Expectations were high in 1997 when the North American Mission Board (NAMB) was forged out of three previous Southern Baptist entities during the ambitious Covenant for a New Century restructuring. Increased operational efficiencies from the merger were projected to allow Southern Baptists to be more effective than ever in impacting the United States and Canada with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Five years into the venture, those expectations have largely been met, according to agency leaders and others involved in the reorganization. More importantly, new initiatives in evangelism, church planting, and volunteer mobilization have resulted in thousands of transformed lives — and a basis built for continued ministry effectiveness into the future.
"What we wanted to bring to the table was a willingness to look at creative strategies that perhaps hadn't been tried before," said NAMB President Robert E. Reccord. "When opportunities came we said, 'Let's just don't look at the way it's always been done. Let's look at new and enhanced ways it could be expanded, grown, even improved.' There's been a mentality of focusing on excellence, and doing whatever it took to make it have the most significant impact."
Reccord announced during the SBC annual meeting in June that $40,387,000 has been redirected to frontline ministries as a result of the merger of the previous Home Mission Board, Radio and Television Commission, and Brotherhood Commission. That was over $6 million more than had been projected by the Implementation Task Force that oversaw the transition.
Funds going to frontline missions in partnership with state conventions have jumped 22.5 percent between 1998 and 2002 — while NAMB's overall budget has climbed only 11.1 percent. And comparable overhead expenses have dropped from 18 percent in 1996 at the three former agencies to less than 13 percent at NAMB in 2001.
"Under the able leadership of Dr. Bob Reccord, I am not surprised that instead of tapping the mission fund pipeline bureaucratically, Southern Baptists are getting more to the mission front line evangelistically," said Mark Brister, chairman of the Program and Study Committee that proposed the restructuring and currently president of Oklahoma Baptist University.
"One of the primary underlying objectives in the restructuring of SBC entities was to make possible more effective and fruitful evangelization of North America," added Morris Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee. "That goal is being realized, and is resulting in more numerous and healthy church starts, enhanced relief in disaster situations, and heightened commitment to personal evangelism."
John Yarbrough, NAMB's vice president for evangelization, like Reccord served as a former chairman of the task force overseeing the transition. He credited the leadership of the previous agencies for laying the groundwork for much of NAMB's ministry successes.
"We stand on the shoulders of giants," he said. "Everyone who preceded us had passionate hearts, tremendous minds, and were effective in carrying out the Great Commission in their generations. What we've done is we've built on the foundations of the past, and we're now laying the foundations of the future."
Reaching the Cities
Among the highest profile of the new initiatives made possible under NAMB was Strategic Focus Cities — an effort to focus large numbers of volunteers and other resources on evangelizing new believers in the nation's largest cities and help them grow spiritually by starting new churches.
Announced in 1998 and fully implemented beginning in 2000 in Chicago and Phoenix, the effort also impacted Boston and Las Vegas in 2001, and Seattle and Philadelphia this year. Through the end of last year in just the first four cities, more than 23,000 volunteers had helped lead 20,000 people to faith in Christ and start 174 new churches.
"We've made a monumental step forward by focusing a great deal of our energy and resources in a couple of major cities a year without weakening or decreasing what we're already doing across North America," Yarbrough said.
Reccord also acknowledged that while the results have been worth it, the unprecedented effort has required a learning curve.
"I wish I had known going in how complicated and challenging the major cities are," he said. "I knew we'd have to color outside the lines like we've never done before, and there would be spiritual warfare. But I never had the understanding of how much that would be required until we got into it."
With the experience gained, however, Reccord said NAMB now is even better positioned to make an impact — including efforts that will hit their peak in Miami in 2003 and New York in 2004.
"We understand that in the Strategic Focus Cities we cannot be all things to all people," he said. "We've got to narrow down to a handful of things, and do those things very well."
Starting New Churches
Another innovation made possible under NAMB is The Nehemiah Project, an effort to place a church-planting center in each of the six Southern Baptist seminaries and the Canadian Baptist Theological Seminary.
Established out of the realization that young church planters were often ill-equipped for the difficult task they face to start churches in difficult situations and cultures that were essentially foreign, the concept calls for a combination of seminary courses and guided internships — conducted with the assistance of a mentor on the field. NAMB-funded missionaries serve as directors of the program at the seminaries, and the church planter interns are funded as NAMB missionaries as well.
Reccord also stressed the importance now being placed on partnerships with associations and state conventions in accomplishing evangelism and church planting.
"For Southern Baptists to make the impact in North America that is critically needed for the 21st century, associations are going to be able to play such a key role — especially in the area of church planting, and of helping their churches get to the best resources available," he said. "The state conventions will be equally key in being able to align and move a state in a unified direction to accomplish the Empowering Kingdom Growth initiative that was launched in St. Louis."
Students and Volunteers
Reccord and Yarbrough also cited gains in both evangelizing students and mobilizing them for mission service, two concepts which go hand-in-hand under NAMB's strategy of developing "on-mission" Christians passionate about seeing those around them and around the world come to know Christ.
In evangelism, a new team dedicated to student evangelism has helped facilitate more than 4,000 student-led Christian clubs on school campuses using the FiSH! evangelism strategy. New resources are also being developed for student-led evangelism on college campuses, where new partnerships with LifeWay Christian Resources already have helped raise the profile of evangelism.
Student volunteer mobilization efforts, meanwhile, have brought strong growth in World Changers participation from 9,000 when the program moved from the Brotherhood Commission to NAMB, to just under 25,000 this year. More than 1,600 professions of faith were also recorded during World Changers projects, in which students rehabilitate substandard housing and minister to communities.
"Our commitment to the next generation has only expanded, as reflected in a conference we will be doing in 2004 with Prestonwood Baptist Church (in suburban Dallas) called The Impact Zone," Reccord said. "It's designed for students ages 18-29, because that's the bracket in which so many life determining decisions are made."
Another volunteer mobilization initiative that began with the Brotherhood Commission and has continued to experience strong growth is Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, a volunteer network operated by state conventions, associations and churches that NAMB coordinates on a national scale.
The tragedy of Sept. 11 has given Disaster Relief volunteers the opportunity of preparing 1.25 million hot meals in New York and Washington D.C, while other volunteers cleaned out nearly 700 apartments of residents.
Follow-up ministry efforts include a new Southern Baptist congregation being launched in the lower Manhattan area, led by a NAMB missionary as pastor. A portion of the church's funding comes out of a larger long-term disaster relief initiative called Enduring Hope that has provided a resident chaplain in the area, and grants of more than $1.7 million for about 1,000 families impacted financially by the attack.
A special "Hope: Remember 9-11" web site, located at www.namb.net/911, has also been set up to provide ministry resources for churches to host their own one-year-anniversary observances on Sept. 11.
Reccord also noted progress in building upon the Southern Baptist heritage of using the airwaves to communicate the gospel. The FamilyNet television network has 160 affiliates reaching 17 million homes — including about three million receiving around-the-clock programming. Ground-breaking programs like the TruthQuest reality series planned for this fall and Mary Lou Retton's Mary Lou's Flip-Flop Shop for children are among the innovative efforts under way.
While release of details is premature, major changes are in store that could increase significantly NAMB's broadcast reach, Reccord said.
"Our prayer is to find before year's end some strategic alliances with which we can take the TV broadcast ministry to a full national presence," he said, "with upgraded television shows and easy access for a television network that I am praying will become the voice of balanced biblical Christianity in America."
Among the other advances cited by Reccord and Yarbrough are improved representation of women and minorities in NAMB leadership, increased awareness of the needs of language and ethnic churches throughout the organization, the deployment of five Internet evangelism missionaries, and a national missionary for work in "town and country" settings.
The Next Five Years
Going into the next five years, Reccord said that NAMB is prepared to assist churches in evangelism and church planting more effectively than ever. One particular effort is a multi-agency, multi-year strategy NAMB is helping coordinate. Beginning this year leaders are enlisting one million prayer warriors who will pray for personal repentance and revival during 2003. In 2004 the emphasis will be on equipping soul-winners in sharing their faith, while 2005 will bring a cooperative evangelistic thrust — with a goal of one million baptisms that year in Southern Baptist churches.
"When you think our largest number of baptisms ever has been 445,725, that's a huge job — and only God can make that happen," Reccord said. "But I am seeing cooperation among Southern Baptists like I've never seen before."