The North American Mission Board’s Connection 2004 “Preparing for Kingdom Growth” conference ended successfully yesterday July 28 as NAMB’s president introduced goals for increases in evangelistic training opportunities, intentional church planting and North American mission efforts. The four-day conference for Southern Baptist pastors, missionaries, and associational directors of mission, was held July 25-28 in conjunction with NAMB’s Summer State Leadership Conference for its state convention partners.
Describing the United States as "the most religiously diverse nation in the world" on "the only continent in which Christianity is not growing," NAMB president Robert E. (Bob) Reccord said he remains optimistic that unprecedented advances in Southern Baptist baptisms, new church starts and missionary mobilization are possible by the end of this decade.
"I want us to get to the point where the logos and egos are left at the door, and where the main driving issue is not who gets the credit, or who has the control, and who manages the cash," Reccord said. "The driving issue has got to be how does the job get done, and how do we get the job done together."
Soul-winning training to equip Southern Baptists to effectively share their faith is essential for the convention to move beyond its average since 1950 of 385,000 baptisms per year, Reccord said.
NAMB studies show that Southern Baptists who participate in evangelistic training are twice as likely to share the Gospel and four times more likely to lead someone to become a Christian than those who have had no evangelism training.
Reccord said baptisms across the Southern Baptist Convention have plateaued for several decades, in large part because Sunday School in many churches is no longer "an evangelistic arm of the church."
Demographic studies now predict that in the next 12 to 18 months the United States no longer will claim a majority of Americans who identify with the Protestant faith, he noted.
"Friends, our work is cut out for us big time," Reccord said.
Consequently, NAMB has set a goal to help state conventions, associations and local churches train and equip 1 million Christians each year to intentionally share the Gospel. Reccord suggested that if every Southern Baptist church increased their baptisms by one each month for a year, the convention would total 504,000 baptisms in a single year, breaking its record high of 472,000 baptisms in 1972.
"When was the last time you, one-on-one, introduced somebody to Jesus Christ yourself? We can't expect the churches to do something we're not doing," Reccord said.
The need for new churches, Reccord said, has grown dire as evidenced by the church-to-population ratios over the last century. For example, in 1900, there were 27 churches, of multiple denominations, per 10,000 people. Today there are 12 churches per 10,000 people. Meanwhile eight churches close their doors permanently every day.
Currently only 4.5 percent of all Southern Baptist churches are actively involved in helping start new churches, Reccord said. By 2010, however, NAMB has a goal of enlisting and equipping 25 percent of all Southern Baptist churches to be involved in starting new churches.
Reccord cited growing church plant movements in New York City, Las Vegas and Phoenix as evidence of God's blessing of Southern Baptists' obedience to His call. For example, Journey Church, which started two years ago in New York City, now numbers 600 in its congregation. And in Phoenix, nearly half of the city's Southern Baptist churches are starting new churches.
Referencing a quote from Southern Baptist pastor Rick Warren and author of "The Purpose-Driven Church" and "The Purpose-Driven Life," Reccord said, "Churches should never be judged by their seating capacity, but by their sending capacity."
Frequent baptisms and new church starts, Reccord said, are biblical results of churches that are on mission with God.
"My hope is that we get back centered on Acts 1 and verse 8," Reccord said, whereby churches are transformed into worldwide mission centers -- developing strategies to advance the Great Commission at local, state, national and international levels.
Reccord called on churches, associations and state conventions to accept the Acts 1:8 Challenge (www.ActsOne8.com), by embracing a comprehensive missions strategy in partnership with associational, state, national and international missions. Taken from Christ's challenge to His disciples to take the Gospel to the nations, "Jerusalem" corresponds to the local Baptist association, "Judea" to the state convention, "Samaria" to the work of the North American Mission Board and "the ends of the earth" to the outreach of the International Mission Board.
By setting a goal of 10,000 missionaries and chaplains serving throughout North America by 2010, as well as 750,000 short-term mission volunteers annually, Reccord challenged churches to emphasize God's call to serve Him by officially commissioning their members as missionaries in their workplace or schools.
"You can be just as called to be on mission where God planted you in the workplace as I am at NAMB," Reccord said.