ALPHARETTA, Ga -- The North American Mission Board and International Mission Board announced to convene next spring to launch “The Acts 1:8 Challenge,” an initiative to support associations, state conventions and the mission boards partner more effectively with churches.
The announcement came during an address Oct. 8 by NAMB President Robert E. "Bob" Reccord to trustees, joined via telephone by IMB President Jerry Rankin. If approved by IMB trustees, the boards would hold separate meetings May 17-19 in the Atlanta area before gathering for a joint service the evening of May 19 at First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga.
"We would have a massive celebration of one of the most historic events Southern Baptists will ever have -- and that is when two major entities called Southern Baptist mission boards, North America and the world, come together and say, 'We're going to do everything we can to do it together, and to minimize and unify the message the church and the convention hears from us together,'" Reccord said.
Rankin called the proposed joint meeting "absolutely unprecedented" in the history of the SBC. "We're not in competition for support or for involvement, but working together for the Kingdom of God," he said.
The Acts 1:8 Challenge would encourage churches to think of their associations, state conventions and national and international mission boards as their partners in reaching "Jerusalem," "Judea," "Samaria," and "the ends of the earth" as described in Acts 1:8. The concept will be reinforced at each level by simplified, coordinated communications designed to assist local churches in becoming worldwide mission centers.
Reccord noted that the initiative has become a missions component of the Empowering Kingdom Growth effort launched by the SBC in 2002.
Rankin said he has seen repeatedly how churches that get involved in broader Great Commission efforts subsequently see local ministries blessed.
"It grieves me that so many of our pastors and churches are depriving their people of the very thing that could revitalize them and set their hearts aflame with that evangelistic passion -- involving themselves in a mission beyond just their local church program. And that's what Acts 1:8 is all about," Rankin said.
"I'm really excited about this vision and the level of cooperation between our ... denominational entities -- not to focus on promoting our own programs, but to facilitate how Southern Baptists fulfill that Kingdom vision of reaching our world for Jesus Christ."
Reccord said the strategy is a reflection of the kind of fresh thinking required to reverse a number of frustrating trends facing evangelicals in general and Southern Baptists in particular.
"If we don't turn this [SBC] ship around, we're not going to have much to hand to our kids and grandkids," he said.
On a denominational level, Reccord cited a "grave concern" over a decline in giving to cooperative missions efforts by churches. In 1980, he said, the average church gave 10.5 percent of their budget to Southern Baptists' funding channel, the Cooperative Program, while the current average is 7.4 percent -- a decrease of nearly 30 percent. "If that trend continues, we've got 40 years left, period." Reccord said.
The result, he said, has been dramatic cuts this year at both mission boards. The IMB was forced to eliminate 61 home-office staff positions and is unable to send some of its missionaries because of lack of funds, he said. And at NAMB, 31 staff positions have been cut for 2004, and this year 125 requests for summer missionaries went unfilled because of lack of funds.
Reccord said there's a "sinister move afoot" in many SBC churches, "and that is: 'We're going to keep it here, because we can manage it better. We know and can touch and see exactly where it goes.' If that's going to be our attitude, then we might as well stop being a Southern Baptist Convention. If we really don't believe that we can do more together than we can do separately, we might as well say, 'Let's close it down.'"
Reccord also encouraged trustees to lead the way in helping Southern Baptists recover a passion for personal evangelism that he believes is in decline.
"We are seeping into an evangelism strategy that says, 'I'll just witness by my life. I'll get into relationships, and that'll just sort of ooze people into the Kingdom,'" he said. "Let me tell you folks, people don't ooze into the Kingdom. They make a decision to step into the Kingdom. So I need to say to me, and I need to say to you, that [the apostle] Paul meant it when he said, 'I am not ashamed of the gospel.'"
Reccord also highlighted one of the larger efforts NAMB is developing to help stem that tide. During "Elevate 2004" conferences in Dallas and Charlotte this January and February, a roster of nationally known Christians will be challenging thousands of young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 -- what he calls "the impact zone" of life" -- on fulfilling "life's greatest mission."
Among the 24 featured speakers for the two three-day conferences are talk show host Sean Hannity, comedian Victoria Jackson, Atlanta pastor Andy Stanley, television correspondent Peggy Wehmeyer and actor Jim Caviezel, who portrays Jesus in the upcoming Mel Gibson film on the life of Christ.
"We're praying that close to 14,000 young adults will hear that Jesus Christ has a plan for them -- maybe in vocational ministry and ministry, but definitely on-mission wherever God takes them," Reccord said.