ATLANTA (BP)–A sobering state-of-North America message was voiced to 320 church planting missionaries by the North American Mission Board’s interim president during the 2010 Church Planting Missionary Forum.
“We have to ask ourselves is what we’re doing working?” Richard Harris said. “Are we reaching North America? The answer is no. We have 258 million lost people. That’s three out of every four.”
While the North American population is growing by 3 million people every year, Harris told the church planting missionaries that “we’re not keeping up.” Among Southern Baptists in particular, more than 70 percent of churches are either plateaued or declining, Harris said, referencing research from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Harris noted the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force’s progress report released during the SBC Executive Committee’s Feb. 22-23 meeting in Nashville, Tenn. The GCRTF proposals are expected to spur a significant makeover of NAMB if they are embraced by messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, but Harris told the missionaries they must “live in faith, not in fear.”
Harris cited the only words spoken during the changing of the guard at The Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery — “Orders remain unchanged.”
“Missionaries, I say to you that regardless of what the GCR recommendations are or are not, our orders from Christ remain unchanged: go, teach, baptize and make disciples,” Harris said.
“We’ve got to get our churches healthy and reproducing again. Churches that are healthy reproduce. Healthy Christians, empowered by the Holy Spirit, reach new believers. Yet only a small percent of our churches are involved in church planting.”
Harris told the missionaries that much of what Southern Baptists do is not Kingdom-minded.
“I’ve been talking to folks recently about faithfulness versus fruitfulness,” Harris said. “Jesus said, ‘Abide in me and you will bear much fruit.’ We need to change the markers for success in what we are doing. Too many people are satisfied to say that they travel so many miles, teach so many classes or attend so many meetings and, therefore, are successful.
“Let’s go past faithfulness, although we need to be faithful in reading the Bible, singing the hymns, attending services, loving the pastor, etc. But that’s not the definition of a fruitful church. We need to get out of the church building into the culture and into the world. Are we penetrating the culture and lostness, pushing back the darkness, transforming the world?”
Harris said he agrees with what Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren has preached for years: “Success in the church is not how many you gather, but how many you scatter.”
Ken Weathersby, NAMB’s vice president for church planting, told the church planters that North America is a mission field of many cultures and languages, worldviews, population centers and nearly 600 people groups.
“Our job requires cross-cultural thinking and missiological strategizing,” Weathersby said. Although 83 percent of the U.S. population — and 78 percent in Canada — live in cities, Weathersby added that Southern Baptists cannot overlook the hamlets, the villages, the suburbs, the cowboys, the bikers and other groups when it comes to planting new churches.
“If under the GPS [God’s Plan for Sharing] initiative, every believer shares and every person hears by 2020, we would have to plant 165,000 new churches to meet our needs. We have a great challenge before us. If we’re going to reach North America, it’s time for us to lay aside turfism, roll up our sleeves and as brothers and sisters in Christ, not care who gets the credit as long as God gets the glory,” Weathersby said.
During the Feb. 24-27 conference at Atlanta’s Airport Westin Hotel, NAMB also honored five church planting missionaries for outstanding service:
— Ray Campbell of Ormond Beach, Fla., regional director for church planting with the Florida Baptist Convention, was named “African American Church Planting Missionary of the Year” for his work to start 12 new churches in 2009.
— Native Filipino Ralph Garay, a member of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina church planting staff since 2006, was named “Asian Church Planting Missionary of the Year” for his role in planting 25 new church starts last year.
— Dennis Holmes, director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater Cincinnati with the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio, was named “Associational Director of Missions/Church Planting Strategist of the Year” for helping start five urban churches in 2009.
— Samuel Rodriguez, a church planting strategist for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, was named “Hispanic Church Planting Missionary of the Year” for planting eight new Hispanic churches in 2009.
— Sam Scott, a church planting missionary with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, was named “Anglo Church Planting Missionary of the Year” for his role in starting 12 new cowboy churches, plus a motorcycle church which now runs 400 and has recorded 100 baptisms.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.