LOS ANGELES (BP)–Kevin Ezell, attending his inaugural North American Mission Board trustee meeting as NAMB’s new president Oct. 20 in Los Angeles, noted that while “we’re thankful for what NAMB has achieved in the past, it’s now time to do more. We must do more because the lostness of America demands it.”
The 48-year-old Ezell reaffirmed that NAMB’s role is to assist Southern Baptist churches. “Our goal is to do what churches cannot do — not to duplicate the work of churches. We’re not penetrating lostness. Our intent has been there, our hearts are in the right place, but the results are not there.”
Ezell said he wants to bring focus and to narrow the credibility gap between NAMB and younger SBC ministers. Ezell said he believes NAMB’s credibility gap is highest among young ministers.
“We’re going to narrow that gap, narrow our focus so we can achieve the objectives the Lord has put before us and that the SBC has commissioned us to accomplish. To do that, we’re going through every area [within NAMB], meticulously examining everything we do to be more effective.”
Ezell said NAMB’s passion will be penetrating lostnesss in North America by making Jesus known; its focus will be mobilizing Southern Baptists for evangelism that results in church planting; and NAMB’s support system will be the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.
“We’re bringing the silos down within NAMB. We’ll still have many groups, but all with one purpose: working together to build a true team,” Ezell said.
Acknowledging that Annie Armstrong offering and Cooperative Program giving have not kept pace with inflation, and the recent economic downturn has made the decline more pronounced, Ezell pledged to make the most of every resource given.
“We will do the best for every dollar Baptists send us,” he said. “We will give them a compelling vision in order to urge them to give. But money alone will not drive it. The passions of people will drive it.”
Ezell emphasized the need for the mission board to shift its priorities.
“The Northeast, Canada and the West are more unreached than the Southeast and Midwest,” he said. Using a college football metaphor, Ezell said, “[W]e’re doing greater in the SEC [Southeastern Conference] and ACC [Atlantic Coast Conference] than in any other parts of the country. But we’re not reaching the rest of the United States. We’re going to re-focus and shift priorities and resources, but still not disregard needs in other areas.”
In Florida, for instance, Ezell said the Sunshine State has 18 million people, and “great needs exist in South Florida where the world is coming to us. Florida has fewer churches than Tennessee or Kentucky, but that doesn’t mean we’ll stop planting churches in Tennessee and Kentucky. But we do have to focus on the major cities where the populations are greatest.”
Ezell told the trustees he has undertaken a four-step process: re-focus NAMB; build a strategy; develop the staff necessary to execute the strategy; and implement the strategy.
Commenting on the staffing strategy, Ezell said there would be a paradigm shift in the way NAMB is staffed in the future. Ezell already has announced an early retirement incentive for NAMB employees age 54 and over with at least five years’ service and that, overall, NAMB staff will be reduced by 25 percent by the end of the year. Originally, eligibility for retirement incentives was set at age 55 and over, but that was changed in order to accommodate staff whose birthdays came days or weeks after the cutoff time.
“Not all the staffing has to be full-time staff in Alpharetta,” he said. “It can be de-centralized and part-time. Even at the vice presidential level, not all the staffing has to be in Alpharetta or full-time. Pastors, ministers and laypeople can be used to help. Many pastors out there have the passion but not the platform. NAMB has the platform. Our overall challenge will be to get the best available people to the table.”
Ezell said his strategy implementation will center around church planting.
“The single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is to plant churches. Our focus will be to mobilize Southern Baptists for evangelism that results in church planting.”
Citing recent studies, Ezell said existing SBC churches record only 3.4 baptisms per 100 resident members while new churches average 11.7 baptisms per 100 members — a baptism rate that triples existing churches.
“When I think of church planting, I think of evangelism. We’re not going to do away with evangelism. It’s the fabric of everything we do. But we’re going to mobilize, equip and plant churches. When people think of NAMB, I want them to think of us as mobilizing, equipping and planting. We want to be the greatest church planting network in the world. I think we’re on the edge of a golden age of church planting,” Ezell said.
Although Ezell reaffirmed his faith in the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, he did make a personal confession.
“One thing I regret is that years ago, when I examined the system, I got frustrated and I disengaged. Thousands of churches also disengaged because they looked at the system and considered it broken.
“It’s been a regret of mine that I disengaged. But there’s now an incredible capacity to tap into those who have disengaged. There are thousands of pastors who are ready to re-engage if we provide them a compelling vision and show them how we’re going to efficiently and effectively use the money that they encourage their people to give through the Cooperative Program and Annie.”
Following Ezell’s remarks, NAMB board of trustees chairman Tim Dowdy, pastor of Eagles Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough, Ga., said, “[I]t’s refreshing to have a renewed sense of excitement and a passion about our purpose, which is to impact the world with the Gospel of Jesus. You can see that exhibited in Kevin’s heart and in his strategies. I’m again excited about where God has us going.”
In other business, trustees honored three NAMB vice presidents who are retiring at the end of the year: Richard Harris, vice president of sending missionaries, who served as NAMB’s interim president in the year leading up to Ezell’s selection; Harry Lewis, vice president of partnership missions and mobilization; and David Meacham, vice president of associational strategies.
Trustees voted to elect two new NAMB vice presidents: Clark Logan, vice president of ministry controls, and Mike Ebert, vice president of communications.
NAMB’s 2011 budget was approved at $121.5 million, 4.5 million or 3.6 percent less than the 2010 budget. The decrease reflects the economy’s impact on churches and NAMB’s partners. The AAEO contributes 47 percent of NAMB’s budget while the Cooperative Program provides 35 percent.
As part of NAMB trustee committee reports, the following reports were received:
— Through Sept. 30, NAMB has recorded $103 million in revenues and expenditures of $86.6 million. Cooperative Program giving is down 5 percent (actual to budget) while Annie Armstrong Easter Offering giving is down 5.43 percent.
— Over the past decade, NAMB’s church finance division has conducted more than 5,800 church consultations, leading to 557 loans totaling $262.5 million. New work conventions received 61 percent of the loans while 23.5 percent of the loans supported non-Anglo congregations. The current three-year rate for church loans is 6 percent.
— Nine months following the January earthquake in Haiti, NAMB’s adult mobilization and disaster relief teams in Haiti have recorded 25,000 Gospel presentations, 72,000 ministry contacts and 2,009 professions of faith. Supported by NAMB and the Florida and North Carolina state conventions, Haiti Baptists have conducted three crusades resulting in 162,000 professions of faith and 242 new church starts.
— 2010 was the 20th anniversary of World Changers and, including PowerPlant, NAMB mobilized 23,000 student and adult volunteers this year.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.