After 5 years, Is There A Great Commission Resurgence? | Part One
Will Hall | Editor
Baptist Message, Louisiana
When the gavel dropped to end the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, it also marked the fifth anniversary of “a vision for a Great Commission Resurgence” that was adopted by messengers during the 2010 business sessions in Orlando, Fla.
In a nutshell, a blue ribbon task force – named by then SBC President Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga., and led by Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church, Northwest Ark., who now serves as president of the Convention – developed seven components of a plan “to mobilize Southern Baptists as a Great Commission people” with the goal of “penetrating the lostness” in North America and around the world.
Theirs was a daunting task, given the extent of the growing lostness in our country and abroad, and the apparent waning effectiveness of Southern Baptists in sharing the Gospel.
But, after so much effort was expended to convince somewhat skeptical Southern Baptists (reports varied on whether the “show-of-hands” vote was 60-40, 80-20 or 3-1 in favor) that these actions were “of vital importance to the future of our denomination” and “key to making immediate progress toward a Great Commission Resurgence,” it is reasonable for Southern Baptists to expect to see some timely positive results.
In the business world, the research literature suggests it takes 2-4 years to see the results of a strategic initiative in the performance of a company.
To be fair, the Southern Baptist Convention does not operate like the typical corporation with regard to the relationship it maintains with the nearly 46,500 congregations which cooperate at various levels (local, state and national) in missions and ministries. However, these autonomous local bodies support state and national causes believing the leadership at both levels makes a difference in the collective work of Southern Baptists. So, the five year mark seems a rational point to take a look at how far along the GCR national initiative has moved the Southern Baptist Convention.
COMPONENTS ONE AND TWO
The task force framed all of its recommendations in the context of a mission statement and core values designed to facilitate our convention of churches “working together more faithfully and effectively” in creating “a new and healthy culture.”
The eight core values (Christ-likeness, truth, unity, relationships, trust, future, local church and Kingdom) are well-stated ideals and actionable, but difficult to measure.
The mission statement (“… to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations.”) essentially is a restatement of Matthew 28:19-20, except, it omits mention of baptism – which is a key measure of effectiveness in assessing mission success.
In 2010, LifeWay reported 331,008 baptisms in the United States and the International Mission Board announced 360,876 baptisms overseas.
Five years later, both disclosed fairly large drops in their respective data.
The number of conversions fell to 305,301 at home (a five-year loss of 25,707), according to the 2015 Annual Church Profile summary, and IMB’s 2015 Fast Facts show a dip to 190,957 spiritual births abroad. (However, it is not known how much of the 169,919 slump is due to an IMB procedural change started in 2010 to “no longer include reports from partner conventions and unions” in order to more accurately reflect “the board’s work and influence” in the field. Also, although overseas baptisms have fallen from 2010 levels, the 2015 total exceeds the 114,571 baptisms in 2014.)
COMPONENTS THREE, FOUR, SIX, SEVEN
Although the task force did not set specific goals related to evangelism and baptisms, in the four statements related to giving and funding, three contained benchmarks about finances.
Calling for “a new level of sacrificial giving” as part of COMPONENT THREE, the ad hoc committee urged churches “to increase the percentage of their Cooperative Program giving,” prevailed upon state conventions to forward a greater percentage of CP funds to national causes, and, asked SBC entities to maximize use of CP monies for taking the Gospel to the nations and leading SBC churches to do the same.
They also took action to “celebrate every dollar given” – another way of saying that churches, and pastors, should get credit for contributions to SBC work, even if outside the channels of the Cooperative Program and special mission offerings for the IMB and the North American Mission Board.
To this end, the panel crafted a special category, “Great Commission Giving,” into which the CP, Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering are lumped together with other designated gifts deemed as contributing to local, state or national Southern Baptist work. This category did not replace Total Missions Expenditures but was added as a new measure of effectiveness.
Implemented in 2011, GCG amounted to $695,694,322. It has varied during subsequent years, but was reported in 2015 as $637,498,179, a $58 million drop from its beginning (and a hefty decline from the $777,452,820 recorded during the previous year).
As for CP, $191,763,153 was contributed for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2010, compared with $186,567,611 received during the fiscal year ending September 20, 2014 (although Baptist Press announced in June that receipts to this point in 2015 are 2 percent ahead of donations for the same time frame in 2014).
The final report also called on Southern Baptists to adopt giving goals “no less than $200 million annually” for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and “$100 million annually” through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.
The LMCO goal has remained steady at $175 million from 2010 through 2015, but the annual collection reached a record $154 million two years ago before dropping by about $1 million last year.
The AAEO undulated between $54 million and $56 million, or so, from 2010-2013 before reaching $57 million during the last fiscal year. Meanwhile, trustees dropped the annual goal from the $70 million mark for 2010 to the $60 million target for 2015.
COMPONENT FOUR was crafted with the priority of “liberating NAMB to conduct and direct a strategy for reaching the United States and Canada with the Gospel and planting Gospel churches.”
The key recommendation that emerged from this discussion was the “phasing out of Cooperative Agreements” with state conventions, affecting about $51 million in funding. In essence, these funds were redirected from state conventions, and, NAMB’s role for nurturing pioneer state conventions was “left” for the larger state conventions to pick up.
NAMB did not actually add $51 million to its budget. But essentially, that was the effect.
Meanwhile, NAMB missionaries would no longer receive support from states—meaning they would report solely to NAMB and not be jointly supported with state conventions.
So how has church planting improved?
The data does not allow assessment of whether NAMB has succeeded in reprioritizing “to reach metropolitan areas and underserved people groups” as called for by the task force. However, the numbers show that churches planted after the adoption of the GCR recommendations essentially are as healthy as they historically have been in the SBC.
For instance, NAMB shared in 2015 that the “church planting class of 2010” started with 943 church plants with 757 surviving through 2013 (the latest ACP report at the time) – or about 80 percent.
According to findings from the Church Survivability and Health Study 2007, about 81 percent of church plants survive through year three. So the class of 2010 is on target with regard to this metric.
In its 2015 statement, NAMB did not release actual numbers for worship attendance, membership and CP giving for the class of 2010, opting instead to cite percent changes in the averages from year two to year three. But, it is possible to make comparisons with the CSHS 2007 church planting data:
— 7 percent growth in membership (membership information was not assessed in the CSHS 2007 research)
— 20 percent jump in attendance (compared to an estimated 18 percentage point increase, or 33 percent jump, for the average church plant in the CSHS 2007 report)
— a ratio of one baptism for every 13 members (church plants in the CSHS 2007 study typically baptized 13 people in year three while averaging about 73 in worship service, for a ratio of about 1:6)
NAMB also shared that altogether, the class of 2010 contributed $3.3 million to missions (up 12 percent for the year), or just under $4,360 of giving per church plant (through the Cooperative Program, LMCO and AAEO, combined).
Total receipts for church plants in the CSHS 2007 averaged $70,000 per congregation, but there was no data showing how much each church plant spent on cooperative ministries and missions.
Except for baptism-to-attendance ratios, the class of 2010 appears to be on par with previous church planting year groups. That’s not to dismiss the importance of this metric – it’s an essential measure of evangelistic effectiveness. But a single year of low baptism data may not point to trouble.
If the class of 2010 continues to lag their peer groups, Southern Baptists might have cause for concern. Likewise, if the classes of 2011-2015 aren’t keeping pace, then it would be reasonable to suspect something systemic might be amiss.
Part Two Coming Soon!