By Josie Rabbitt Bingham
DALLAS—Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting heard both a challenging and encouraging report from North American Mission Board president Kevin Ezell. The Mission Board’s report focused on increasing discipleship activity as well as updates on the effectiveness of Southern Baptist church planting efforts and NAMB’s new initiative in Puerto Rico.
Ezell began the report by inviting Robby Gallaty to the stage to share findings and recommendations from the Disciple-making Task Force that NAMB and LifeWay Christian Resources convened two years ago. Gallaty, who chaired the committee, pastors Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn.
During the report, Gallaty shared that the task force analyzed the last 20 years of Annual Church Profile (ACP) data. They discovered that despite the impressive number of baptisms over that span—7.1 million—average church attendance remained virtually flat. Even after factoring in for mortality, Gallaty said 6.5 million people have dropped out of church attendance over those 20 years.
“Our convention could be twice as large as it is today if we would have simply engaged the people we just baptized,” Gallaty said.
Gallaty summarized his group’s recommendations: Increase Bible engagement for church members, examine the connection between salvation decisions and group involvement, and examine the number of groups that multiply on a regular basis.
Ezell followed Gallaty with a reminder of how far NAMB’s church planting efforts have come since he began leading the entity in 2010.
“Seven years ago, we began a new journey and started a laser-focus on church planting,” Ezell said. “That is the New Testament model and we believe it’s still the very best strategy for evangelism today.”
Ezell shared that church plants baptize more people per attendee than do established churches—a 67 percent better attendee-to-baptism ratio.
He also reported that NAMB has significantly increased its church planter assessment process. Today, only a third of the candidates pass NAMB’s assessments.
“When we raised our assessment, we knew church plant numbers would go down. But we will not compromise our quality in order to present bigger numbers the second week of June,” Ezell explained. “We must not focus on quantity, we must focus on quality.”
Ezell said that as the quality of assessments increased, the survival rate of our church plants has gone up. Overall, churches planted since 2011 have an 84 percent survival rate.
Demonstrating the impact of recent church plants, Ezell reported that in Canada, 71 percent of all baptisms came from churches started since 2010. In Minnesota-Wisconsin, more baptisms came from church plants than all other SBC churches combined. In the New England states, 34 percent of all baptisms were from church plants.
In addition, as church plants demonstrate staying power, they are accounting for a growing percentage of total churches located outside the South.
In all but four non-south state conventions, 20 percent or more of Southern Baptist churches were started since 2010. In New England, it’s 35 percent. And in Canada, more than 50 percent of all churches were started since 2010.
“Southern Baptists, we are gaining ground for the gospel outside the South,” said Ezell. “We are determined not to lower our standards. We are not going to waiver on our desire for excellence.”
Ezell shared that NAMB has added Puerto Rico as a new Send Emphasis Area in North America. For 25 years, there were no new Southern Baptist churches planted in San Juan—a city of 350,000 people.
“Today, we have 12 church plants launched or nearing launch,” Ezell said. “The relief effort in Puerto Rico will take many years, so please consider sending groups from your church to Puerto Rico to assist.”
Ezell ended the NAMB report with notes of thanks.
“We are honored to partner with Southern Baptists and to care for and equip your missionaries who are serving throughout North America. Please keep them and the North American Mission Board in your prayers and thank you for all you are doing to reach your community, our nation and our world for Christ.”
Josie Rabbitt Bingham writes for the North American Mission Board
Published June 14, 2018