GCRTF VIEWPOINT: 'It would devastate us,' Ala. evangelism director says

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP)--Sammy Gilbreath didn't mince words. "It would devastate us," he declared. Gilbreath, director of the office of evangelism for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM), was referring to the proposal for the North American Mission Board to withdraw all of its funding for work with Alabama's convention and other state conventions.

"That would change the face of evangelism in Alabama because we could not relate to our churches and associations as we do now," Gilbreath said.

Gary Swafford, director of the SBOM associational missions and church planting office, echoed that judgment. "Alabama is a missions field, too. This will change the way we do church planting and eliminate major ministries across the state."

The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force of the Southern Baptist Convention recently released a report recommending that NAMB withdraw all of its cooperative efforts with state conventions and redirect those funds to church-planting efforts in major cities and "underserved" areas of the nation.

Historically NAMB has worked with state conventions through cooperative agreements. Each year, officials from NAMB and the respective state conventions negotiate funding of missionaries and ministries that support mutual goals and strategies of both organizations.

Alabama Baptists provide 52 percent of the funding of the agreed-upon items and NAMB provides 48 percent. In 2010, NAMB is expected to invest $644,256 in Alabama ministries and missionaries through the cooperative agreement.

In addition, NAMB provides benefits for all the appointed missionaries serving in Alabama. According to NAMB, that cost is $290,580, meaning it invests about $935,000 in Alabama Baptist work annually.

But the cooperative agreement does not cover all funds received. For example, this year, NAMB made a contribution of more than $40,000 to Alabama Baptists to help with media buys and material distribution for the God's Plan for Sharing: Across Alabama evangelistic campaign. Officials said NAMB usually invests more than $1 million annually in ministry partnerships with the state.

Eliminating Alabama's cooperative agreement with NAMB would impact ministries and missionaries in every part of the state, noted Bobby DuBois, SBOM associate executive director.

-- Alabama School for the Deaf in Talladega would lose its state missionary to the deaf.

-- Hispanic ministries in Marshall, Columbia, Marion and Shelby Baptist associations would lose funding.

-- Christian community ministries in Calhoun, Madison, Russell, Birmingham, Mobile, Shelby, Randolph, North Jefferson and Etowah associations would be cut.

-- Baldwin, Calhoun and Mobile associations would lose positions related to other ministries.

-- Baldwin association would lose the state's resort missionary.

-- Montgomery association would lose its state consultant for work with Asians.

-- Birmingham association would lose a hospital chaplain at UAB Hospital and a black church-planter strategist.

Church planting would be especially hard hit. Currently NAMB participates in 35 church starts in 16 associations across Alabama. These new church starts receive an amount of funds for pastoral support that decreases each year over a three- to five-year period. The funds come from NAMB, the state convention and the sponsor of the church start.

Church starts range from language work in Franklin Baptist Association to black work in Pickens Baptist Association to Anglo work in Bessemer Baptist Association.

Also affected by the GCR Task Force recommendation are six state missionary positions with the SBOM. Two of the positions are in the evangelism office. Three are in the associational missions and church planting office and one is a campus ministry position at a historically black university.

The evangelism office would lose funds for its Intentional Evangelism leader and the position that works primarily in consultation with churches and associations to formulate local evangelism strategies.

The associational missions and church planting office would lose funding for its statewide black church-planting strategist, the language and ethnic coordinator and the position that oversees church planting and ministry evangelism.

Swafford noted that blacks make up 26 percent of Alabama's population. Losing the three positions focused on blacks -- statewide strategist, regional strategist and campus minister -- would be detrimental to Alabama Baptists' work in that area, he said.

Mike Nuss, director of the SBOM collegiate and student ministries office, said, "Not having NAMB funds would have a serious and profound impact on Alabama Baptist efforts to reach today's students [middle, high school and college] with the Gospel. This move will jeopardize our ability to continue providing assistance to associations, district training and statewide events that ultimately help us reach students for Christ."

He noted that NAMB cooperative agreement funds are primarily used to help churches and associations with youth evangelism training events as well as harvest- or youth rally-type events.

Gilbreath added that the Senior Adult Evangelism Conference "would have to go" and the State Evangelism Conference would be curtailed.

And then there's the potential impact on local churches and associations.

"Eighty percent of the evangelism budget, outside the State Evangelism Conference, goes back to working with local churches and associations," Gilbreath said. He explained that churches receive consultation, training and materials for evangelism free of charge.

"We do not charge churches for our services because they are provided through the Cooperative Program via the cooperative agreement with NAMB. Now all of that could change, and that is not good for Alabama Baptists," he said.

SBOM Executive Director Rick Lance said he was "disturbed" by the GCR Task Force recommendation to sever NAMB's relationship with state conventions. He said he doubted the ability of Alabama Baptists to pick up another $1 million in stateside ministry expense and continue the state convention's position as the largest supporter of SBC causes.

"We will have to do a ministry audit of everything we do through the State Board of Missions," Lance said. "But there is no way Alabama Baptists can pay for all the ministries and missions now supported jointly with NAMB."


Bob Terry is editor of The Alabama Baptist (www.thealabamabaptist.org).