"There were two primary reasons for the change," said George Russ, the association's current executive director and a North American Mission Board church planting catalyst.
"First, this is healthy for the association, a sign of mature growth," Russ said of the association's action at its mid-year meeting. "Second, the direction of NAMB's Send North America strategy is to fund new churches."
The current funding model that depends on NAMB support is common for many associations in places where Southern Baptists are few in number. Russ affirmed that the metro New York change is in no way adverse.
"The decision of MNYBA to fund its director and staff is not negative and was not made in protest or anger," Russ said. "We will continue to invite NAMB to partner with us in church planting. We need 20,000 new churches yesterday if we were to have the same ratio of churches to people that exists in other parts of the country."
Russ and MNYBA board chairman Bob Cope conferred with NAMB President Kevin Ezell prior to the action by the association, which encompasses 200 churches. Russ said he wanted to make sure Ezell understood the motivation for the proposed move before the May 4 vote.
"We felt it was important for Kevin to know what we were doing and why," Russ said. "He was very happy when we explained what we were doing and very supportive."
Ezell echoed Russ' comments.
"Our goal has been to put as much money as possible into new churches and then let those churches support their associations and other organizational structures," Ezell said. "I commend New York Baptists for embracing this model."
MNYBA has an annual budget of about $370,000. Much of the staff is primarily volunteer and self-funded. The 200 churches in the 51-year-old association will have to consider increasing their support to enable the new model, Russ said.
"It is a bit of an educational process," Russ said. "Some of our churches did not support the association financially last year. I am meeting with churches to help them understand the new level of commitment this move will take."
Russ confirmed the need to continue focusing on church planting. He has assisted in the launch of three churches in the association this year and is working with two other potential plants. He said church planting will continue to be a critical part of his role after he transitions from the NAMB post on Jan. 1, which will end 30 years of work as a NAMB missionary.
"Our churches are about 75 percent non-Anglo," Russ said. "We have a huge international population here. There are some 800,000 Muslims living within the association. There are 2 million Jews, and large numbers of Sikhs and Hindus. We need international outreach strategies.
"But we are also challenging our churches to have a global reach. We are partnering to establish ministries to confront human trafficking. We are partnering with believers in Shanghai and Dakar for evangelism, training and church planting. We have to help our churches think globally."
To learn more about the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association, visit www.mnyba.org. To learn about partnering with church planting efforts in New York through NAMB's Send North America initiative, visit namb.net/mobilize-me.
Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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