After 5 years, Is There A Great Commission Resurgence? | Part Two

July 3, 2015

Will Hall | Editor
Baptist Message, Louisiana

**This article was originally posted HERE and is used by permission**
For more information on Will Hall click HERE

Click HERE for Part One.

As for Louisiana church plants, among the seven that are members of the class of 2010, two submitted worship attendance and baptism information for 2013. One reported a ratio of 1:28. But The Covenant Church in Benton tallied 20 baptisms while averaging 150 in worship services, a 1:8 ratio, during its third year (the reference point for NAMB’s class of 2010).

In any case, even with good news about the 2010 cohort, the 757 church plants still existing today do not come close to meeting the need that existed in 2010, and our church plant numbers in subsequent years have not kept up with the needs that have expanded each year since.

The population of the United States increased by 11 million people from 2010 through the start of this year (about half the growth was the result of immigration), creating the need for an estimated 110,000 new churches (based on an average of 100 members per congregation).

Altogether, an estimated 30 percent of the U.S. population is not Christian – about 96 million – meaning we need about 960,000 new church plants, if that is going to be our main means of evangelizing the lost.

Shifting Locus and Funding
The task force used COMPONENT SIX to state their belief that “the state conventions must take the lead” in stewardship education and promotion of the Cooperative Program.

Specifically, their recommendation encouraged the SBC Executive Committee, which has responsibility for both ministry assignments, “to work with the state conventions … in developing a strategy for encouraging our churches to greater participation and investment in the Cooperative Program.”

Citing urgency, they set a deadline of 2013.

The 2011 SBC Annual documents that the SBC EC adopted a recommendation that year “stating it will pursue an enhanced relationship among and between the state conventions, the associations, the entities and the Executive Committee for the purpose of developing an holistic and unified approach in promoting the entire Cooperative Program and stewardship education across the Southern Baptist Convention.”

COMPONENT SEVEN had a more tangible impact on the SBC EC.

The 23 members of the GCR panel expressed hope “to see Southern Baptists break the ‘50 percent barrier’” by taking one percentage point from the Executive Committee’s allocation of 3.4 percent of the CP budget for national entities, and redirecting it to the IMB.

In real terms, that meant just under a $2 million loss for the Executive Committee, which had a 2010 budget of about $6.9 million (including funds from all sources).

To date, the Executive Committee has reduced its CP allotment to 2.99 percent, boosting the IMB’s share of the SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget to 50.41 percent.

No other national entity has contributed any portion of their respective CP allocation to the IMB.

But, the IMB also receives about 69 percent of all designated funds given to national causes, and its $300 million operating budget is significantly more than any other national entity which receives CP support.

COMPONENT FIVE
The suggestion to blur the divide between “home” and “foreign” missions by letting the IMB expand its ministry assignment to include “reaching unreached and underserved people groups without regard to any geographic limitation,” raised suspicions of a move to merge the NAMB with the IMB – particularly in light of comments a year earlier by NAMB’s chairman of trustees that Southern Baptists should have “a singular world mission agency.”

But what actually resulted was a change in the IMB’s ministry assignments to allow them to “provide specialized, defined and agreed upon assistance to the North American Mission Board in assisting churches to reach unreached and underserved people groups within the United States and Canada.”

News articles have highlighted how teams from the two missions groups already have met at least twice “to trade ideas,” and, for “cross-pollination” which could “multiply the effectiveness of reaching the unreached wherever they are.”

MOVING FORWARD
Unfortunately, despite the broad scope of recommendations by the Great Commission Task Force, as yet, these reforms have not turned around the negative trends identified as signs the “Great Commission commitment is diminishing among us.”

So what are Southern Baptists to do?

En Masse

Mass evangelism might be one answer.

At the heart of the matter, it’s simple math.

If we desire mass baptisms, we should be emphasizing mass evangelism efforts.

Naysayers have criticized that “a program of evangelism” like mass evangelism is a great approach “if the fifties come back.”

But Billy Graham proved it can work in major urban settings—3.2 million professions of faith over the course of 417 crusades. Other Southern Baptist evangelists like Georgia’s Rick Gage have shown it continues to work in small towns, too—about 2,900 salvation decisions during eight U.S. campaigns, 2013-2014; and, Louisiana’s Bill Britt has proved its effectiveness overseas, at least 70 times, recording 20,000 salvation decisions during a four-day outreach in Kenya in 2005, for example.

Moreover, all of these evangelists emphasize discipleship in prepping churches for the work that takes place after each campaign.

On Fertile Ground
Likewise, perhaps we should consider the proposal by Robin Dale Hadaway, professor of missions at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri.

In October 2014, Hadaway offered that part of the problem with international missions has been a focus on reaching resistant people groups at the expense of a harvest among receptive populations.

He argued for at least a balance in where we concentrate our resources, suggesting we are leaving sheaves of crops in the fields while trying to gather a few grains among thistles. He did not recommend Southern Baptists abandon such countries, but reasoned that we should at least consider whether our strategy based on reaching people groups is the best approach for reaching more lost individuals.

His proposal to focus more on “receptive” regions and less on “resistant” ones might even have value for how we do evangelism in the U.S.

Identify and Engage the Experts
There are some real evangelism experts out there, experienced soul winners with track records to prove it, and we should be listening to them.

These aren’t necessarily personalities who grace conference platforms, year in and year out, nor prolific writers with multiple titles on the shelves of LifeWay’s stores, or consultants with hyper-worded biographs.

They simply are men and women gifted by God and committed to the task of evangelism.

We don’t need to take them out of the field, where they are desperately needed. But we can ask them to help us develop a plan for reaching the lost on the scale we know is required. Besides, before committing significant resources to whatever plan they might suggest, we can follow Daniel’s example and test the concept.

Naaman, the commanding general of the Syrian army, resisted when Elisha sent word for him to wash in the Jordan seven times in order to be healed. That is, until a servant asked Naaman if he would have complied if the prophet had told him to do something great.

The lesson?

It doesn’t take something grand to make a big difference, just do what works.

 

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Rick Patrick

Once again, you have provided tremendous lessons for us in Part Two of your analysis.

I especially hope Southern Baptists will heed Dr. Hadaway’s advice, which he applied to international missions, but which you wisely suggest is just as applicable to our North American efforts. Hadaway’s proposed formula (40% Frontier, 40% Harvest, 15% Education and 5% Administration) is a much more balanced approach to missions than our present course overemphasizing the frontier at the expense of the harvest. (http://sbctoday.wpengine.com/a-tale-of-two-countries/)

With regard to North American church planting, I keep hearing about so-called “Starbucks” churches or “Hotel California” churches—a group of young people in an urban setting of a northern city meeting in a hotel somewhere with 25 people and calling themselves The Journey or The Spring or The Venture or The Launch. A generation ago, we would call such an arrangement something like an “Outreach Sunday School Class” in which today’s seminary trained “Lead Pastor” would simply have been the Sunday School Teacher. Generally, I hear they do not have church buildings and do not openly identify as Southern Baptist. Dare we ask, “Is this really the best way to build our denomination?”

Certainly these “resistant” regions in northern cities deserve attention, for the frontier mandate is part of our mission, but not at the expense of the “receptive” southern regions and suburban opportunities where the potential harvest is far greater. The wisdom of Hadaway’s formula could better balance our missions efforts here at home as well as overseas.

    Dr. Will Hall

    I think Dr. Hadaway well-articulated what many have been thinking.

    Billy Graham’s ministry produced 1 million new believers worldwide in just six months, reaching them through PeaceWithGod.net and connecting each with a counselor. We spent a combined $425 million on IMB and NAMB last year and produced about 495,000 baptisms globally. Moreover, NAMB simply reports the baptists our churches achieved whether NAMB existed or not. Likewise, IMB largely claims the baptisms by our Baptist partners (in practice, our missionaries are “catalysts” not evangelists).

    I think it’s fair to ask whether we are being as productive as we can with the $425 million Southern Baptists invest in cooperative missions each year. Are we getting added value?

linda

It would help if churches returned to evangelistic preaching at least once a week.

The concept that the sole role of the pastor is to equip the laity to evangelize doesn’t seem to be working.

    Dr. Will Hall

    Linda, If not monthly at least quarterly (maybe every fifth Sunday) — every 90 days an “Operation Andrew” of sorts or an “Each One Reach One” emphasis. To paraphrase Darrell Robinson, many churches are holding “fishing academies” but not actually fishing. –Will

    https://bible.org/illustration/plea-fishing

    Donald

    I would hope that every sermon invites a faith response in the listener – whether lost or saved.

    Donald

      Dr. Will Hall

      I agree, Donald. I’m only suggesting a way to create a regularly recurring emphasis that intentionally brings the lost to hear an evangelistic message.

      Les Prouty

      Donald,

      “I would hope that every sermon invites a faith response in the listener – whether lost or saved.”

      I totally agree brother. IMO the best preacher of the 20th century was MLJ. He was known for his appeal for people to believe, and I think had evangelistic services each Sunday evening. When I was preaching regularly I always included a call to repentance and faith.

William Thornton

I appreciate that there is a possibility of a productive conversation here.

I find the suggestions rather soft and general. Would Will Hall or Rick be plain enough to say, “We think NAMB’s funding for legacy state conventions should be restored and expanded (say, for mass evangelism, etc.)? II’ll ask Rick again if he thinks 58 cents of every AL Cooperative Program dollar is too little for his state with millions of Southern Baptists and thousands of SBC churches? And I know NAMB’s plants are suspect to the C316 crowd. One day there will be data to prove them prescient or alarmist.

    Rick Patrick

    I think NAMB’s funding for Southern Baptist Churches in the south (where SBC churches have always grown fastest and reached more people for Christ) should be greatly expanded, but not quite restored to pre-GCR levels. The GCR urban push for planting doesn’t seem to be the answer. Yes, we are working on the frontier mandate, but it has come at the expense of the harvest mandate. More churches but fewer baptisms tells me that we may need to be more strategic in where we are planting these churches if our goal is both harvest AND frontier. So, yes, more money for church planting where the fields are ripest—suburbs in the south. Is that plain enough?

    For what it’s worth, the same thing is true internationally with regard to the two percent threshold for determining a country to be “reached.” I believe that is far too low, and that we are pulling our missionaries out of receptive areas in order to send them to resistant areas—at least, by attrition, that is. This doesn’t make sense to me as an overall strategy. Allocating a portion of resources toward the frontier is fine, but we cannot forget the harvest.

    I was under the impression that Alabama’s split, after 10% shared expenses, was 50-50. Because of the way you, a Georgian, insist on wording this, removing the “Alabama messenger approved language of shared expenses,” I still think the split is 55-45, even using your method, but I won’t quibble over your percentages, because that’s not the money I’m talking about at all. Those dollars go for a variety of outstanding missions and ministries like orphanages, senior adult centers, colleges and, of course, the salaries of our hard working state denominational workers. Our churches have been paying for the state convention since 1833. We’ve been paying for the national convention since 1845. Our older entity has some built in obligations that come with the farm. This is not the money that I believe is possibly being poorly spent.

    I’m talking about the money that Alabama DOES freely and voluntarily give through CP channels from our Alabama churches in the direction of NAMB. How is NAMB allocating the church planting funds given through them by Alabama Baptist Churches? Is the church planting strategy working? Might it need to be adjusted somewhat to focus more upon the harvest and less upon the frontier? I think these are reasonable questions.

    I’ll make a deal with you, William. I won’t ask NAMB to be a state convention if you won’t ask my state convention to be NAMB for Alabama. They each have roles and responsibilities. They should each be held accountable.

      William Thornton

      I don’t know what you mean by your last paragraph. Should the thousands of SBC churches and millions of members, along with hundreds of millions in revenues be sufficient to allow ABSBC to do their own aggressive church planting in the suburbs without expecting kickbacks from NAMB? You certainly have the right to evaluate and criticize NAMB.

        Rick Patrick

        I think there is this notion, embedded somewhere in GCR philosophy, that we can take all the church planting money from the legacy state conventions, give it to NAMB for urban church planting in other states, and then still have money leftover in these states from somewhere (I guess the Bloated Bureaucracy Money Tree) in order for the “thousands of churches in Alabama to do their own church planting.”

        But with what? NAMB just took the church planting dollars we have been contributing for years and, rather than applying a fair amount to Alabama church starts, began exporting almost all of it to the major cities. The rest of our state convention dollars are earmarked for other ministries—not just church planting. There is simply no “new money” with which to aggressively plant churches in Alabama.

        The alleged “kickbacks” in previous years (which frankly sounds derogatory) were simply allocations of North American Church Planting dollars by NAMB devoted to reaching ALL regions of North America, including Alabama. If NAMB embraces the comprehensive mission of reaching ALL of North America, then they cannot simply tell their major contributors, the legacy states, “You give us all your church planting money to reach the other states, and also do all the church planting for your own state with little assistance from us, and also do all the other ministries you’ve been doing for almost two hundred years.” Just because the budgets in legacy state conventions are larger does not mean there is this pile of discretionary money somewhere. State conventions have commitments to schools, newspapers, orphanages, senior citizen centers, disaster relief ministries and denominational employees.

        That’s what I meant by not asking a State Convention to be a NAMB Church Planting agency or asking NAMB to be a State Convention. The state convention is more than just the “church planting arm” for that particular state. It is obligated to the financial support of many other ministries, meaning that no, the resources of the state convention are not sufficient to do aggressive church planting without the partnership and cooperation of the Southern Baptist Church Planting Agency we know as NAMB.

linda

It gets discouraging when those of us still actively “fishing” do get someone to visit church and they do not hear the same evangelistic theme, but rather more of a “saved or not just let Jesus be your boyfriend today and experience Him” sort of thing. Or as one woman put it, you want me to “marry” Jesus but your church is happy if I “shack up” with Him for a one night stand.

And some of those I know most effective at getting the lost through the doors are not effective at presenting the gospel. Too shy, too tongue tied, or too bold and bombastic, whatever. But their gift had great value when the preacher also preached evangelistically, and the songs were also so aimed. (Not THE worship war. Talking lyric content here.)

I grew up knowing at an SBC church the goal of the service was the same as the purpose of the church, to win the lost. Today it might be to get more backsides in the seats, or to raise more money, or to change society by fiat rather than regenerate souls, or to build strong families and marriages, or to educate, or to help immigrants. All worthy purposes for some organizations, and the church can certainly be a part of those moves.

But I still remember one pastor challenging us to always, always, always keep the main thing the main thing at church. He would tell us contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t “worship” or “contact with Jesus” or “being fed” or any of those popular causes. It was ALWAYS to clearly present the gospel and give an opportunity for the lost to come to Christ.

Ron F. Hale

The Home Mission Board, SBC and later the North American Mission Board once focused on a national evangelism strategy every five years–for instance …Here’s Hope America. This involved a central theme, evangelism training, national advertising strategy, evangelistic events, block parties, revivals, mission trips, etc. Baptisms always increased after a national emphasis. Now, with many more social media tools — we need to employ these national campaigns once again.

Revealing my age, as a HMB appointed missionary, we were trained to plant “evangelistically focused” church plants. State and Associational church planting leaders gave good supervision to church planters and if a church planting pastor chose not make “evangelism contacts” — the funding would be cut off.

Gaining more churches with fewer baptisms is not a good sign.

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