Members of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force told reporters following the presentation of their report to the SBC Executive Committee Monday, February 22, that their proposed dissolving of cooperative agreements between the North American Mission Board and state conventions will make the respective sides stronger and more equipped to reach the nation with the Gospel.
The proposal could have a significant impact on state conventions located in areas which do not have a strong Southern Baptist presence.
The various cooperative agreements NAMB has with state conventions would be dissolved by the end of a four-year period to free up more money to "budget for a national strategy" to prioritize the planting of churches, particularly ones in cities. Currently, the state conventions forward a portion of Cooperative Program money to the SBC's Allocation Budget, and NAMB takes its portion of that budget and sends $50.6 million each year back to the state conventions — a process that is "complicated" and results "in a lack of productivity and accountability," the report says.
Under the proposal, NAMB's role for nurturing young and smaller state conventions would be left for the various state conventions themselves, with the hope that the larger ones would fill the gap — thus freeing up the $50.6 million for NAMB to reprioritize.
The dissolution of the cooperative agreements also would mean that NAMB missionaries would be direct appointments reporting solely to NAMB and not jointly supported with state conventions.
The task force presented its progress report to the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee eight months after SBC messengers authorized a study of how Southern Baptists can work "more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission." The task force's final report will be released May 3 and members encouraged Southern Baptists to provide feedback on its interim version. Messengers to the SBC annual meeting in Orlando, Florida, June 15-16 will vote on the final version.
The task force's progress report included six "components," none of which elicited more questions at the press conference than Component No. 2, which at seven pages is the report's lengthiest and which details how NAMB will be "reinvented and released." Part of that reinvention would involve decentralizing the Alpharetta, Georgia, entity so that it has "up to" seven regional offices with limited staff.
GCRTF chairman Ronnie Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church in Springdale, Arkansas, said it's up to NAMB trustees, and not the task force, to decide whether to keep NAMB's Alpharetta facilities if seven regional offices also are established.
"It will give an opportunity for state conventions to relook and reassess their priorities, just like what we have done and what we are doing and have been doing these last several months together," Floyd said. "The real ultimate purpose is to unleash and release the North American Mission Board to fulfill what Southern Baptists really think that they're there to do. We want them to be successful and we want our state conventions to be successful, and we want our local associations to be successful. But most of all we want the Gospel to win and for every church to be an effective missional organization that makes a difference. So we believe that the freeing of that will really help everybody do Gospel work more effectively."
In the report, the task force urges any future partnerships between NAMB and state conventions be "project-driven" and streamlined so that the "direct mission and priorities of the North American Mission Board" are fulfilled.
"The granting of this freedom will result in [NAMB] accomplishing its mission more effectively," the report says. "… [T]here must be direct accountability to the North American Mission Board for what they fund. We believe adherence to these details will bring alignment of the North American Mission Board with its mission, freeing this ministry to be the leader in our strategy to reach North America."
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and another task force member, said the task force is "not saying that the cooperative agreements were a bad idea."
"We are saying that in the year 2010 we are light years past what the SBC was in the 1950s, structurally, demographically, methodologically," he said, calling the current system a "financial Merry-Go-Round."
"The cooperative agreements do not leave NAMB with many missionaries that are really accountable to NAMB for specific NAMB strategies," said Mohler. "We feel that the Southern Baptist Convention has, in an unhelpful way, basically found itself in a position where the North American Mission Board is doing more in terms of facilitating the work of others rather than actually conducting the work itself. We believe the SBC should own and champion the reaching of the cities, under-served people groups, and the planting of churches in a way that's going to require more direct appointment of missionaries for direct purposes meeting a national strategy.
"We want healthy state conventions in the old-line Southern Baptist states to be far more involved in helping younger developing state conventions, and we would rather the state conventions do that than NAMB," Mohler said. "In other words, we would actually prefer that NAMB spend the majority of its time and energy not on developing pioneer state conventions, which we think the other state conventions can do far better."
"Missional churches" would help plant churches in the so-called pioneering states with the assistance of NAMB, under the proposal.
"Otherwise, we're never going to be able to reach those areas," Mohler said. "… We sense that Baptists are ready to do this, that Southern Baptists are eager to do this. They need not so much permission as encouragement."
Among other topics discussed at the press conference:
• Task force members proposed new nomenclature relating to giving to SBC causes that would celebrate all giving by churches. The term "Great Commission Giving," if approved by messengers, would appear on the Annual Church Profile (ACP) forms that churches fill out each year, and would include Cooperative Program "Great Commission Giving" as well as designated giving "Great Commission Giving," they said. The report emphasized that the task force was "not recommending any changes to the Cooperative Program." Said Floyd, "Our heart is to just celebrate what churches are doing."
• Mohler emphasized that the report is not final. "If in any of these points there's a better way to do it, then this task force wants to know about it. That's part of the reason why we put this out …. There may be something that needs to be added to it, and we'll hear from Southern Baptists over the next several weeks."
• Task force members said their recommendation to allow the International Mission Board to take the Gospel to unreached and under-served people groups in the U.S. should not cause friction or confusion with NAMB. The goal apparently would be to allow IMB to reach out to people groups in the U.S. — such as any North African Wolof people living in New York City — it already is reaching overseas. Floyd said there are 586 such people groups in the U.S. that do not speak English.
"We are confident that the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board can communicate with one another effectively about their respective work and communicate with our state conventions and local associations," Floyd said. "… We have a choice to make. Either we can sit back and play it safe with lines so clearly drawn [that] you get your hand spanked if you cross over it, or we can say, 'Hey, let's roll up our sleeves for the Gospel.'"
• Mohler said the task force had not decided whether to present its report to messengers in the form of one motion or multiple motions.