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Hammond, Hunt address state leaders

ATLANTA (BP)–In one of the North American Mission Board’s largest summer leadership gatherings in its history, 515 Southern Baptist leaders converged in Atlanta July 27-31 and heard NAMB President Geoff Hammond say “this is not your father’s North America anymore.”

Representing Southern Baptists from all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico, the attendees included specialists in evangelism, church planting, ministry and academics from state conventions, local associations, all six SBC seminaries and NAMB.

“North America is increasingly a lost mission field,” Hammond told the gathering at the Airport Westin Hotel. “North America has always been a mission field.” Two thousand years ago, he noted, “It was a lost mission field that Jesus Himself came to.”

Hammond challenged Southern Baptist leaders to pray for a spiritual awakening in the changing North American environment.

“Among the world’s industrialized countries, Canada and the U.S. continue to have growing populations, legally and illegally,” Hammond said. “Canada admits into their country 250,000 legal immigrants each year. The U.S. population is 303 million and will be 400 million in the next 35 years. Over 100 million will be Hispanic.”

Illustrating the continent’s exploding diversity, Hammond said 100,000 Ethiopians now call Atlanta home. Some 166,000 Armenians live in Los Angeles. In Toronto, 911 calls are handled in any of 150 languages.

Johnny Hunt, who was elected as Southern Baptist Convention’s new president in June, voiced a wakeup call in his first address to state convention, local association and NAMB staff.

“If this denomination doesn’t get desperate for God’s Son and a movement of the Holy Ghost of God in our denomination again, we’re in trouble,” Hunt said. “The great evangelist Vance Havner said, ‘The great tragedy of our day is that the situation is desperate but the saints are not.’

“Attendance at the recent [Southern Baptist] convention in Indianapolis dropped 20 percent. You can’t do that very often and not be in serious trouble.”

Hunt, senior pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church in Woodstock, said Baptists have to go back 50 years to find baptism numbers as low in North America. Evangelism, he said, is what Southern Baptists do as a result of what they’ve learned –- to be obedient to the Great Commission.

“But revival comes when God touches. We need God to revive us personally, as churches and as a denomination and give us passion for lost people … [to] let God come down and touch our hearts …. God’s going to have to wake us up, shake us and show us where we are.”

To meet the challenges of spreading the Gospel throughout North America, NAMB’s senior strategists, under the leadership of Hammond, reviewed the mission board’s new National Evangelism Initiative (NEI), which was introduced at the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis.

“Not often do we have the opportunity to come together at an historical point with a rallying call to Southern Baptists like the NEI,” Hammond said. “We didn’t come up with NEI in a vacuum. About 96 partners from state conventions, associations and NAMB developed the strategy after many hours of meetings and travel. After your input here, it will go national,” he told the leaders.

NEI will be launched in early 2009 for a 12-year time frame. Its theme will be “God’s Plan for Sharing” (GPS), with the goal of every believer sharing and every person in North America hearing the Gospel by 2020. The four primary focus points of the initiative are praying, engaging, sowing and harvesting.

“The process of implementation lies in the hands of many of you in this room,” Hammond said. “The church is the way Jesus has chosen to win the world. Our headquarters is the local church. Jesus died for the church.”

Calling associations the “front lines,” Hammond said association offices have most of the contacts with SBC churches. He reminded the Baptist leaders that in an effort to achieve more focus and emphasis on associations, NAMB has appointed David Meacham -– a former associational missionary and state executive — to the newly created post of NAMB senior strategist for associations.

“Is NEI going to be a challenge? Absolutely. Is it anything less than what God expects of us? No.” Hammond told the leaders that they would not recognize the Southern Baptist Convention in 2020 “if God helps us reach these goals.”

In addition to the objectives set for the NEI, Hammond stated additional goals in the areas of church starting and missionary sending: that each of the 40,000-plus SBC churches in North America would be engaged in starting new churches to reach all people groups by 2020 and every Southern Baptist crossing cultural and spiritual barriers to serve in some sort of short- or long-term mission endeavor by 2020.

During the four-day conference, NAMB also presented annual awards for outstanding achievements in evangelism and church planting to state conventions and individuals.

The Florida Baptist Convention was honored for being No. 1 in the “commitment to expand the Kingdom of God as demonstrated by the planting of 140 new churches in 2007, leading the Southern Baptist Convention in new churches started.”

The Wyoming Southern Baptist Convention was recognized for its 200 percent increase in the number of churches planted in 2007 over 2006.

NAMB’s evangelization group recognized four state conventions for their increase in the actual number of baptisms between 2006 and 2007: the Georgia Baptist Convention, Florida Baptist Convention, Baptist General Convention of Texas and Tennessee Baptist Convention.

Four other state conventions were honored for “expanding the Kingdom of God by the increase in percentage of baptisms between 2006 and 2007”: the Illinois Baptist State Association, Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention, Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia and the Convention of Southern Baptists of Puerto Rico.

The Kentucky Baptist Convention was recognized by NAMB’s sending missionaries group as the state association mobilizing the greatest number of Mission Service Corps missionaries serving in evangelism and church planting during 2007.

Steve Fowler, state director of missions for the Montana Southern Baptist Convention in Billings, Mont., was presented the “Dennis Hampton Rural Church Planting Award,” while Stanley K. Smith, director of missions for the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania-South Jersey, was given NAMB’s “People’s Choice Award” for “excellence in mentoring and coaching peers across North America in church planting.”

NAMB also honored and recognized six individuals retiring this year: Darwin Bacon, state director of missions for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, 20 years of service; Dave Bennett, professor of evangelism at Southwest Baptist University and former director of evangelism for the Missouri Baptist Convention, 16 years; Dan Crawford, professor of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 23 years; Ted Lam, Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, 20 years; Judy Rice, Alaska Baptist Convention, 42 years; and Bill Wagner, former professor at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, IMB missionary and president of Olivet University International, 50 years of service.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.

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