If you have been involved at any level in the Southern Baptist Convention over the last decade you have, no doubt, heard about EKG, which is short for Empowering Kingdom Growth. It is an initiative undertaken by the Southern Baptist Convention in June of 2002 that challenged individuals and churches to look at themselves and ask whether they had Kingdom focus. It could be stated simply with the question — "Does my heart reflect the heart of God?"
An Historical Overview
I was the president of Southwestern Seminary when I first began to hear about Empowering Kingdom Growth early in 2002. In truth, the idea of developing a renewed passion for the King and His Kingdom had been percolating in the hearts of several SBC leaders for several years. The South Carolina Convention under the leadership of Carlisle Driggers launched an EKG initiative in the early 90s. Its design was simple, but its impact was profound. It challenged churches to develop a renewed focus on the King and His mandate to reach the nations. It spawned a renewed emphasis on evangelism and church planting. A statewide assessment in the late 90s indicated that the emphasis had resulted in a united focus, increased baptisms, giving, and church planting across the state.
In 2000, Dr. Morris Chapman appointed a committee made up of four state executives and four members of the Great Commission Council (heads of the various SBC entities) to study how we could improve cooperation across the entire Convention. This committee was called the Task Force on Cooperation, and its assignment was to explore avenues for how the churches, state conventions, and the SBC entities could better work together for the completion of the Great Commission. Out of those meetings the idea of a national EKG emphasis was born.
I can still remember two of those early meetings when the idea was still in a formative stage. As a seminary president, I was privileged to meet with other entity heads as a member of the Great Commission Council. Dr. Chapman began to share with us what he sensed God was laying on the heart of the Task Force on Cooperation to recommend to the entire Convention. Later, members of the Great Commission Council were invited to Albuquerque to meet with all the state convention executive directors, and several men were invited to present papers related to the biblical emphasis on the Kingdom of God and what it might mean if Southern Baptists would join in a great effort to focus on taking the message of the Kingdom across North America and to the ends of the earth. I remember the excitement I felt as I heard about an initiative that was founded on scriptural principles and had as its goal the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
In a 2010 letter to Roger S. (Sing) Oldham, SBC Executive Committee vice president for Convention Relations, Driggers reflected on those historic days.
"As the 20th century was drawing to a close and the 21st century was approaching, Dr. Chapman became keenly aware of the need for Southern Baptists to project a clear, biblically based vision for the years ahead. He spoke of that need openly as he preached in various settings, wrote articles, and talked privately with friends and associates.
"His concern prompted him to put in place a task force of Southern Baptist Convention entity leaders plus state convention executive directors to pray, study, and develop a potential vision for Southern Baptists across the nation and around the world. After several months of praying, reading materials of interest, attending task force meetings at various locations across the country, and engaging in conference calls, the time came for the group to reach a conclusion. Should we proceed with our challenging assignment and if so, what vision was God giving us to share with Southern Baptists?
"I vividly recall being at one of those meetings in a conference room at a hotel near the Atlanta airport when Morris urged the task force to move forward with our daunting challenge. He began to speak out of his own heart and reflection about a potential vision for Southern Baptists that would be based squarely on Jesus' call to His followers in Matthew 6:32-33. That call was to 'Seek first the Kingdom of God.' In response Dr. Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board, said out loud, "That is a vision which will never end until Jesus comes again!" Dr. Rankin's observation seemed to bring the matter to a close. It was a tender, spiritual experience for everyone in the room."
In his 2002 address to the Southern Baptist Convention, Chapman enunciated the vision and prayer of the EKG Task Force.
"Empowering Kingdom Growth is not a program, but a vision. We are praying for God to transform this vision into a grassroots spiritual movement that sweeps our hearts clean and takes a broom to the streets and gutters of the world. We are praying for the back streets of sin to be cleansed. We are praying for lost souls to confess their sins and let Jesus wash them away by His shed blood.
"Empowering Kingdom Growth is an appeal for spiritual renewal in individuals and churches. The acronym for Empowering Kingdom Growth is EKG! A medical EKG measures the health of the human heart. God wants healthy Christians to worship and serve Him in a healthy church. We believe God is calling us to make an appointment with the doctor for a spiritual check-up. Will you take your soul and your church to see the Great Physician? Will you ask God to heal you if there is dullness of hearing and dimness of sight?"
The recommendation of the committee was unanimously approved by the Southern Baptist Convention that year. The Task Force on Cooperation now began to function as the EKG Task Force. I am always amazed at how God orchestrates events, and we often can't see His hand at work until we are able to look back over history. In 2000, God had already begun to move my heart to deepen my own prayer life. I began to write The Prayer of Jesus which was published by Broadman and Holman in 2001. While writing this book, I was challenged to consider what it meant to pray, "Your Kingdom come."
In studying the entire context of the Lord's Prayer, I was confronted anew by a verse which had been my life verse since I was a freshman in college: But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you (Matthew 6:33). I began to rigorously examine my own life to seek if I was seeking with "highest priority" the Kingdom of God. This caused me to look at my own ministry and ask if my gifts and strengths were being used for the greatest Kingdom impact. Little did I know that this self-examination would lead me to leave Southwestern Seminary and move to Nashville to become the national strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth in July of 2003.
Developing a National Strategy
From the very beginning, Dr. Chapman and the EKG steering committee encouraged me to develop a national strategy that would assist churches to develop Kingdom focus and a clear Kingdom strategy. They insisted that it should not be a program or slogan but a passionate focus on Scripture that led to a transformed heart, creating a passion for God's Kingdom.
This desire resonated with what God had already been doing in my own life. I am convinced that nothing changes anyone's heart and mind but the Word of God applied by the Spirit of God. For that reason I began to read and re-read the Bible focusing on the concept of God's Kingdom. From my study, the book EKG: The Heartbeat of God was written and published by Broadman and Holman. It focused on the theme of the King and His Kingdom as it ran throughout the Scripture. Three threads repeated themselves — God desires a people who will embody His name, embrace His mission, and obey His Word. His plan is to work through these people to reclaim the earth for its rightful King. This "Great Commission Kingdom" theme runs throughout the pages of Scripture. In order to make these biblical truths available to the man and woman in the pew a forty-day study was developed.
The design and desire of this first forty-day study was to transform the heart. It is my conviction that no significant change can occur in the life of the individual or the church until the heart is first transformed. Yet, we have had other studies that resulted in heart transformation but the impact was often short-lived both in the life of the individual and in the church. That led to the development of Eternal Impact: The Passion of Kingdom Centered Communities. This book focuses on the book of Acts and several of Paul's letters to the early churches and challenges us to ask about God's design for His church. This study's design is to impact how we think about church. Often our thinking is self-centered, assuming that the church is designed to meet my needs and make me comfortable until Jesus returns. Yet the Bible makes it clear that the church is designed and empowered to reflect God's fullness to a lost and dying world. Once again the task force determined that study guides needed to be made available for local church study.
Two other tools have been developed to provide the "resources for Kingdom advance." The first was Making Change: A Transformational Guide to Christian Money Management. This book was given high priority because a task force made up of state executives was looking to see how we could give greater visibility to the Cooperative Program as the tool by which we could provide the resources to complete the Great Commission. This book was the first of its kind to include principles of Christian money management, stewardship, and an explanation of how the Cooperative Program works. Pastors would often complain that their people no longer understood or appreciated the Cooperative Program. Once again a forty-day study tool was made available, and this time a youth study guide was created based on the conviction that we must teach our young people biblical principles of money management before they left for college.
A fourth tool has now been made available entitled You Are Gifted: Your Spiritual Gifts and the Kingdom of God. This thirteen-week study is designed to mobilize laity for ministry to the King by discovering, developing, and deploying their gifts through the church to advance the Kingdom. Twenty percent of the average congregation does 85 percent of the ministry. We will never be effective in Kingdom advance until we radically change these percentages that demonstrate the lack of understanding of our role in the advance of the Kingdom of God.
From the very beginning, stories from participating churches gave us great encouragement that the EKG process was producing the results for which we had been praying. Sam Gore, pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church, led his small rural church through EKG. It changed the entire focus of the church. A new 12,000 square foot family life center was constructed and the youth group grew to twenty-eight in number. What startled everyone was the impact on giving. The church quadrupled its CP giving, tripled its associational giving, and experienced record-breaking giving to the church budget. This prompted Sam to invite me to the association to present the process to all the local churches. The associational model continues to be the most effective model.
Matt Sams began his ministry at FBC Fort Stockton, Texas, by studying EKG with the deacons. From the study a deacon family ministry plan began and the budget was increased by 20 percent and seven new ministries.
Ed Emmerling, a pastor in Flint, Michigan, led his church through the EKG study and then followed it up with Eternal Impact. Families are being changed and the mission passion of the church has been transformed. People are giving sacrificially for world missions and feeling a call to fulltime missions. As the church has focused on the Kingdom instead of itself, God has sent more people to the church than they would have ever experienced if they had focused on growing their own church.
Rob Sumrall of Franklin Crossroads Baptist Church in Cecilia, Kentucky, began the Making Change study during January 2009. They experienced several snowy Sundays and still had their largest Sunday School attendance ever. The church had just passed the most aggressive budget increase in their history just before the economy crashed. In spite of some pressure from a few members, they decided they would not cut back on the budget or their CP giving. They surpassed their budget goal that year and the trend continues. This church was among the first to begin the You Are Gifted study early this year.
In spite of the growing number of positive testimonies, we wanted substantial evidence that the process was making a difference. One can amass anecdotal stories based on nearly any study or process that is used by a church. Can we actually substantiate the growth claims with hard data?
The Louisiana Story
When David Hankins went to serve as executive-director of the Louisiana Convention, he took the EKG process with him. In 2006, Louisiana launched their EKG initiative with sixty-five pilot churches. Now in its fourth year, 249 churches have completed at least one phase of the EKG-LA initiative.
Recently, the Louisiana Baptist Convention researched the 2006-2009 trends associated with EKG churches and compared those with those churches that have not-yet engaged in EKG. They found several relevant and significant statistics that demonstrate the value of the EKG process.
• EKG churches tend to baptize twice as many as not-yet EKG churches.
• Giving through the local church tends to average 13 percent higher for EKG churches.
• In 2009, EKG churches gave on average 41 percent more to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering than the same churches did in 2006. In comparison, not-yet EKG churches increased giving by 12 percent.
• In 2009, EKG churches gave an average of 33.45 percent more to the World Hunger Offering than they did during 2006. During the same period the not-yet EKG churches increased by 15.25 percent. These increases in giving in all categories were deemed to be especially significant in the light of recent economic conditions.
The task force members were greatly encouraged to see statistical evidence that the process works and God uses His Word to transform the hearts and minds of His people.
The Future of EKG
As I reflect over these few short years of the EKG emphasis and how God has used it, I can only be encouraged that the Southern Baptist Convention made a bold and visionary decision when it decided to challenge people and churches to focus on God's Kingdom. With our renewed emphasis on the Great Commission through the work of the Great Commission Task Force, it appears to me that we have a bright missional future. I believe that the EKG process and its accompanying material provides the biblical tools for helping churches to renew their passion for the Great Commission and their vision for expanding the Kingdom to the ends of the earth. If our statistical evidence from the Louisiana Convention holds true in other states, associations, and churches, we can anticipate a flood of resources for Great Commission advance.
What else would we expect? You do remember the promise of the King: But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you (Matthew 6:33).
For useful resources and more information about Empowering Kingdom Growth go to EmpoweringKingdomGrowth.net.