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