Why We Believe the GCRTF Report is Good for the Future of the SBC (4a): Reaching North America

By: Danny Akin & Jonathan Akin

“There is no formal conclusion to the book of Acts. It is open-ended. God means for the story of Pentecostal power and revival to be prolonged after the same manner…Since Pentecost, there is no age, no century, no era, no time without the marvelous outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The soul-saving experience continues. Darkness and death and decay may reign in one place, but always light, life, and salvation will reign and vigorously abound in another…When the Unitarian defection destroyed the evangelizing spirit of the congregations of New England, the pioneer preachers were advancing beyond the Alleghenies to build churches and Christian institutions in the heartland of America. And while elitism, and liberalism, and spiritual indifference are decimating the churches in the West, great revival is being experienced in Korea, and South America, and in central Africa. Why not America, and why not now?!”

Dr. W. A. Criswell thundered these famous words in 1985 at the crossroads of the Conservative Resurgence (CR) debate in that important Dallas meeting where over 45,000 messengers assembled. The call of the CR was no doubt theological. The SBC demanded that its institutions return to the conviction that the Bible is inerrant. But, the heart of the CR was also missiological. The lostness of North America and the world was staggering to the CR proponents. Criswell asked passionately why we were not reaching North America. The promise of the CR was that after we settled our theology we would see a resurgence of Great Commission activity starting in our homeland and reaching to the ends of the earth in order to penetrate the vast lostness of the world.

That is what the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) is about, building on the CR to penetrate lostness. The GCR is about mobilizing strategically to take the Gospel to the places of greatest need. Some oppose GCR recommendations by saying, “Lost is lost, and no one is more lost than someone else.” But the GCR has never defined the need as a greater degree of lostness. Need is defined rather by access to the Gospel! The GCR is about penetrating areas with the least access to the Gospel. It is about penetrating the underserved and unreached people groups of our nation and the world. That some are even questioning this agenda is mind boggling. It is frankly disappointing and unconscionable for a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

One of those places is right where we live, in North America. There are 258 million lost people in North America. The U.S.A. is one of the top 4 largest “unchurched” nations in the world. Four out of five churches in America (among the 350,000) are plateaued or declining (Piper article).

Ed Stetzer has shown that we are a Convention of churches in a 50 year decline here in North America. Recently released ACP numbers for 2009 show that despite adding 162 churches our total membership declined 68,350 members. This decline happened even in a year where we saw a modest increase of 7,539 baptisms. This is an issue not only for our ecclesiology, but also for our evangelism and church planting.

The GCRTF has heard from the SBC that penetrating the lostness in North America is on their hearts. So, in component 4 of the GCRTF final report they make recommendations to free NAMB to direct a church planting strategy to reach North America with the Gospel. This recommendation is where the rubber meets the road. It is the component that involves the most restructuring of the current system. It is, we believe, the component most likely to allow us to effectively and directly penetrate lostness, and that is the goal of this recommendation.

Here are some of the main features of the recommendation:

  1. It “frees” NAMB to direct a church planting strategy in North America. This may come as a surprise to some. Most of our Southern Baptist life we assumed that NAMB’s focus was church planting, but that is only a piece of what NAMB does, and not necessarily the primary piece, until now. NAMB told the GCRTF that the cooperative agreements have kept NAMB from doing what most Southern Baptists expect and assume that they do, which is church planting. The cooperative agreements keep millions of dollars tied up in various state agreements and keep NAMB from employing a direct church planting strategy. Phasing out the cooperative agreements will free up 50 million dollars or more for church planting in the areas in most need of a gospel witness.
  2. The priority of NAMB will be church planting in metropolitan cities and the underserved regions of North America. This is an important strategy. The world is moving into the cities at a rapid rate. We dare not delay in rolling up our sleeves and flooding these massive population centers with church planters. The longer we wait, the more people we condemn to an eternal hell without even the opportunity to hear the gospel and trust Jesus.
  3. The GCRTF calls on every Southern Baptist church, regardless of size, to be a church planting church. NAMB will assist the local church in carrying out Christ’s commission to plant churches. This strategy recognizes the primacy of the local church as the body ordained by God in carrying out his mission, and it gives churches ownership of this mission.
  4. 50% of all NAMB ministries are to be focused on church planting. This is significant. This has the potential to give the SBC a highly focused church planting network to take North America for Christ in the coming decades with waves and waves of church planters being unleashed with significant funding to plant churches with success in the underserved regions of North America.
  5. NAMB will decentralize in order to carry out a regional strategy. Boots on the ground closer to the actual work is the goal here!
  6. NAMB will have new strategic partnerships with state conventions, especially those conventions in the most undeserved and unreached areas in order to penetrate lostness.
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  15Comments

  1. Rick   •  

    If “access” to the gospel means that it has been translated into a language one understands and there exists a church for one to attend within traveling distance of one’s home, then vast regions of the “Bible Belt” have access while vast regions of the rest of the world do not. We must continue to cooperate in providing this access.

    Still, “access” cannot become a goal in and of itself. Reaching the lost is the ultimate goal and that work continues in regions both with and without access to the gospel. Reaching the lost must involve more than mere “access” since 60% of the Bible Belt is still lost in spite of all the access to the gospel that region has worked hard to provide for its people.

    There is another view of “access” which somewhat dismisses matters of geography and language. Consider two lost people. One is an alcoholic single mom raising three kids in the projects of a downtown Bible Belt city who has never been to church or heard the gospel. She does not listen to Christian radio or television. None of her friends are Christians. The other is a poor man in China who farms a small plot of land. He has never heard about Jesus and does not own a television or a radio. He is illiterate and even if he did read there is not a gospel witness in his native tongue.

    Practically speaking, in what sense does the woman really have more “access” than the man to the gospel? Her alleged “access” will not save her soul. Put simply, one cannot “access” the gospel until someone using some communication form has actually shared it with you. In this story, a case could be made that neither the woman nor the man really has access to the gospel. Wherever a lost person lives, they cannot access the gospel until they hear it.

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  3. Richard Sipes   •  

    I appreaciate the prayer and thoughtfulness that the GCRTF has put into this project. But as a pastor of a small church in a pioneer area, I fail to see how taking the money (and therefore the control) away from the state convention and local associations will be better for church planting. No one know our mission field like our area missionary (ADOM). He is a godly man who has a real heart for church planting. He is helping our small association of churches to begin 2 new church plants right now. His salary is supplimented by a NAMB/Colorado Baptists cooperative agreement (as are two current church planters in our assocation).
    How is taking the money away from supporting these servants good for the Great Commission? How is putting the control with NAMB “putting boots closer to the actual work”? Isn’t that what we already have through our cooperative agreements? How much closer to the actual work can you get than our church planters, our area missionary, and our state convention who understand Colorado? I cannot imagine anyone in NAMB could do it any better. All I can imagine from this GCRTF recommendation is NAMB duplicating, or trying to replace what is already working. Seems to be a waste of time and effort and money to me.

  4. jon akin   •  

    Rick,

    To be honest I’m not quite sure how to respond to your comment, other than to say it demonstrates clearly why we need a GCR.

    In the way that you put it access may not be the goal, but there is no “reaching” without “access.” Romans 10 is quite clear on this. So, in order to reach a people they must have access to the gospel, hence the concern to get them access to the gospel.Access means the possibility of someone communicating the gospel to them…

    It is tragic that 60% of the Bible belt doesn’t believe the gospel, however there are THOUSANDS of churches and MILLIONS of believers around them who COULD share the gospel with them. Our lack of evangelistic fervor in our local communities is to be lamented for sure! But, certainly with MILLIONS of believers in these places the millions of lost people COULD hear the gospel.

    The GCR concern is primarily with those peoples who have 0% or very low percentages of saved people. 60% lostness is tragic, but 0% Christian is the place of greatest need. Again, need in terms of access.

    The scenario you raise does not prove your point. Absolutely the rural farmer in China has LESS ACCESS to the Gospel than the single alcoholic mom in a Bible Belt city. There’s no way to deny that. There are no doubt DOZENS of churches within a 5 mile radius of her who COULD share the gospel with her, while the farmer in China does not have that opportunity at all.

    For another thing we are talking about people groups. Just b/c this 1 woman in the Bible belt hasn’t heard the gospel proves nothing in terms of access. NO ONE in the farmer’s people group has heard it, let alone believed it! So, absolutely the access and the need are different in the Bible belt and in unreached people groups.

    Certainly one must “communicate” the gospel with anyone to be saved, but in some places ZERO communication is taking place. I just don’t see how anyone could argue that we need to focus the majority of our resources (people & money) in areas that have thousands of churches and millions of believers when there are places that have very few to zero believers or churches…

    I am glad others didn’t see it that way or I would have never heard the Gospel.

  5. Rick   •  

    Jon,

    Based on your response, I did not make myself clear before. I agree we need to mobilize more resources to get the gospel to the regions of greatest lostness.

    But the American woman who has not accessed the gospel in a culture that is 40% Christian is just as lost as the Chinese man who has not accessed the gospel in a culture that is 1% Christian.

    The only point I was making is that these cultural saturation percentages are of no value unless someone actually shares with the farmer and the woman.

  6. Fletcher Law   •  

    As a church planter I have been greatly surprised by the lack of support offered by established churches to church plants.
    Our church plant is Baptist in DNA.
    We even have Baptist in our names as we feel it theological honesty to those who visit.
    I just have not seen real support, other than extended campus arrangments for more locations of the same church. Local church support for plants is something I am hearing about and not seeing. This is one reason I feel their is greater under the surface resentment for the GCR and see some tremenous opposition that will not be apparant until it is time to vote to commit to action in help and direct money to any planters.

  7. Stephen Roberts   •  

    Flecter,

    I’m at the beginning of that very thing myself. I’m on a team of three guys who are planting in the 240 loop of Memphis, TN (the area largely abandoned by conservative evangelical churches). We will be getting support form the local association and later the TBC after the lead planter goes through the boot camps and all the paper work. Right now we are working through getting support from churches locally. We have some promising relationships established with a few churches. I’m beginnig to raise funds for my own salary. I hope to see churches that we talk to get a vision and a passion for supporting church planting through prayer, giving, and sending people to labor. Churches must own the task of planting churches. If all people do is put money in a offering plate which goes through the CP then they are radically disconnected from the task. It’s an out there somewhere reality rather than a personal participation in kingdom work. I pray to see churches become passionate about reacing people in all places with the gospel.
    Rick and Jon, access and actually getting the gospel to people whether in Memphis, TN or Memphis, Egypt is vitally important. Lostness is lostness no matter the geography. We will be accountable before the bema of Christ for both.

  8. Rick Hillard   •  

    I do appreciate the conversation about GCR. I along with many others, have been praying for a resurgence in our Convention for years. We all join together to pray for the day that God does a supernatural work in our midst. It has been too long since we have experienced a sweeping revival in our land…

    I have been thinking and praying about whether I can encourage my people to support the recommendations of the GCRTF at this June’s Convention. As of now, I just don’t think I can do it. I have concerns in regard to the existing cooperative agreements and with the idea of promoting “Great Commission Giving,” instead of the Cooperative Program.

    I am serving in what many people consider a pioneer area and wonder what the definition of an “underserved area” is. Most people suggest that it refers to “population centers.” I have read this in several places, but I feel like doing this would eliminate “most” of North America. Maybe not most of the population, but entire regions would be left out of the loop! It appears that Pioneer areas will be left to themselves and this will cause many churches to evaluate the support given through the Cooperative Program…

    I think that celebrating “Great Commission Giving” would be, in time, something that would provide competition for the Cooperative Program. I think God has blessed the SBC because we have had a spirit of cooperation. Everyone recognises that we can do more together than we can do as individuals. Should it matter who gets credit for what is done? My church gives 13% through the Cooperative program and we also are involved building churches on foreign soils and we are going to continue to do so.

    I wish others would value cooperation just as much and give through the CP instead of wanting to do their own thing. I really do praise God for the work others are doing, even though more could be done if we all were willing to pool our resources.

    I am positive that there are some changes that need to be made. Anything that could be done to put more money into ministry would be a good thing, but taking away from a spirit of cooperation to celebrate what “individauls” are doing is not good. It appears to me that this idea is brought up for very selfish reasons…

    I am deeply concerned!

  9. jon akin   •  

    Rick,

    Again the issue isn’t about who is more lost, it’s about who has more access to potential sharers of the gospel.

    Percentages do mean nothing until someone shares, but there are 40% of the culture who could potentially share with the woman and 1% or LOWER for the farmer…

    Again, I have no idea what the disconnect is here.

    Jon

  10. Nathan Akin   •  

    Fletcher and Stephen,
    It saddens me that you are having that problem. I am involved in a church that does church planting and I live in an area where there are several churches that partner with plants to help them get off the ground. I wish that were true everywhere, and I hope with some of the challenges at the end of the GCR, which call on all churches to examine how they can be more involved with Church planting, that this will become more of a reality.

    Nathan

  11. Rick   •  

    Jon,

    I think it’s mostly semantics. I like your expression “access to potential sharers of the gospel” much better than simply “access to the gospel.” As I’ve pointed out, it is only after a potential sharer communicates the gospel that a hearer can really “access” it.

    I will admit that a culture with a greater number of “potential sharers of the gospel” should logically result in more actual witnessing which should result in more lost people truly “accessing” the gospel once they hear it.

  12. Stephen Roberts   •  

    Rick H.,

    Great Commission Giving is not intended to replace Cooperative Program Giving. It is to celebrate support that churches give to all SBC works like BCM, church plants, schools, etc. The CP is not in danger. The task force has repeatedly affirmed the CP and hopes that by celebrating giving through various ways churches and individuals will give more. I hear a lot about cooperative agreements with NAMB and state conventions, remember those are going to be phased out over several years not immediately. That gives us time to be creative about how we raise support and cooperate together. Cities and underserved areas are not appositions, I believe it is a reference to regions where there is need be that rural, out west, wherever. I think the push is to get as much resources out of the areas that are covered with churches like parts of the southeast.

  13. jon akin   •  

    Stephen,

    I am grateful that you are planting a church in Memphis and in a neglected area. Praise God! I pray for great fruitfulness in your ministry.

    One of the things I have consistently argued for is for churches to engage the lost and that is exactly what you are doing. It’s not the job of assoc or state conv to evangelize. It is the task of the church.

    I could not agree more with your statement about churches being disconnected from the task thru a strategy that simply puts money in a plate. Many almost equate CP with GC.

    As I have stated on several occasions I agree that lostness is lostness. I also agree that we will be held accountable for our outreach.

    However, there are places where people have a much smaller chance, if any, of hearing the gospel (and that is necessary for them to be saved) than others. That’s all I am saying. And instead of continuing to use the majority of our resources (people & money) in places with the most churches and most Christians why not use those resources directly in areas with less access to the gospel…

  14. jon akin   •  

    Rick Hillard,

    I am a little confused as to the reasons you can’t encourage your people to support the GCR.

    I think there is a lot of misinformation floating around that doesn’t come from what the report actually says.

    I think you and your church should be very encouraged by these recommendations.

    1. In the report GC giving is never promoted “instead” of the CP. CP is highlighted as the primary missions funding channel for the SBC. GC giving would simply replace “Total Missions Offering” category. In fact GC giving will make that category more “Southern Baptist” b/c it will restrict total missions giving only to giving to SBC causes, whereas now that section can include any missions giving. This means more cooperation not less.

    Plus, many who are being attacked as the ones who are “selfishly” advocating GC giving are increasing their giving to the CP and asking others to do the same.

    2. When it comes to pioneer areas and underserved areas I am not sure who the most people are but the GCRTF has consistently stated that pioneer areas (not just urban centers) will receive more for church planting and evangelism than they do now.

    I honestly don’t understand why anyone in a pioneer area would fear this, but I do understand why some in old line areas would b/c it will mean less for them. The heart of the GCRTF is clear. They want more resources for pioneer areas. I think this is good news for you and where you minister!

  15. Richard Sipes   •  

    I guess I still don’t understand how NAMB cutting cooperative ties with state conventions and local associations, and centralizing control (either at NAMB or some kind of regional office which may or may not even be in our state) will put “Boots on the ground closer to the actual work.”

    Who knows our local mission field here in the mountain west better than our area missionary and his partners in our state office? And if they are the best men for the job (and I believe they are) why would we need to “free NAMB” from cooperating with these SBC servants? And how is that fostering cooperation?

    And what about our neighboring association which has less than 10 churches and is comprised of small towns, and rural mountain areas? If “The priority of NAMB will be church planting in metropolitan cities and the underserved regions of North America.” Where does that leave our area that has no “massive population centers”? If the criteria will be population divided by SBC churches there are probably metro areas in the south that will more qualify than here.

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