Ezell revisited the Southern Baptist Convention's church planting history in his remarks to the board's trustees. Born in 1845, the SBC had planted one new church for every 3,800 people by 1900; using a football field metaphor, Ezell said that was like moving the ball out to the 50-yard line.
"In 2010, we had only one church for every 6,100 people, a 59 percent decrease, which meant we were back at the 20-yard line," Ezell said.
"That's why we announced Send North America as our national church planting strategy," Ezell said. "We want to increase our net gain of congregations by 5,000 in the next 10 years, from 51,000 to 56,000. To do that, we need to plant 15,000 churches in the next decade because we lose 890 existing churches each year. In other words, we have to plant about 900 churches a year just to break even."
To reach its goal, Ezell said NAMB now is deploying church planting catalyst missionaries much more strategically than in the past, with the goal of having one catalyst for every million people in population.
"That's why we are doing some cutting in some places and redeploying in others because, traditionally, the deployment of our church planters has been disproportional," Ezell said. "For instance, in one area we have 23 church planting catalysts but there are only 5 million people in the two-state region. There should be only six catalysts there.
"In the New York area, with 19 million people, we have only 11 church planting catalysts," Ezell continued. "So we have twice as many catalysts in an area of 5 million people as in the entire New York area. In Canada, with 35 million people, we have only six catalysts."
Ezell said NAMB's biggest need is "laborers."
"In Matthew 9, Jesus told us not to pray for the harvest -- that's going to happen -- but to pray for laborers for the harvest. That's why we're shifting our resources. We have to make sure our church planting catalysts are strategically placed. ... We must do whatever it takes to penetrate lostness."
Trustees also received good news from NAMB'S vice president and chief financial officer, Carlos Ferrer, that the 2011 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions was $42,969,000 -- only $31,000 shy of its goal of $43 million.
Ferrer also reported that NAMB revenues from the Cooperative Program were just over $56 million, 3 percent higher than the previous year's total. For the 12 months ending Dec. 31, 2011, total NAMB revenues of $119 million exceeded total expenses of $108.8 million.
Larry Wynn, vice president of evangelism, introduced the "Find It Here" New Testament distribution project scheduled for 2013. NAMB trustees approved the project, setting aside $2.5 million for the New Testaments, a case of which of will be distributed to every SBC church in North America. The "Find It Here" project will include English and Spanish New Testaments and training on strategies for distribution. The initiative is part of NAMB's 10-year GPS (God's Plan for Sharing) evangelistic effort.
INNER-CITY MISSIONS, BIVOCATIONAL PASTORS
Trustees also approved $800,000 for the eventual purchase of property in Miami for a church planting and ministry center that will house a new church plant while providing ministry space for activities like English as a Second Language classes, after-school programs for kids and sports clinics.
Ezell said NAMB also is renewing its focus on bivocational pastors, pastors who hold full-time jobs while also serving as full-time pastors of Southern Baptist churches."
"The true iron men of the SBC are our bivocational pastors," Ezell told the NAMB trustees, adding that in some states -- like Alabama and Arkansas -- bivocational pastors make up half of the Southern Baptist pastors.
"These iron men have been overlooked and under-appreciated for years in the SBC," Ezell said. "Starting at the convention's annual meeting this summer, we're going to emphasize them in ways we've never done before. We're going to recognize them and honor them."
Aaron Coe, NAMB's vice president for mobilization, announced that the former church planting forum and state leadership meetings will be merged into one large Send North America conference, July 30-31 at First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga. Invitees will be expanded to include not only church planters and state/association partners, but also all pastors and laymen involved in church planting who need to be trained in the Send North America process.
ONE, BUT NOT THE SAME
Ezell, in his comments to trustees, said he is "proud to be a Southern Baptist, even more so than 16 months ago when I started at NAMB."
"The SBC is a unique group of people. We're one -- supporting the Cooperative Program, Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon . And through the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, we're united in what we believe. We are one and have a sense of unity. We can agree on that.
"But while we're one, we're not all the same. We have diversity. We plant nothing but Southern Baptist churches but we don't want to plant churches that are all alike. Some churches have pastors with suits and ties, others who preach in jeans. Some like traditional music, others contemporary.
"We're one but not the same. We just all want to penetrate lostness."
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.
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