Why We Believe the GCRTF Report is Good for the Future of the SBC (4b): Reaching North America

By: Danny Akin & Jonathan Akin

The recommendations of component 4 will allow NAMB to have a direct church planting and evangelism strategy where they can appoint personnel directly. They have not had that freedom in the past. At present, and much of this due to cooperative agreements, the majority of NAMB “missionaries” are serving in the most reached and most served areas of North America (see recent blog by Micah Fries). Despite some comments that we as the SBC have “gotten outta Dixie,” the evidence shows that we are still a mostly Southern convention, and we are failing to direct significant resources (people and money) to the places with the least access to the Gospel. The 9 states with the most significant amount of lostness have a total of 322 NAMB missionaries in them (just over 6% of NAMB missionaries). At present, we are not targeting in any kind of strategic way the most needy states. Texas alone has more NAMB personnel than Oregon, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Iowa, South & North Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, Idaho, Nebraska, and Illinois combined. This says nothing of the needs of California and New York!

So, this recommendation, as much as any other, attempts to directly penetrate lostness and reallocate resources (people and money) to places with the least access to the Gospel in North America. The major pockets of lostness are the Northeast, the West, and the Northwest, and yet we continue to spend the majority of our resources in the church saturated Southeast. 2/3 of the CP is spent in regions where 1/3 of our population is, and in regions that are most evangelized. This has to change, and the GCRTF has figured out a way to make us much more strategic.

The way the GCRTF hopes to accomplish this is by phasing out the cooperative agreements and unleashing those monies for significant church planting. Cooperative Agreements were agreed on partnerships between then the Home Mission Board (HMB) and each state convention whereby the two entities would jointly fund ministries in that area. So, a church would give money to the CP through their state convention. The state convention would keep a percentage of the money to do the work of their ministries, and then send a percentage on to Nashville. This amount would be divided between the IMB, NAMB, seminaries, etc. NAMB would then take a portion of their allocation and give it back to the state conventions to jointly fund ministry in that state. This was the logic of the time in corporate America as well, and it served Southern Baptists well at the time. However, times have changed and radically so.

The SBC now needs to update its strategies in order to directly penetrate lostness in North America. The cooperative agreements ensure at present that the vast majority of our resources stay in the places with the most churches. Approximately 63 cents on every $1 given to the CP is kept in the state it is given, and then more of that dollar is given back to the state convention through the cooperative agreements. This means that the greatest percentage of our monies remains in the states with the largest Southern Baptist populations.

States keep 2/3 of the CP money given, and then receive more back. With these cooperative agreements we fund some very good ministries like: chaplains, deaf ministries, ethnic ministries, resort missionaries, DOM’s, etc. But, Dr. Rankin points out that only a small proportion of the cooperative agreements go to direct evangelism and church planting. Most is used to support state convention staff, DOM’s, consultants, etc. He also noted that one state that received a million dollars from NAMB started only 3 new churches last year.

Some have written recently that this component will “devastate missions” work in some of our states. This fear has been raised both in oldline and frontier conventions. Let’s be honest. This component will call for a shift in some things that we are doing currently. Lamentably, some good ministries might get cut or need to be carried out in a different way than they have been in the past. For example, resort ministry could become more local church driven than CP funded. But, in order to penetrate lostness, we have to ask some tough questions about all our ministries. The issue here is not that the cooperative agreements go to fund bad things. This is not a question of good versus bad. It is a question of good versus best, good versus most strategic, and good versus most needed.

The GCRTF is attempting to shift our resources to the places of greatest need (i.e. least access to the gospel, least churched, etc.). The GCRTF encourages frontier state conventions by telling them this means MORE resources for them. This means a concerted effort to get resources out of Dixie and on to the places that are the most underserved. Those who oppose this measure favor continuing to spend the majority of our resources in the places with the most Christians and most churches, and then as we saturate those places, we will let resources trickle out to places that are most in need. The GCRTF says instead, why don’t we reallocate these resources to impact the lostness directly and begin doing it immediately, not later?!

It seems that some have misunderstood this recommendation. Former HMB President, Larry Lewis, says the GCRTF is calling for “competitive” missions between the state conventions and NAMB, but that is not the case at all. This recommendation calls for new strategic partnerships. One thing we can be assured is that these strategic partnerships will focus our resources on church planting and the underserved regions.

Some have misunderstood and thought that this measure is calling for new, costly regional offices rather than one HQ in Alpharetta. The recommendation calls for decentralization but not regional offices.

Conclusion-

We need a viable and effective church planting network. The perception at present is that we do not have one. We lamented Ed Stetzer’s tweet a few days ago which read, “I just talked with my 31st planter who wanted to plant with the SBC, met with denominational leaders, and is now non-denominational. We must do better. #GCR.” Indeed, we must do better, and we believe this component gives us the opportunity to do so.

This recommendation is the best opportunity to most directly assault the lostness in North America. Southern Baptists need a viable and focused church planting network. This will give us one! Imagine if we as Southern Baptists were focusing 50 million dollars a year plus, that has been tied up in various things, on church planting in the most unreached areas of our nation! Imagine if we as Southern Baptists were able to launch a generation of gospel-centered church planters into the pockets of lostness in North America! Imagine, not a convention of 45,000 churches, but with focused church planting efforts over the next few decades 70,000 plus churches reaching our homeland for Christ, 70,000 plus churches calling out and funding missionaries! Let’s rally around that vision in Orlando! Why not America, and why not now?!

Why We Believe the GCRTF Report is Good for the Future of the SBC (4a): Reaching North America

By: Danny Akin & Jonathan Akin

“There is no formal conclusion to the book of Acts. It is open-ended. God means for the story of Pentecostal power and revival to be prolonged after the same manner…Since Pentecost, there is no age, no century, no era, no time without the marvelous outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The soul-saving experience continues. Darkness and death and decay may reign in one place, but always light, life, and salvation will reign and vigorously abound in another…When the Unitarian defection destroyed the evangelizing spirit of the congregations of New England, the pioneer preachers were advancing beyond the Alleghenies to build churches and Christian institutions in the heartland of America. And while elitism, and liberalism, and spiritual indifference are decimating the churches in the West, great revival is being experienced in Korea, and South America, and in central Africa. Why not America, and why not now?!”

Dr. W. A. Criswell thundered these famous words in 1985 at the crossroads of the Conservative Resurgence (CR) debate in that important Dallas meeting where over 45,000 messengers assembled. The call of the CR was no doubt theological. The SBC demanded that its institutions return to the conviction that the Bible is inerrant. But, the heart of the CR was also missiological. The lostness of North America and the world was staggering to the CR proponents. Criswell asked passionately why we were not reaching North America. The promise of the CR was that after we settled our theology we would see a resurgence of Great Commission activity starting in our homeland and reaching to the ends of the earth in order to penetrate the vast lostness of the world.

That is what the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) is about, building on the CR to penetrate lostness. The GCR is about mobilizing strategically to take the Gospel to the places of greatest need. Some oppose GCR recommendations by saying, “Lost is lost, and no one is more lost than someone else.” But the GCR has never defined the need as a greater degree of lostness. Need is defined rather by access to the Gospel! The GCR is about penetrating areas with the least access to the Gospel. It is about penetrating the underserved and unreached people groups of our nation and the world. That some are even questioning this agenda is mind boggling. It is frankly disappointing and unconscionable for a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

One of those places is right where we live, in North America. There are 258 million lost people in North America. The U.S.A. is one of the top 4 largest “unchurched” nations in the world. Four out of five churches in America (among the 350,000) are plateaued or declining (Piper article).

Ed Stetzer has shown that we are a Convention of churches in a 50 year decline here in North America. Recently released ACP numbers for 2009 show that despite adding 162 churches our total membership declined 68,350 members. This decline happened even in a year where we saw a modest increase of 7,539 baptisms. This is an issue not only for our ecclesiology, but also for our evangelism and church planting.

The GCRTF has heard from the SBC that penetrating the lostness in North America is on their hearts. So, in component 4 of the GCRTF final report they make recommendations to free NAMB to direct a church planting strategy to reach North America with the Gospel. This recommendation is where the rubber meets the road. It is the component that involves the most restructuring of the current system. It is, we believe, the component most likely to allow us to effectively and directly penetrate lostness, and that is the goal of this recommendation.

Here are some of the main features of the recommendation:

  1. It “frees” NAMB to direct a church planting strategy in North America. This may come as a surprise to some. Most of our Southern Baptist life we assumed that NAMB’s focus was church planting, but that is only a piece of what NAMB does, and not necessarily the primary piece, until now. NAMB told the GCRTF that the cooperative agreements have kept NAMB from doing what most Southern Baptists expect and assume that they do, which is church planting. The cooperative agreements keep millions of dollars tied up in various state agreements and keep NAMB from employing a direct church planting strategy. Phasing out the cooperative agreements will free up 50 million dollars or more for church planting in the areas in most need of a gospel witness.
  2. The priority of NAMB will be church planting in metropolitan cities and the underserved regions of North America. This is an important strategy. The world is moving into the cities at a rapid rate. We dare not delay in rolling up our sleeves and flooding these massive population centers with church planters. The longer we wait, the more people we condemn to an eternal hell without even the opportunity to hear the gospel and trust Jesus.
  3. The GCRTF calls on every Southern Baptist church, regardless of size, to be a church planting church. NAMB will assist the local church in carrying out Christ’s commission to plant churches. This strategy recognizes the primacy of the local church as the body ordained by God in carrying out his mission, and it gives churches ownership of this mission.
  4. 50% of all NAMB ministries are to be focused on church planting. This is significant. This has the potential to give the SBC a highly focused church planting network to take North America for Christ in the coming decades with waves and waves of church planters being unleashed with significant funding to plant churches with success in the underserved regions of North America.
  5. NAMB will decentralize in order to carry out a regional strategy. Boots on the ground closer to the actual work is the goal here!
  6. NAMB will have new strategic partnerships with state conventions, especially those conventions in the most undeserved and unreached areas in order to penetrate lostness.

Aspect 7(b): A Mission Based on Local Church Initiative and Supplemented by Entities and Associations (NAMB, state conventions, ERLC, local associations)

(By: Danny Akin & Bruce Ashford)

What are some challenges ahead for the North American Mission Board and the State Conventions? It is the charge of both the NAMB and the state conventions to reach the United States of America with the gospel. How might they partner together in order to serve the church and further the church’s mission in a 21st century context? A detailed answer to this eludes our grasp, but some things are certain. The state conventions must have a renewed focus on church planting and renewal, and NAMB must be a handmaiden who provides resources for that task. Unless there are major changes in the state conventions and at the NAMB, it is doubtful that younger pastors will give their money to the CP or seek the resources of the NAMB. They will bypass the CP and give straight to Lottie Moon, if they give at all, and they will seek church planting advice and training from sources other than the NAMB and the state conventions. This type of bypassing has already begun to take place, and at a rapid rate.

Our state conventions must streamline and focus themselves. They must get rid of whatever unnecessary bureaucracy exists and focus their energies on church planting and church renewal. If they refuse, they will be forced to reduce their budgets drastically because a younger generation of churches will not give to the state conventions merely out of a sense of loyalty. Likewise, the NAMB has its work cut out as it adjusts to the 21st century context. Many of our younger church planters are bypassing the NAMB for other church planting networks and resource centers. In terms of resource-access, these networks have become functional substitutes for the state conventions and for the NAMB. Perhaps a revisioning of the NAMB-state convention relationship would look something like this: The state conventions reorganize, streamlining their operations so that at least 50% of it goes to the national convention, while at least 30% of the in-state remainder goes to in-state church planting and renewal. At the same time the NAMB reorganizes, ceasing to become a mission-funding organization and instead becoming a small, sleek, and efficient group of church planting and renewal consultants who provide resources for the state conventions (as the state conventions focus primarily church planting and renewal themselves). This is a radical suggestion, for sure, but radical ideas are needed for our future effectiveness. All options need to be put on the table for careful and deliberate consideration.

What will be the role of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in a 21st century context? Southern Baptist churches have long been involved in public square issues, and the ERLC was formed to serve our local churches in that facet. Three challenges in particular lie ahead for the ERLC as it serves our churches in the 21st century. First, the ERLC, alongside of our churches, must stand strong in the midst of an increasingly relativistic culture. Nowhere is such relativism more evident than the controversies surrounding life, death, and sexuality. Second, it must seek to bear witness to the gospel, and to the implications of the gospel for our society and culture, in a way that is gracious, prophetic, and compelling. It must be prophetic in its willingness to point out evil and its consequences. It must be gracious, or else it will contradict the very message of grace. And it must be compelling, seeking to win and persuade our society to what is true and good. Finally, we must not tie ourselves to any one political party, because to do so would distort and domesticate the gospel: “Inappropriate is the only adequate term,” writes Paige Patterson, “to describe purely partisan politics or the use of the pulpit to endorse personalities running for political office.”[1] Likewise, I (Danny Akin) have argued: “Our hope is not in Republicans or Democrats, Congress or Capitol Hill. Our hope, the world’s hope, is in Calvary’s hill and a crucified and risen Savior….”[2] The gospel cannot be domesticated to fit the agenda of any one worldly political party.

What are some of the challenges facing local associations in upcoming years? In the years of horse-drawn buggies, local associations provided resources for pastors who could not travel to the state convention offices for assistance. In the ensuing years, local associations have also become facilitators of fellowship for pastors in the local associations. For some churches, their closest ties are to their local association. In the 21st century, however, many pastors and churches are able easily to find resources outside of the local association and look for fellowship based on affinity as much as geography. In light of the present situation, perhaps we will see local churches choosing their associations rather than having their associations chosen for them. In addition to county seat-based associations, will we see the creation of voluntary, affinity-based associations, formed for the sake of mission? This would give local churches the freedom to align with an association that best fits their needs, or to align with multiple associations. One could easily see a larger church that is part of a national megachurch network (that ministered to the unique needs of larger churches) as well as a local association with churches of all sizes (that is focusing on planting churches in a tri-county area, for example). The upshot of this discussion is that local associations, like state conventions and national entities, exist to serve the local church and further her mission.


[1] Patterson, “My Vision of the Twenty-First Century SBC,” 48.

[2] Daniel Akin, “Axioms,” 7.