God is at work in the Northwest, and He is doing more than we know. As I was writing this article, much of which focuses on the dramatically reduced partnership between the Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC) and the North American Mission Board (NAMB), I received a phone call from a pastor. This pastor told me that a church in the Northwest is gifting the NWBC with an endowment of about $1.2 million for the purpose of helping us start new churches in the Northwest. In the very month that church planting funding from NAMB through the NWBC ceases, an NWBC church informed us of this remarkable gift, the largest single gift in the history of the NWBC.
A little history is helpful here. Beginning in 2010, the relationship between NAMB and all state and regional conventions, began to change. Change meant that NAMB ended the cooperative agreements under which they had partnered with State Conventions for many decades. This included massive reductions in funding through the State Conventions and eliminating funding for local Associations. For the NWBC, the reduction totaled over $2 million dollars per year. Other State Conventions saw similar reductions.
For the last six years the Northwest maintained a higher level of funding than any other convention. If you are wondering whether we could have done something differently to keep NAMB funding, the answer is “No.” NAMB defunded most of the ministry in the other 41 State Conventions years ago. However, beginning this October, cooperative funding of our joint ministry partnership ends. Practically this means that in September NAMB forwarded $107,000 dollars to the NWBC for jointly-funded church planting and evangelism, as they have every month this year, but in October that is effectively reduced to zero dollars. Like other non-south conventions, we will be able to request “evangelism grants,” but the
budgeted funding ends.
The process of NAMB ending the cooperative partnerships with state conventions has been long, complicated, and painful. I have vocalized great concern for NAMB’s new direction because it hasn’t worked. The last decade saw the biggest decline in the SBC in our 175-year history. Since NAMB began ending our historic partnerships, we have witnessed huge declines in new church starts, baptisms, and Cooperative Program missions (nationally, not in the Northwest). I’ll not restate all of the arguments and factual information that I have included in other articles posted at randyadams.org. Instead, I want you to know how the NWBC is moving forward.
First, the NWBC will continue to work closely with new church plants. Unlike most State Conventions, we have not ceded church planting to NAMB. Gary Irby leads NWBC church planting work, and he has Tim Howe, Ivan Montenegro, Phil Peters, Wes Hughes, and Kent Staton on the team (soon we’ll add another person in Region 4). Natalie Hammond serves as the Ministry Assistant for this group. These are your NWBC staff, and they will help church planters through NAMB assessment and funding processes, should the church planter desire these. Also, the NWBC will continue to host, and fully fund, an annual retreat for all church planters. Our staff will serve our church planters as coaches and trainers and encouragers. Church planters in the Northwest will have no better friends or partners than your church and your NWBC team. We will continue to provide financial help to church planters, though we will likely do this differently than in past years. The endowment gift of $1.2 million mentioned previously will certainly help us to do that, but we will need to continue expanding our partnerships to increase funding.
Second, your NWBC church planting staff also helps church planters find other partners. The Texas Baptist Convention is a partner of the NWBC, and they are helping us fund about a dozen church plants currently. In addition, changes in the SBC and NAMB have caused some churches to change the way they support missions. We have a few churches in the south working directly with the NWBC, sending us funds, to partner with us in reaching the Northwest. We expect this number to grow.
It’s important to know that church planters have multiple partners. Typically a new church receives funding from NAMB for 3-4 years, but we are planning for new churches to be active and healthy NWBC churches for many years beyond that. We want our new churches to become established churches, establishing relationships with other NWBC churches and pastors. Joe Flegal leads the team that serves all of our churches. This team includes David Gass, Chong Kim, Lance Caddel, Leigh Ann Stark, Bruce Sloan, and Kent Staton. Lance Logue also works with this team in a part-time role serving our youth. The work they do includes all of our churches, new and established.
Third, the NWBC will continue to work with NAMB in ways we can. We did not want to lessen our partnership with NAMB. It was their decision, just as it was in the other State Conventions. We will work with NAMB in any way that helps our churches. For example, we will never ask a church planter to “make a choice” between us and NAMB. NAMB has abundant resources for new churches and most church planters will want access to those.
Also, NAMB will provide “evangelism grants” to State Conventions for “NAMB approved projects.” We are already in the process of requesting money for evangelism, which has a cap of $100,000 per year. Unless NAMB changes its present course, evangelism grants are the only monies that will be spent through the 25 non-south State Conventions.
Fourth, monthly funding for church planters approved by NAMB will continue, but it will flow through the “sending church” of each new church start. Again, this is true for all new church plants, whether they’re in New England, California, Northwest, etc. This means that our Northwest church planters will continue to receive funding, but the check will come from their sending church.
Change is never easy, and change isn’t always a good thing. But good or bad, we have to deal with it. I’m just glad that we have a God who is never surprised, and who often does the unexpected at just the right time. He “owns the cattle on a thousand hills,” as the Scripture says. He knows how to meet needs. He knows how to do His work. We simply want to be among those through whom His work is done. If that be true, it will remain a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest!