ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–We have heard a lot about change over these last 18 months or so, and there’s no doubt it is certainly headed our way. But when it comes to the mission field of North America, change is already here and it has been happening all around us. Just this August, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that by 2042 ethnic minorities would be the majority in the United States. And our children will lead the way — the majority of children in the U.S. will be ethnic minorities by 2023.
We already see this trend in our schools, the workplace, where we shop and in our neighborhoods. The North American mission field is changing and Southern Baptists need to respond to those changes. We need to see North America for what it has become: a growing blend of ethnic and national backgrounds. That makes sharing the Gospel more difficult in some ways, but it also opens up remarkable opportunities to impact the world with the salvation of Christ while we share it right here in our own neighborhoods.
That is one of the reasons I am so excited about the National Evangelism Initiative — God’s Plan for Sharing (GPS) — that Southern Baptists throughout North America have begun embracing. This evangelism emphasis will prayerfully draw us together as Southern Baptists until 2020. Our goal is nothing less than every believer sharing and every person hearing.
Unlike previous national evangelism campaigns, GPS is not a one-year or five-year emphasis. It also differs because the process of development has not been a top-down approach, but rather a grass-roots effort.
From the beginning — even before my tenure as NAMB president began — GPS has been about partnership. Members of our evangelism team have worked tirelessly to seek the input and direction from directors of evangelism, ministry evangelism leaders, prayer evangelism leaders and state directors of mission from our state Baptist convention partners and individual Christians. It is that partnership and melding together of ideas that has made GPS flexible and adaptable so it will ultimately be more useful to churches and individual Christians no matter where they live and no matter what audience they are trying to reach. It can be contextualized to any context.
That partnership has been a great thing. There is more synergy when Christians work together, and I believe we will ultimately arrive at a stronger destination when we partner together. One great example is the Louisiana Baptist Convention, which just launched, “Sharing the Peace of Jesus” — GPS contextualized for their mission field. Executive Director, Dr. David Hankins, told me recently, “The LBC is very happy with our relationship with NAMB and looks forward to the continued development and implementation of GPS in partnership with them.” He goes on to say, “NAMB has always been helpful and open in our cooperative ministries.”
The state of Wyoming provides another good example of how partnership is coming together at the national, state and local levels. A colleague of mine recently sent me these comments from Don Whalen, evangelism strategist for the Wyoming Southern Baptist Convention. “We are going to have an Across Wyoming emphasis in 2010,” Don said. “We are praying that as our churches become even more intentional about evangelism, this initiative will help turn around the decline in baptisms we’ve seen. NAMB has worked right along side state partners right from the beginning on this.”
Stan Smith is a Director of Missions in the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey. I was happy to hear Stan’s recent comments. He said, “We have an incredibly positive relationship with NAMB” and that “NAMB paints the broad strokes but doesn’t come in and tell the states how to do things in their area.”
Stan added that, “You guys have been very generous and good partners. Very rarely have we come up with an initiative that you all haven’t been able to come to the table and help us.”
Those kinds of comments are always good to hear. Of course, partnership sometimes brings challenges. For starters, things don’t move as quickly. Sometimes there are disagreements. Effective communication can be a challenge. God has gifted all of us with different skills and perspectives and sometimes it takes a while to arrive at a place we all believe is best. But if we work through these challenges together, we will reap the great benefits from our toil. As Psalm 126:5 promises us, “Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy.”
NAMB and its state partners were hard at work developing the initiative and preparing for its launch at the Southern Baptist Convention this year in Indianapolis. Even though we are still in the ramp-up stage for the coordinated evangelism activities in 2010, NAMB will have invested more than $500,000 on GPS by the close of 2008 and another $1 million is planned for all of the GPS campaign in 2009. This money has been invested toward the ramp-up, promotion, media, resources (in four different languages), and coordination.
GPS already has prime attention throughout this entire mission entity. It was a significant focus of our Church Planting Missionary Forum in February of this year. It was center stage at our Summer State Leadership Meeting this past July. It was the cover story on the summer edition of our magazine, On Mission. And as our regional representatives meet from week to week with state partners across the United States and Canada, it will be a focus of conversation and planning as we work to guide and direct the millions of dollars Southern Baptists so generously give in their weekly tithes and offerings.
In early 2009, NAMB is partnering with five states — Texas, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, California and Georgia — to pilot the first coordinated evangelism activity of GPS. There is excitement from the field about these projects. In fact, just this week, Larry Cheek, the ADOM for the pilot project in Georgia, told us, “I believe God is using this initiative as a tool to provide a laser focus to the work that lies ahead. This became evident this past Tuesday (Nov.18) when pastors from 22 of our churches came together to begin to brainstorm and develop a grassroots strategy of taking the Gospel across our association. Six pastors made commitments to be key leaders in this effort. We are experiencing a groundswell of support from the vast diversity of churches in our association that is unprecedented in my tenure the past 12 years as their missionary.”
As we learn from these pilots, our resources and materials will be adjusted in order to maximize their impact and effectiveness once the initiative is rolled out across the continent. Also early into next year, each Southern Baptist pastor will receive an informational mailing about GPS and how their church can be a part of this historic outreach effort.
GPS will include resources to help Christians and churches impact those around them for Christ. And it will contain media assets to help spread the Gospel as widely as possible. Television ads, print material, Internet, radio, billboards, door hangers and social media like Facebook will all be utilized at various stages of the initiative across the entire continent in an effort to help local churches connect with their community.
GPS is a long-term priority for NAMB. We have worked hard in my first year and a half as president to refocus on the priorities of sharing Christ, starting churches and sending missionaries. But ultimately, each of those priorities is about one thing — fulfilling the Great Commission in the United States and Canada. And that is what GPS is about.
Southern Baptists cannot afford to ignore the changing landscape of North America and we cannot afford to miss the opportunity GPS provides us to focus attentively on being about our Father’s business of leading the lost to Christ. As NAMB positions itself for this long-term priority, I pray each Southern Baptist will be readying themselves for the opportunity to join once again in partnership as we go about fulfilling the Great Commission in our land.
Geoff Hammond is president of the North American Mission Board. For more information on God’s Plan for Sharing, visit www.nei2020.com.