NASHVILLE (BP)–More than 700 leaders from 41 state conventions, LifeWay Christian Resources and the North American Mission Board met Dec. 3-6 with the goal of finding more effective ways to partner in the effort to reach North America for Christ.
Leaders from both the state conventions and SBC entities acknowledged the urgency Southern Baptists face as North America drifts toward a more secular mindset and becomes more spiritually diverse.
“This is not your father’s North America,” NAMB President Geoff Hammond told attendees at the 2007 SBC State Conventions’ Summit. “What used to be a melting pot has become a mixing pot. Cities like New York have 500 people groups represented. As Southern Baptists, having engaged only 35 of those groups is not enough.”
Hammond called the meeting “historic,” saying Southern Baptist forefathers would have expected today’s Baptists to work together, even in the midst of different ministry responsibilities.
“Every partnership has some walls,” he said. “My prayer is that we’ll lower the walls a little bit” as a result of the four-day gathering in Nashville, Tenn.
Hammond reiterated NAMB’s primary focuses of sharing Christ, starting churches and sending missionaries, and he called on Southern Baptists to give added priority to the vast number of people groups now represented across North America as well as the ever-growing trend toward urbanization.
“We need more worldview studies, not just to do research, but to understand how these people think and how we can more effectively cross cultures,” Hammond said.
LifeWay President Thom S. Rainer pledged his entity’s support to the Great Commission task as well as serving Southern Baptists by producing resources that have biblical depth and relevancy. “Relevancy presumes we are operating from a biblical foundation,” he said. “We will not compromise the Bible in order to be relevant.”
In multiple breakout sessions throughout the three days, missionaries, state staff and those from the two national entities gathered in small groups to discuss challenges and brainstorm new ideas for how Southern Baptists can be more effective in evangelism, church planting, church health and leadership development. Those ideas were then compiled and presented to the leadership of NAMB, LifeWay and the state conventions.
During regional (north, south, west, southeast and southwest) meetings, plans were made for 2008 regional meetings, with assignments made for various work committees.
Ed Stetzer, LifeWay’s director of research, shared insights into North America’s unchurched population. He painted a picture of a culture ready to discuss spiritual topics and tolerant of Christians who want to share their faith. While people are leery of organized religion, Stetzer said most are open to conversations about God and even agree with many of Christianity’s fundamental doctrines.
Other topics at the meeting included reaching Muslims, sports evangelism, cross-cultural ministry, speaking and thinking missionally, and utilizing social media such as Facebook and MySpace for evangelism efforts.
“This may be the beginning of a Great Commission resurgence among Southern Baptists,” said Anthony Jordan, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. “Wouldn’t that be an awesome thing? It is time.”
Dennis Dawson, associate executive director overseeing missions for the Illinois Baptist State Association, said the week was “a really serious effort to do something we’ve wanted to do for a long time — have our NAMB folks, LifeWay folks and all of our state conventions working together for a common purpose. I’m taking back a new resolve to work better together in our state, with no silos and no barriers.”
Rainer, in addressing the group, listed several “Megatrends in Church Health,” including:
— The disappearance of the 18-24-year-old in church. Rainer said LifeWay Research has well documented the dropout trends of this age group, and while the church has always seen a drop as young people transition from school to the workforce, “there are solutions emerging.”
— The growth in the multi-venue and multi-campus church.
— The desire for deeper biblical doctrinal studies. “Those in our churches are asking for preaching with biblical depth in addition to life application,” Rainer said.
— The slowdown in the growth rate of mega-churches. “Not a decrease in the number of mega-churches,” Rainer clarified, “but a slowing in the rate of growth.”
— The shortage of pastors. Seminary graduates “don’t see themselves in rural, white collar or traditional churches,” Rainer noted. “Some states are already seeing a crisis” among traditional churches.
— The increasing demand for processes. “Churches are asking for help to put resources together,” Rainer noted. “Churches are saying: ‘Don’t just give us products, show how I disciple this young believer.'”
Mike Ebert is senior director of the communications division for the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. Polly House, a corporate communications specialist with LifeWay Christian Resources, contributed to this article.