'It's working,' Ezell says of strategy & direction

ST. LOUIS (BP) -- Addressing Southern Baptist messengers during their annual meeting in St. Louis, North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell asked them and himself -- "Is it working?" Ezell's question referred to the overall strategy and direction of the mission board.

"NAMB's primary reason for existence is to help Southern Baptists reach North America for Christ," Ezell said Wednesday (June 15). "That is the mission that runs through everything that we do." Ezell thanked messengers for faithfully giving to the Cooperative Program and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.

"On Monday, at the Pastor's Conference [Send Luncheon] we launched Send Relief," Ezell said. See related story. "These are church-based compassion ministries that meet physical needs, alleviate suffering and deliver the eternal hope only Jesus can give. Send Relief will be a great evangelistic resource for every church, no matter its size or budget."

Ezell turned his attention to NAMB's Send North America focus and church planting. Then he asked his question.

"Since 2011, NAMB has directed an increasing amount of its resources to church planting," Ezell said. "It is fair to ask after five years -- is it working?

Starting with church planting's impact on baptisms rates, Ezell said church plants "baptize one person for every 14 members, compared to one for 52 in existing churches. This is true in the South and non-South. For example, Louisiana Baptists recently reported that their church plants have averaged 126 decisions for Christ each month since 2010."

Ezell shared several examples of areas where churches planted since 2010 contributed a significant percentage of total baptisms from their states last year: In Vermont it was 83 percent; in the Baptist Convention of New England, which includes six states -- 39 percent; and in Canada, 53 percent of baptisms from Baptist churches came from churches planted in 2010 or later.

"Southern Baptists, church plants reach people for Christ and the more we plant, the more baptisms we will see," Ezell said.

In 2015 Southern Baptists planted 926 churches with 188 new affiliations for a total of 1,114 new congregations.

Ezell told messengers that all Southern Baptists know the denomination is strong in the South.

-- 78 percent of Southern Baptist churches are located in the South.

-- 86 percent of Southern Baptists are in the South.

-- 87 percent of Cooperative Program giving each year comes from the South.

"We are grateful for where we are strong, but an emphasis on where we are weak was needed to reach all of North America. Beginning five years ago we began focusing most of our efforts on reaching underserved areas in the Northeast, the Midwest, the West and in Canada. So a fair question to ask is -- is it working?"

Ezell shared:

-- 20 percent of the Southern Baptist churches in Iowa were planted since 2010. And that many or more were planted in Nevada, California, Maryland-Delaware, Kansas-Nebraska and Arizona.

-- 24 percent of Southern Baptist churches in Alaska and the Penn-South Jersey Convention were started since 2010.

-- 25 percent in the Minnesota-Wisconsin Convention.

-- 26 percent in New York.

-- 31 percent in the Baptist Convention of New England.

"Canada has some of the highest lostness rates in North America," Ezell noted. "In the last five years NAMB has tripled its investment in Canada. And we are grateful to be able to report to you today that 44 percent of Baptist churches in existence there have been started since 2010. Forty-four percent. Is the Send North America strategy working? We are convinced it is. Is it perfect? No. Do we have things to improve? Yes. But is it working? We praise God for how He has blessed and we would say, absolutely."

Ezell also shared that NAMB has distributed more than 2 million "3 Circles: Life Conversation Guides" in English and Spanish since the evangelism resource was introduced at the SBC annual meeting in Baltimore. In response to the continuing decline in baptisms, NAMB will host a series of Engage 24 conferences to help pastors and churches give greater focus to evangelism.

In addition to traditional events, Crossover Phoenix will include the first-ever Crossover City-Wide Crusade in partnership with Greg Laurie and Harvest America.

"We hope everyone attending next year's Southern Baptist Convention will make plans to arrive early and attend this event which we believe can help transform Phoenix and ignite an evangelistic spark throughout our convention," Ezell said.

Ezell ended by thanking pastors.

"You are the front-lines of this ministry," Ezell said. "You are the mission-sending centers. We exist to serve you and help you as you lead your flock. That is a responsibility I take seriously and it is one that I consider a great privilege. Thank you for how you lead your congregation to pray, to participate and to provide for our missionaries. We are deeply grateful and will stop at nothing less than excellence in every area."

Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board.
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