Updated: Apr 27, 2021
As I’ve previously written, we will set a better course for the SBC ship by returning its steerage to those who built the ship (see sbctransform.org/post/giving-the-sbc-back). But some might ask, “Is the SBC ship sinking? Does the ship need saving?” An objective examination of the facts suggests that, “Yes, the SBC ship is in trouble and taking on water.” Consider these facts, and note the shocking trends indicated by the graphs.
In the 2010 SBC Annual Report, the International Mission Board (IMB) reported 5,441 missionaries, while the 2019 Annual Report noted 3665 missionaries, a loss of 1,776 missionaries. In 2010 the North American Mission Board (NAMB) reported 1,256 church starts, and in 2019 NAMB reported 624 church starts, a decline of over 50 percent, while the NAMB church planting budget increased from $23,120,000 to $75,387,000 (these are budget numbers not actual dollars spent, which are indicated in the graph). The 2010 Annual SBC report noted 349,737 baptisms, while in 2019 there were 246,442 baptisms reported, a catastrophic decline that marked the fewest baptisms in 75 years. The lowest four years since 1947 are the last four years. Also, total Cooperative Program mission giving from all SBC churches was $525,866,995 in the 2010 report, and $463,076,368 in the 2019 report, for a decrease of $62,790,627. To keep up with inflation since 2010 we would need $620,523,054 CP dollars (18 percent inflation increase), which means the buying power of our mission dollars has decreased by $157,000,000, or 34 percent, since 2010!
The comparison with 2010 is appropriate because the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) report was adopted that year at the Annual Meeting in Orlando. The GCR ushered in a dramatic change in how Southern Baptists cooperate to advance the Great Commission. GCR shifted money and power to the national SBC and lessened the influence and funding through State Conventions and non-South Associations. Tragically, however, the reports show that the GCR did not work. To be clear, the GCR was intended to reverse declines that began a decade previously, but rather than reverse the decline, the decline steepened significantly. The GCR hastened a “regression,” not a “resurgence,” in Southern Baptist’s evangelistic and mission effectiveness, demonstrating that the wrong “solution” to a problem can make the problem worse. Many were concerned about the premise of the GCR before it was presented in 2010, and I was in that number (https://www.baptistmessenger.com/oklahoma-baptists’-great-commission-resurgence/).
I approach things as a pastor. I try to hear from God and examine everything through the lens of Scripture. What does the Bible say, and does God have a specific word on the matter? These are essential questions. But I also remember lessons learned in my training as an engineer. Engineering teaches problem solving and the value of accurate data. Bad data leads to bad decisions. This is true regarding evangelism strategies or a production plan for an oilfield.
As a pastor of three churches, small and large, I saw that people reach people. Reaching more people required involving more people in the ministry. Jesus said this when He spoke of the need for workers in the harvest (Matt. 9:37f). In a sense it’s mathematical. Two can reach and teach more than one, and three more than two. More workers produce a greater harvest.
Leading the missions and evangelism work for Oklahoma Baptists helped me see the role that Associations, State Conventions, and the national entities can best play in helping our churches be more effective in disciple-making. For example, when all the partners worked closely together, collaborating in the areas of evangelism, discipleship and church planting, we were far more effective in helping our churches reach and teach more people, and we also started more churches in those Associations. The data revealed that getting pastors, associational leaders, and convention specialists around the same table, praying and collaborating, produced the most effective outreach strategies, by far.
Much of this changed in 2010 with the GCR strategy. Through the GCR Southern Baptists adopted a nationalized, top-down strategy, which led to massive reductions in evangelism and church planting missionaries at the State and Associational levels. A reduction in missionaries, and in church planters as well, has helped to produce unprecedented decline in the harvest. Fewer workers, smaller harvest. It’s biblical mathematics.
This really shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows mission’s history, or biblical missiology. A relational, collaborative approach, empowering those who do the work of sharing Christ, baptizing, and starting the churches in their community, is always best. Those experiences, together with ministry on the mission field of the Northwest, have deepened my understanding of how cooperation in missions makes us more effective.
In “Saving the SBC Ship – Part 2” I’ll go into detail as to how and why the 2010 GCR strategy failed and what Southern Baptists need to do to become more effective in our Acts 1:8 Great Commission Advance. Look for Part 2 this coming Thursday, with more to follow next week.