. Prominent among them was the “dismantling” of an evangelistic network between NAMB and the states that promoted evangelism at the local church level.

“Many of the problems created were also relational in nature, though not all of them,” the report added.

And yet, the report praised NAMB’s recent efforts to shore up those relationships such as the Who’s Your One evangelism initiative launched in February 2019 and several new hires toward evangelism. Through its Planting, Replant and Revitalization initiatives, NAMB is also focusing again on rural churches throughout the country. 

The task force also praised the cooperative work between IMB President Paul Chitwood and NAMB President Kevin Ezell toward Component Five of the 2010 GCR report that called for reaching unreached and underserved people groups in North America.

Calling the partnership “healthy and vibrant,” the task force noted its impact, particularly since 2017. The founding of Send Relief that year has “continued the significant compassion ministry work of Southern Baptists.” Send Relief has reported serving 2.56 million people in 85 countries since then, the task force noted.

A look in the mirror

The task force stated in its report its objective to be a “healing balm and not a hurtful bomb” while presenting its findings. Due to the spotlight on them, entities and leaders tend to get most of the blame. It’s not unfair, as those individuals and agencies are trusted with leading Southern Baptists to growth on behalf of the Gospel.

However, they are not alone in the culpability, the report said.

“To be sure, there is more than enough blame to go around for this continued downward trend,” it read. “Ultimately, if the SBC has not realized a reverse in the decline in Baptisms, all the folks who make up the SBC are, in some way, culpable. Every Southern Baptist Christ-follower can and should, in the end, take responsibility for the current state of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

That part of the report included comments from Sandy Wisdom-Martin, Woman’s Missionary Union executive director.

“The Great Commission cannot be parceled and assigned to our boards,” she said. “While the efforts of our boards are critical, it is incumbent on every Christ follower to proclaim the gospel. This responsibility cannot be abdicated. … It really doesn’t matter what strategy we put into place if we don’t change the culture of our community of faith.

“This has to be the foundation.”

View the GCR Evaluation Task Force report here. Baptist Press will report on the group’s recommendations when they are released.