At least 1,000 pastors and their wives attended the luncheon, which featured NAMB President Kevin Ezell, LifeWay vice president Ed Stetzer and a surprise appearance by Rick Warren.
While Ezell had shared the Send North America strategy in a variety of gatherings around the country over the past four months, Monday's luncheon was the first time he had unpacked the vision to a room full of pastors.
"With less than 4 percent of our churches directly engaged in church planting, we've got to do better," Ezell told the pastors. "We must do better. We are going to do better."
Stetzer shared six reasons Southern Baptists need to start new churches in North America: people need Jesus; new churches reach more people; God is calling church planters; the nations are coming to North America; the future of the convention depends upon it; and planting churches is how the disciples responded to the Great Commission.
"Why do we need more churches?" Stetzer asked. "Because people need Jesus.... We are here because God has called us to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. One of the most effective ways to do that is through the establishment of new congregations."
Stetzer explained that his passion to reach more people through church planting is highly personal. His family's spiritual legacy began when his sister became involved in a Southern Baptist church plant in New York.
"People might say that the North America Mission Board is getting too focused on church planting," Stetzer said. "I say thank God.... We don't need just the North American Mission Board focused on church planting; we need this denomination to get focused on church planting."
Ezell explained that the Send North America strategy centers on the biblical principle that churches plant churches. Using a visual representation of the strategy, Ezell showed pastors that evangelism and leadership development undergird everything the North American Mission Board will be doing.
"You'll see the biggest part of what we'll do is to mobilize and equip," Ezell said. "We're going to mobilize churches to plant churches -- through associations, states and clusters of networks. All of it will be to mobilize churches to plant churches."
As part of this new strategy, Ezell told pastors that over the next couple of years, NAMB will start by developing church-planting coalitions in 25 urban areas around North America. These coalitions will be made up of local pastors, church planters, representatives of local state conventions and associations, along with partnering pastors and state convention leaders from elsewhere. The coalitions will develop local strategies for planting new churches in their area.
Then the board will develop coalitions in other locations around North America.
"It's a new day," Ezell said. "It really is. Pastor, we're not going to make it harder for you. Associations and states, we're not . We're going to make it easier. We're going to make it easier for you to engage in missions and to pray and partner. We can do this together."
The meeting concluded with a surprise visit by Rick Warren, who started Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., in 1980 with just himself and his wife. Today, Saddleback is one of the largest and most influential churches in North America.
Warren told pastors that churches of all sizes could participate in church planting. He noted that Saddleback had planted churches at every stage of its development in keeping with his commitment to start at least one church every year.
"Don't give me this thing of 'we're too small' or 'we don't have enough money' to start churches," Warren said. "I don't believe it. I simply don't believe it. You can start a church anywhere, at any time, if you're intentional."
Warren ended the luncheon by telling pastors not to strive for just growing their churches -- but to plant new ones. Reproduction, he said, is the mark of a healthy church.
"I don't think God brought you to this convention by accident," Warren told the pastors. "He wants to use your churches. He wants your church to have a significant impact."
Several of the pastors in attendance expressed their excitement about the direction of the North American Mission Board as they left the luncheon.
"I've never been so excited about the potential of where our denomination could go with the visionary leadership God has given us at NAMB," said former SBC President Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga.
Wesley Noss, who pastors New Hope Baptist Church in Versailles, Ky., called the Send North America strategy "an answer to prayer." Through a partnership his church has forged with a Boston church planter, Noss has seen the difficulties many church planters face in trying to reach their communities.
"I appreciate what Kevin said," Noss said. "We have to do something different. I really believe in my heart and spirit this is what we need to do."
Daryl Craft, pastor of Green Street Baptist Church in High Point, N.C., called the presentation "clean, clear and compelling."
When asked whether he thought Send North America was something his church could be part of, Craft responded, "It's something our church must be a part of."
Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board. For more information about Send North America, visit www.namb.net.
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