Saving the SBC Ship – Part 2

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Part 1 of this series focused on the steep decline in Great Commission effectiveness that the SBC has suffered since the adoption of the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) recommendations in the Orlando SBC meeting in 2010 (https://randyadams.org/2020/03/03/saving-the-sbc-ship-part-1/ ). Those declines are represented in the following graphs.


These declines make clear that the SBC Ship is floundering and requires serious attention. Bright spots do exist and many churches are thriving. Church planting in some regions, such as the Northwest where I serve, is doing quite well. It seems the IMB is poised to rebuild our international missions force, for which we are most grateful. But the SBC cooperative mission’s ship has taken on a lot of water. Let me tell you why I believe this has happened and continues to happen.

First, the shift from overwhelming support, and practice, of Cooperative Program missions was eroded by creating the category of “Great Commission Giving.” If you review the records, promoters of Great Commission Giving largely came from churches whose Cooperative Program (CP) giving was far below that of the average SBC church as a percentage of their budgets. Many SBC leaders could not say “imitate me” when it came to CP giving because if the typical Baptist church imitated the churches of many SBC leaders we would have “gone out of business.” This was/is a huge problem.

Southern Baptists have long believed in the “missions system” that included local Associations, State Conventions, and the SBC Entities (particularly the mission boards and the seminaries that train our pastors and missionaries). Historically, we believed the missions system produced better Great Commission effectiveness than simply “picking and choosing” which part of the system you wanted to support. I wrote about this in 2015 (https://randyadams.org/2015/09/13/do-as-i-do-the-big-issue-for-our-baptist-family/).

Although we can debate whether the creation of Great Commission Giving caused the erosion of CP mission giving, the fact that CP has declined by 34 percent since the 2010 SBC Annual Report is beyond debate. Actual dollars given have declined by 11 percent, but because the dollar purchased more in 2010 than it does in 2020, our CP missions support is 34 percent less in terms of purchasing power. That is real and serious decline, and I believe it was greatly aided by the shift toward Great Commission Giving. Certainly, those promoting Great Commission Giving, as well as urging State Conventions to keep less CP dollars and forward more to the SBC, with the “ideal” of a 50/50 split, claimed this would result in more mission dollars given through CP and SBC causes. However, the opposite has occurred. Fewer dollars are being given through the SBC mission system.

I’ll talk more about solutions in Part 3 of this series next week but will briefly say here that we need to choose leaders with proven track-records of CP support. Furthermore, we must include more Baptists in choosing our leaders through remote-access voting. In a future article I will articulate a plan on how to make remote voting work at the SBC Annual Meeting.

Second, the shift from mission strategies in which local leaders (pastors, associational and state leaders) are primary decision makers, to a top-down approach in which decisions are largely dictated from national leaders, was a catastrophic mistake. I believe the large decline in baptisms and church starts is partly the result of moving to a top-down approach.

This shift to a top-down approach was absolutely intended by the GCR Task Force. I quote from their report: “We call for the leadership of the North American Mission Board to budget for a national strategy that will mobilize Southern Baptists in a great effort to reach North America with the Gospel and plant thriving, reproducing churches. We encourage NAMB to set a goal of phasing out all Cooperative Agreements within seven years, and to establish a new pattern of strategic partnership with the state conventions.” For a complete copy of the GCR go to: http://www.baptist2baptist.net/PDF/PenetratingTheLostness.pdf.

This “national strategy” has nearly eliminated the voice of Associations and State Conventions outside the South. It has greatly lessened work in the South, as well. But in most of the non-South this included eliminating funding for associations, most evangelism personnel, Baptist Collegiate Ministry, and has even reduced funding for church planting missionaries. I believe the huge drop we’ve seen in church plants, a 50-percent drop, despite increasing the church planting budget by more than $50 million dollars, is due to nationalizing our strategy and limiting the input of local leaders.

Think of it this way. What if the Federal Government dictated from Washington D.C. how we educate children in all 50 states, thus eliminating the control of the local school boards? Does Washington D.C. know what’s best for schools in Spokane, WA or Augusta, GA or Jacksonville, FL? No, they don’t. And, by the way, the local community may make a bad decision, but they live with the decision they make. And they have greater incentive to get things right, and correct course when they’re wrong, because their own kids are in those schools. I see a similar principle at work in the evangelism and mission strategies of Southern Baptists. Top-down national strategies that do not give deference to local leadership are doomed to fail. Some are unhappy that I am saying publically that the GCR actually led to a Great Commission Regression, but no one has argued that the GCR worked based on the data.

In Part 3 of this series I’ll offer practical steps the SBC can take to better advance the Great Commission. In light of that, I’ll leave you with the final statement in the 2010 GCR report, and it’s one with which I totally agree. The report concludes by saying we must “Commit to a continuous process of denominational review in order to ensure maximum implementation of the Great Commission.” As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the GCR it’s time to “review” and steer the SBC ship in a new direction.

Randy Adams
Executive Director-Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention

Great Commission Advance through the Northwest Baptist Convention

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Yesterday I released a series of messages on social media that contain factual information detailing the decline of Southern Baptist’s Great Commission impact. You can check my Facebook or Twitter to see those messages. I will release a future article that will go into greater detail.

Today I want to briefly share what the Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC) is doing to help our churches advance the Great Commission. You see, I believe in a cooperative, systematic approach to evangelism and advancing the Great Commission. While it is the local church that does the biblical work of sharing the gospel, preaching the Word, raising up the missionaries, teaching tithing and stewardship principles, the local Baptist Association and State and National Conventions have played an important role in developing a cooperative system of training and sending and developing resources, among other things.

First, when I arrived in the Northwest in 2013 I promised our churches that the NWBC would provide evangelism resources to every affiliated church, without charge, so that every church, from the smallest to the largest, could equip their people to share the gospel and deploy them to actually do it. The reason we can provide the resources at no cost is because our churches have already paid for them through the Cooperative Program and our NWBC Mission Offering. When I was in Oklahoma I led Oklahoma Baptists to do the same, with my team developing the My316 evangelism materials. We have continued to use these materials in the Northwest, and other state conventions have used them too. However, the NWBC also provides other evangelism tools. In fact, we will pay the bill for any biblical evangelism training resource that a church chooses to use.

Second, we provide evangelism workshops and training every year. Our Annual Meeting always includes workshops on evangelism, and we sometimes do them at other times too. Our Pastor Cluster groups make evangelism a key part of their monthly meetings.

Third, the NWBC established an IMB partnership with East Asia that launched in 2015. In addition to dozens of churches sending teams to work with missionaries, volunteers from the Northwest have staffed several major IMB retreats. These have been coordinated by our NWBC staff. For example, in 2016 we sent 163 people from 32 NWBC churches to minister to our missionaries and their children in a huge training conference. In 2019 we sent 113 people from 23 churches to do the same. We have also staffed smaller IMB East Asia retreats, sending up to 50 people from multiple churches. We do this because we believe in Acts 1:8 missions. Our churches could not do these big retreats and partnerships without leadership from both the NWBC and IMB. That’s part of the “mission system” Southern Baptists have established. Additionally, I have personally preached in 9 IMB retreats and conferences, going back to 1993 in Pakistan. Every church and convention I have served in has been heavily involved in missions, both locally and globally. The result of which has been increased support of missions, both in financial giving and in sending missionaries to the field. Three Northwesterners were commissioned by the IMB just last November.

Fourth, the NWBC has a strong and growing commitment to church planting, in partnership with NAMB. I believe in partnership and cooperation and it grieves me deeply that we do not cooperate like we once did. The NWBC is the only State Convention that remains in a jointly-funded partnership with NAMB. We do this because we believe in what NAMB and the NWBC can do together. Churches young and old need local partners, the Southern Baptist system, which historically was highly relational and local, with national partners primarily supporting the local denominational partners. I believe in that system. I believe in local partnerships strategy and methods that are driven and developed as locally as possible. In my experience, locally driven strategies better mobilize local churches than top-down strategies.

This is a fairly brief summary, but I hope it gives you some idea of our commitment to actually do things that help our churches advance the Great Commission. Is it working? Yes. Not like we want it to work. I always want more and am never quite satisfied with what we are achieving. But since I came to the NWBC in 2013 baptisms have increased, mission giving has increased (Cooperative Program and the mission offerings), church plant numbers have increased, and the net number of churches has increased by more than ten percent (60 more churches at last count). As always, I am happy to address questions and provide clarification or additional information. It is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest!

Randy Adams
Executive Director-Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention

Giving the SBC Back

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The way to turn the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and expand its global mission efforts, is to give it back to those who built it. The phrase “take back the ship” has been used by some who have attempted to change the direction of the SBC. For better or worse, some of these efforts succeeded while others failed. However, the best and only long-term solution to unite and “save the ship” of the SBC is to give it back to those who built the ship.

Common convictions, while necessary for unity, are not enough to mobilize a people to advance the Great Commission together. As a pastor, and now leader of a State Convention with hundreds of churches, I have learned that increasing participation builds unity. Pastors work with volunteers, and State Executive Directors do as well. Volunteers can choose to participate, or they can opt out. The choice is often made based on whether they’re included in the process, and whether leaders are transparent and accountable in how they go about the ministry.

Unity and vibrancy in our SBC mission efforts will grow when we give back the SBC ship to those who built it.

“And who built the ship?” you ask.

We need to give the Convention back to the churches, small, medium and large; back to churches rural, town, suburban and city who have faithfully and generously built our Convention through faithful Bible teaching and generous support of missions through the Cooperative Program. We need to give the Convention back to the pew, back to Bob and Betty Baptist, and to Britney, Alex and Briana Baptist, too. We need to give it back to the people who love their neighbor and minister to the sick and send missionaries to the nations because they take seriously the command to obey Jesus’ teaching.

We need to give the Convention back to those whose heroes are missionaries and not Christian celebrities. We need to give the Convention back to widows who tithe from their Social Security because they love Jesus, love their church, love their pastor, and they love their missionaries.

We need to give the Convention back to deacons who pray for their pastor and serve alongside him. We need to give the Convention back to Sunday school teachers and door greeters and the women of the WMU, and all the others who make our Convention of churches work. Let’s give the convention back to the shepherds who love their flock, do the marrying and burying, evangelize the lost, preach the Bible because they believe the Bible, and model a life of joy and gratitude to their community. We need to give the Convention back to those who weep over sin, including their own, and who welcome the repentant sinner.

How do we give the Convention back?

We do it by valuing every church and every person in every church. Respecters of persons cannot lead the SBC to honor God and rebuild a witness to our nation. How do we give the Convention back? We do it primarily through transparency, accountability and broadened involvement through remote access voting at the annual meeting of the SBC.

Transparency is vital if we are to give the Convention back to those who built and continue to sustain it. Entities must open their financial records and provide detailed financial reports, not summaries which fail to disclose crucial information. When tens of millions of dollars are spent to purchase property, provide grants to certain churches, pay monthly stipends to certain pastors, and the details of these expenditures are known to only to a few, it creates the conditions for dividing not unifying. Many financial details are not disclosed to the Trustees charged with oversight. They should be disclosed to every Cooperative Program supporting Southern Baptist pastor and church.

Transparency means that habitual use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) should be discontinued. NDAs are used to suppress speech and information that might be critical, or revealing, of the practices of an institution or entity. NDAs are often used to keep information from being revealed that might embarrass someone or something. Although we don’t use them in the Northwest Baptist Convention, in SBC life they are used by churches, conventions, seminaries and SBC Entities. While NDAs have limited application in Baptist life, they are too often used as part of standard-operating-procedure and this should be stopped.

Regarding transparency, the SBC made an expansive strategic change in the 2010 Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) recommendation, yet the minutes of the committee meetings, which would reveal important details and discussions, have been sealed for all of these years and won’t be unsealed for many years to come. Why should this important information be kept from Southern Baptists? Shouldn’t we operate in the light? Is there some information that should only be accessible to a select few of Baptists, but not provided to the everyday pastor or layperson? According to the numbers, the GCR has actually been a Great Commission Regression, and I think it would be helpful for Southern Baptists to know the details of the internal debate. What concerns did the committee have? Where did the ideas originate and who argued for them and against them? The GCR served to weaken State Conventions and Associations (outside the South) and strengthen the national SBC. How was this debated? It’s been ten years and we still don’t know. It’s time to open the records. And it’s time to evaluate the GCR and re-calibrate (more about that in a future article).

Accountability. We give the Convention back to the pew, back to those who sustain Southern Baptist mission efforts, by enforcing accountability. Leaders must be held accountable for how we steward the ministry of the SBC and affiliated Conventions. Trustees should be trained by someone other than the entities they are selected to hold accountable. Accountability should include the performance of the Entity or Convention, stewardship of resources, Christian character, and, of course, faithfulness to our Lord and His Word. Holding leaders accountable is the chief responsibility of Trustee Boards, but building trust, and debunking conspiracy theories and rumors, is greatly aided when leaders hold themselves accountable to those who built and sustain the Convention.

Remote Access Voting. We give the Convention back by increasing involvement in the SBC through remote access voting. The last time remote voting was investigated by the SBC Executive Committee we were using dial-up. Ninety-two percent of our churches do not participate in the SBC Annual Meeting each year. The time has come to extend involvement to messengers from tens of thousands of churches, small and large. Involvement in making Convention decisions should not be restricted to those with the money to travel across the country to the Annual Meeting. Increasing involvement will build trust and support for Cooperative Program missions.

The SBC becomes stronger when we increase inclusion and empower each autonomous group, not when we centralize power and control. Today’s technology makes this completely doable.

I am allowing my name to be submitted to serve as President of the SBC because I believe we can unite the convention and save the ship. However, we need to do more than philosophize about the problems we face as a convention. We must discuss and find practical solutions to our problems. Offering practical solutions is what I am attempting to do.

I would urge the various groups concerned about the SBC to host meetings in which conversation can occur. I am always glad to discuss the issues we face and the proposed solutions, especially with those who may disagree with me. Let’s discuss in venues open to our people, whether it is a video conference, livestream, or open forum. We can post them so that every concerned Southern Baptist can have access to the discussion.

Unity and vibrancy in accomplishing the mission will grow as we give the ship back to those who built it. My great hope and dream is that this Convention, which has been built and sustained for 175 years, can be given back to the Baptist faithful. The SBC ship was built to carry the good news of Jesus Christ to every person in every place. I believe that’s why God has blessed the SBC, and faithfulness to that great mission will bring continued blessing in the years to come.

Randy Adams
Executive Director-Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention

SBC Pastor’s Conference Controversy

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Several people have asked me to address the most recent issue related to the Pastor’s Conference line-up, and I wanted to take a moment to address it. However, we also need to address the work of the SBC.

The primary controversy on the pastor’s line-up stems from the issue that Hosanna Wong, a female “teaching pastor,” in a non-SBC church has been invited to perform “spoken Word” (poetry) at the SBC Pastor’s Conference. The BF&M 2000 is clear that the office of pastor is to be held by a man. By deciding to give a stage to people who operate contrary to some key southern Baptist beliefs, we have self-inflicted a wound to our unity and convention. The Pastor’s Conference should inspire and unite pastors as they are challenged from God’s Word, and it should point us to the mission God has given us.

Recently, these types of controversies seem to be cropping up more and more. We are in a pattern where we passionately discuss one controversy, but before we can find real solutions to it, the next controversy has arrived and distracted, leaving behind a bunch of unresolved issues in the SBC. We are also in a pattern where we become so distracted by each and every controversy that we fail to discuss, diagnose and solve key threats to our convention and Great Commission advance. We need to address and resolve our theological issues in a manner which enables us to do the Great Commission work Christ has given us.

As a result there are some things we need to keep in mind.

1. We only have a couple of days each year where we can handle important business as a convention. After that, the issues are handed back to the entities to work on. When it comes time to Orlando, and even now, we need to make sure we use our time to tackle the larger important issues, not just the specific controversies.

2. New controversies will always pop up. We can deal with them, but it needs to be clear and quick, and then get right back to fixing the other major threats to our convention and mission.

3. We need to make sure we are as passionate about the work of the mission as we are about the theology of the convention. We fought very hard for a conservative approach to the convention, however, if we fail to focus on the work of the mission, and do the work of uprooting and preventing abuse, and building transparency to regain trust, we will end up losing our convention.

These should be our focus as we seek to cooperate to reach the world for Christ.

The Peace of Jesus or the Peaceful Bigotry of Social Theories

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I once heard an Irish poet say that the peace agreement that ended The Troubles in Northern Ireland in the late 1990s did not cause enemies to love each other. It did not produce peace in people’s hearts. Rather, he said they had achieved a “peaceful bigotry,” meaning they still hated each other, but they had stopped killing each other. I would argue that “peaceful bigotry” is the best the world can do. We speak of peace in the Middle East. Peace in Afghanistan. Or even peace between political opponents in the Federal Government of the United States. But what the world calls peace is merely a cessation of violence, peaceful bigotry, not peace in people’s hearts.

The Bible tells us peace is found in the person of Jesus Christ. “He Himself is our peace” (Eph. 2:14). True peace in the human heart, and peace between enemies, can only be achieved as people meet at the foot of Christ’s cross, reconciling with God and then with each other.

This came to mind as I read that some Southern Baptists are embracing aspects of Critical Race Theory (CRT), and other social and political theories, that promise answers to the ongoing problems of racism and racial division. At best, the application of such theories can only produce a “peaceful bigotry.” Peace will not be achieved by embracing theories. Peace is only achieved through Jesus Christ.

To look at this another way, the Bible defines and describes justice and it does so without adjectival modifiers. The Bible doesn’t use the term “social justice,” but simply justice. When you add a modifier to the word “justice” you get something less than true, biblical justice. “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully” (Prov. 28:5).

The message of the church is unique. The uniqueness of our message is the person of Jesus Christ. He is our peace. He is just. He enables us to understand what justice is. And on that coming Day, He will produce perfect peace and justice. Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31f).

We must not settle for peaceful bigotry. We must not commit to social theories that enable the continuation of hate, bigotry, and division, and deny the gospel as the only power to change hearts, thus producing true peace. The Church only has one message – Jesus. He is our peace.

Randy Adams
Executive Director-Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention

Trust and Partnership – A Recovery Program for the SBC

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The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) needs a recovery program.  Followers of Jesus, including those who lead, are not exempt from addiction to power, money, and sex, and we have been reminded of this with jarring frequency over the past few weeks and months.  Deep wounds caused by multiple failures are now festering from infection.  Added to the more public matters is a sick hubris that has caused some to weaponize money and leadership, intentionally hurting others, certain that they are smarter, wiser, or better than “them.”  Much of the focus has been on the resignation of leaders and the firing of a seminary president, and rightly so, but perhaps worse than the headlines is our deficit of trust and partnership that has grown as large as the national debt.  Although trust and partnership have been eroded in multiple ways, the serious erosion of cooperation and trust between the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and denominational partners has led to a collapse in the numbers of churches started and the number of new believers baptized.

Many think that we are in the midst of a church planting boom in the SBC.  We are not.  In the past two years we have tallied the lowest number of new church starts in decades, reaching a new low of 691 throughout North America in 2017.  Moreover, new church plant numbers the past seven years are far below the seven years prior, while the church planting budget is 350 percent higher than it was in 2010!  The truth is we are experiencing a colossal collapse in the number of new church plants while spending far more money from the NAMB budget.  The primary reason that Southern Baptists are planting half as many churches as we were ten years ago is because the North American Mission Board (NAMB) has greatly reduced its cooperation with state and regional conventions in favor of a top-down approach in which NAMB mostly controls church planting outside of the south, and in which NAMB has greatly reduced funding for church planting in the south.

Add to this the fact that NAMB has slashed evangelism funding to about one third of what it was ten years ago.  In 2010 NAMB had an evangelism staff of 52 people, organized into six teams, in addition to hundreds of state convention jointly-funded positions.  In 2018 there are only two people in evangelism (a leader and his assistant) listed on NAMB’s website, and the one evangelism leader is also the pastor of a church with attendance over 1,000.  This is especially striking when you learn that NAMB currently lists 30 staff doing marketing and event planning!  At the state convention level, NAMB has also slashed evangelism funding for personnel, so that we have a fraction of the national evangelism leaders and far fewer evangelism implementers at the associational and state level.

Evangelism funding was reduced because, NAMB argued, the best way to do evangelism is to start new churches.  While that can be debated, there is no debate that evangelistic funding from NAMB was intended to serve all 47,000 SBC affiliated churches, while church planting funding focuses only on church plants.  Most evangelism is done by established churches because that’s where the vast majority of our people worship – common sense!  But we are experiencing a disastrous drop in the number of new believers following Jesus in baptism.  Baptisms have plummeted to a level not seen in more than 70 years.  In 2015 we dropped below 300,000 baptisms for the first time since 1947, and in 2017 a total of 254,122 persons were baptized.  This is a drop of 24 percent from 2011 when 333,000 were baptized.  There is almost no living memory of a time Southern Baptists baptized so few.  As seen in the chart below, we are currently experiencing the steepest decline in baptisms in recorded SBC history (source is the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry, Vol. 1 No 2, Fall 2003 and SBC Annuals).

SBC-baptisms_1900-2017

The extreme reduction in cooperation between NAMB and state conventions, including the elimination of funding for hundreds of associational and state convention positions, has greatly reduced the ability of local Southern Baptist denominational entities (state conventions and local associations) to serve the needs of our churches, which is partly why we are experiencing serious decline (including a decline in Annual Church Profile reporting because of fewer associational and convention employees working to get the information).  In the Northwest Baptist Convention our convention staff is less than half the number that we were in 2009.  Believing the incendiary charge that state conventions were “bloated bureaucracies,” a handful of influential SBC leaders and influencers pushed for state conventions to give more cooperative dollars to the national SBC (a 50/50 split was called for), and NAMB reduced funding to state conventions at the same time.  These actions, and the accusations that were hurled toward state conventions, have done great damage to relationships, destroyed trust, and damaged our ability to start churches and engage in a cooperative evangelism effort.  Both church plant numbers and baptisms plummeted following the changes that began in 2010, which, ironically, was the year the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) recommendations were adopted at the SBC in Orlando, FL, and in which the GCR called for “the phasing out of Cooperative Agreements” between NAMB and state conventions.  Unfortunately, no effective cooperative strategy has replaced the cooperative agreements, thus we have become less effective at planting churches and doing evangelism than we were prior to the GCR.  I’ve recently noticed that others, too, have recognized the need for recovery in the SBC, including those behind the Reform NAMB Now movement (www.reformnambnow.org).

Some think that talking openly and honestly about the fact of our decline, and the reasons for it, is “not helpful.”  Some fear that if Baptists are told the truth it will demotivate cooperative giving.  Apparently they weren’t taught the old Baptist axiom “trust the Lord and tell the people.”  Transparency is vital.  The truth of the matter is critical if we are to build and maintain trust.  Unity without truth enables bad behavior.  The people who support the work have a right to know the truth.  They deserve an honest reporting of our present condition, and an honest and open debate, even if some leaders find it unhelpful to themselves.

Some might also think that because our entities are governed by trustees elected at the annual meeting of the SBC that it is unnecessary and counterproductive to discuss these matters in a public forum.  But I believe that SBC trustees need to hear from rank-and-file, pew-sitting Baptists whose tithes are paying the bills.  “Brett and Brianna Baptist” should not be kept in-the-dark about the issues and how their Cooperative Program mission’s dollars are being spent.  Trustee boards operate best when the SBC constituency knows the issues and can discuss the issues with the trustees.  Trustees represent Southern Baptist people and Southern Baptist Churches.  They do not represent the entity on whose board they sit.  Therefore, trustees need to hear from an informed constituency.

So, what can we do to build back trust and cooperation at all levels of the SBC?  First, we must be open and honest about our present condition and not suppress “negative information” out of fear that Baptists cannot handle the truth.  SBC entities need to present the reality of their situation and not merely provide reports that highlight the positives and conceal the challenges and failures.  State conventions and associations must do the same.  Acknowledging reality, and dealing with things as they really are, is where leadership begins.  God’s people can handle the truth.  What they cannot handle, and what they deeply resent, is the truth being concealed and covered up.

Second, building trust and cooperation requires selecting leaders who believe in the cooperative system, including the cooperative funding system that made the SBC the greatest missionary denomination we have ever known.  Southern Baptists have some pastors who are effective leaders for their church, but they are not effective leaders denominationally because they do not sufficiently believe in, or participate in, the Cooperative Program method of funding our ministry and the cooperative structure that we have established locally, statewide, and nationally.  Most Southern Baptists worship in churches of less than 200 on Sunday.  These churches give the most money to cooperative missions and they send the most missionaries.  They believe in, and practice, cooperative missions.  We need leaders who understand this and celebrate the cooperative efforts and sacrifices of these churches.  This doesn’t mean large-church pastors can’t lead the SBC – not at all!  But it does mean these pastors need to believe in the cooperative method of missions from which we have benefitted for 90 years.  If our missionary methods don’t capitalize on the combined strength of the 99 percent of our churches which have fewer than 1,000 on Sunday, we will continue to decline and fail to accomplish all that we could for the glory of God.  In 2017 Southern Baptist churches gave $475 million to missions through the Cooperative Program and $215 million through the two national mission offerings.  Those churches that strongly support the Cooperative Program need SBC leaders who do the same.  SBC leaders must be able to look pastors in the eye and say, “imitate me” regarding Cooperative Program giving.  If an SBC leader cannot do that, he’s like a pastor who implores his people to give generously while he gives miserly.

Third, we must return to a cooperative system between NAMB and state conventions that prioritizes a church planting and evangelism strategy that is formed and led mostly by those closest to the field of ministry.  How can leaders in Alpharetta, GA know what’s best for Syracuse or Chicago or Seattle or Anchorage, not to mention the thousands of smaller communities that are inevitably overlooked by everyone except those who actually live there?  This includes both church planting and evangelism strategies.  In the name of planting more churches NAMB has exploded the church planting budget and slashed the evangelism budget.  The result is far fewer churches being planted and a collapse in total baptisms.  I believe this decline in church plant numbers is largely the result of a top-down national strategy that has reduced missionary boots-on-the-ground, ignored the input and pleas of local leaders, and destroyed the trust we once enjoyed between national and state convention leaders.  It’s not working and the numbers tell the story.  Actually, the numbers tell part of the story.  The rest is told by the wreckage done to relationships and families in the implementation of this terribly flawed strategy.

Is the SBC still worthy of our support?  Absolutely.  We no longer have 5,600 international missionaries, but we still have 3,500 fully-funded missionaries and no other network of churches comes close to that number.  Presently we are not starting 1,200 to 1,500 churches each year, but no other network started the 691 churches that SBC churches did in 2017.  Can God rescue us and revive us and bless us once again?  Without question He can.  He’s done it many times before.  But it’s a fact that churches die, movements die, and denominations have died too.  It is not inevitable that we recover our former effectiveness, and it’s not even certain that we will survive for another generation.  God’s plan is certain.  He will prevail.  Of that we can be certain. But whether the SBC continues to play a leading role in His plan is yet to be determined.

For now, we need prayer and repentance.  We must execute a turnabout, spiritually, relationally, and strategically.  Good organization and strategy won’t move the heart of a holy God.  Only hearts directed toward Him, seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness, will bless God and cause His face to shine upon us.  If we do that individually, we’ll be all right, come what may.  As far as the SBC goes, a recovery program requires building trust, respect, and true partnership founded upon truth and acknowledging reality.  If we can do this, we can recover and experience vitality once again.