ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–When the North American Mission Board began discussing a new denomination-wide evangelism initiative with our state and local partners back in 2006, we had no idea what the world would be like in the days leading up to the launch of the emphasis. Back in 2006, jobs were plentiful, credit was flowing, mortgages were easy to get and the bull market seemed like it would never end.
What a difference three years can make. Today we live in a world of uncertainty. Corporate icons have been toppled. State and local governments are grappling with severe budget shortfalls. Homeowners who once thought return on their investment was a guarantee are learning otherwise. And government leaders are faced with a mounting national debt that may take generations to retire.
I don’t believe it’s just by mere chance or coincidence that all of these realities are playing out before our eyes simultaneously. I truly believe God is giving Southern Baptists an opportunity to step into the darkness and uncertainty of these times with the light of the Gospel. That light will grow brighter as individual Christians, churches, associations and state conventions re-commitment to sowing down the Gospel neighbor by neighbor and community by community.
There’s no doubt in my mind that God was orchestrating events three years ago when NAMB prayerfully started working with its partners to develop GPS (“God’s Plan for Sharing”) for its 2010 launch. God knew the economic turmoil and uncertainty we would be facing. Of course, these events have impacted Southern Baptists as well. Many of our church members are losing jobs and livelihoods. Some churches have cut back on ministries and staff positions. Our state convention partners are getting by on less, and some have cut staff and initiatives. I’ve directed our staff at NAMB to cut spending by 10 percent although we are still commissioning missionaries and have maintained our commitment to all of our missionaries and mission partners.
Our convention faces tough decisions about priorities in times like these. Do we curtail missions, evangelism and church planting efforts geared toward reaching the three out of four lost people living in North America? Do we allow, as I have said before, this economic recession to become an evangelism recession? I pray we do not and I don’t believe Southern Baptists will allow that to happen.
Recently, in preparation for the 2010 launch of GPS, NAMB partnered with state conventions and associations in Georgia, Texas, Pennsylvania and California to conduct evangelistic outreaches in those states. These efforts included radio, television, print, outdoor and Internet advertising, but most importantly they involved individual churches and individual Southern Baptists reaching their neighbors for Christ. The results were encouraging.
In Philadelphia, an estimated 90,000 homes were touched with the Gospel. Vietnamese, Anglo, Russian, Haitian churches and more all joined arms in reaching out to their communities in this effort. The results were almost immediate. Two women in one neighborhood where a church had been distributing Gospel brochures walked into the church and gloriously accepted Christ that day!
In Lubbock, director of missions Ed Sena of the Lubbock Area Baptist Association wrote this: “I was moved to tears when I learned that a 94-year-old saint took her walker and distributed Gospel literature in her neighborhood. In addition, a young mother had her 4-year-old assist her in leaving a Gospel presentation on neighborhood doorknobs. From ages 4 to 94, it brought great joy to our people to be involved in such a simultaneous effort.” About two-thirds of the congregations in the Lubbock association — more than 75 churches — were committed to the outreach.
As participants rallied around the Great Commission, churches and individual believers who never before had prayer-walked their neighborhoods or distributed evangelistic brochures took to the streets before Easter in these efforts. We will now evaluate and make adjustments to the initiative before it launches next year. But I believe these pilots prove that Southern Baptists want to and will reach out to their community if given the leadership, resources and impetus for doing so.
NAMB’s strength is that it is your strategic missions partner. We don’t do anything alone. In fact, the great majority of offering dollars that come to our entity through the Cooperative Program and the annual Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions are returned directly to the mission field through salaries or resources for our missionaries, money for church plants or funding we send to state convention partners for use in their ministry priorities. Many state Baptist conventions in states in the West or in the North receive the majority of their annual budgets through NAMB. And we do it all with efficiency and effectiveness which stacks up impressively when compared to most ministries, charities and nonprofits.
There’s an old saying that says, “The light that shines farthest shines brightest nearest home.” I believe as Southern Baptists keep the light of the Gospel shining brightly on North America, the result will be a refocusing on the Great Commission throughout our convention. It will naturally happen as we together pray for our neighbors, engage with them, sow the Gospel in their lives and celebrate a harvest that is promised in Scripture. As I interact personally with Southern Baptists throughout North America, I am certain they are ready for such a day.
Geoff Hammond is president of the North American Mission Board.