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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- NAMB will decentralize in order to carry out a regional strategy. Boots on the ground closer to the actual work is the goal here!
- NAMB will have new strategic partnerships with state conventions, especially those conventions in the most undeserved and unreached areas in order to penetrate lostness.