Church planting, revitalization and developing a “farm system” of new missionaries throughout North America were the focus of a message to North Carolina Baptists by Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board (NAMB). Ezell gave the convention sermon to N.C. Baptist messengers on the final evening of their annual meeting Nov. 13 in Greensboro.
Pulling scripture from Luke 10:2, Ezell focused his message on how “the harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.” Just before beginning his sermon, he led NAMB in commissioning 34 missionaries, many of whom will plant churches throughout the Northeast and into Canada where there is little evangelical work.
“We desperately need people who are courageous and willing to go to places who are desperately needing the gospel,” he said. “It’s not that the people in the Northeast and the Northwest don’t want to hear the gospel. The problem is that we don’t have enough people [who] want to share it.”
Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, addressed N.C. Baptists at the annual meeting in Greensboro on Nov. 13.
Ezell shared how an average of 900 to 1,000 Baptist churches die each year in the United States. NAMB’s goal is to see an annual net gain of 500 churches. Right now, this means 1,500 churches would need to be planted each year.
Realistically, if there is going to be a net gain of 500 churches, Ezell said church revitalization is crucial.
“We need to decrease our death rate,” he said. “We need revitalization. Too many churches are struggling.
“There are literally hundreds of churches that cannot pay their light bill and cease to exist,” he added. “There are hundreds of churches and hundreds of church properties that sit vacant with no outreach and no ministry.”
NAMB hopes to reduce the church death rate by 20 percent, he said. They plan to help lead more church planters to come alongside dying churches and replant new, healthy churches. In April, they plan to host a church growth and revitalization conference at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Raleigh. For more details go to http://www.namb.net/revitalization/North_Carolina/.
In North Carolina, there have already been thriving churches that have worked with struggling congregations to replant a new work and better reach their community.
But not only must Southern Baptists decrease the death rate, they also must increase the birth rate.
“How do we find 1,500 planters? Ezell asked. “They don’t just happen. You have to intentionally pray and develop those missionaries.”
Seminaries and church leaders can help by encouraging and training students to plant churches, rather than automatically gravitating toward existing congregations, Ezell said.
“We must set the bar so we can find 1,500 planters who are faithful and willing to go where others will not go,” Ezell said.
A key part of that effort will involve building a “farm system,” Ezell said. This system, he explained, focuses on three specific areas: student missionaries, interns and apprentices who ultimately become church planters.
“Part of our problem is that we just parachute someone into a town [where] they [have] no experience at all,” Ezell said. “We want to develop them in a farm system … if we’re going to be able to do what Luke 10:2 says.”
Last year, NAMB had less than 600 student missionaries. But next year, they plan to increase that number to 1,000.
“In my opinion, with 45,000 churches, … [600 student missionaries is] abysmal,” Ezell said. “We must do better.”
Reaching this goal will depend on better recruiting in church youth groups, high schools and colleges.
“They’re in your churches,” he said. “They’re in your youth groups.
“It’s amazing how … I look and see where some of those ridiculously immature high school students are today, and how God radically changes their life and redirects them in incredible ways.”
Right now NAMB has 125 interns, Ezell said. Pastors mentor these interns for a year before they become an apprentice, and ultimately church planters. Next year, NAMB hopes to double the number of 125 interns. They also hope to double the number of 125 apprentices.
“We really need 6,000 student missionaries,” Ezell said. “We really need 3,000 interns, and we need 1,500 apprentices.”
Ezell turned to the newly appointed missionaries and thanked them for their willingness to follow God’s call.
“Many of their parents don’t understand why they passed over good opportunities to make a very good living to do what they do,” Ezell said. “Many of their parents have shared with them that they had much higher hopes for them.”
Ezell encouraged them to press past the difficult days ahead and to keep their eyes focused on God’s calling on their lives.
“There are going to be days when you are going to feel very lonely,” he said. “You church plant in a city, and the response is sometimes slow, and you feel all alone. I want you to understand and remember the power of One, the power of influence of [the] One.”
Ezell then shifted his message toward N.C. Baptists.
“North Carolina Baptists … you are one of the finest and one of the strongest conventions the Southern Baptist Convention has,” he said. “You’re one of the finest leaders. You’re some of the finest pastors. That [puts] you in a very dangerous situation because we can look at all that is going right and lose a sense of intensity and tenacity and urgency.”
“Obedience,” he said. “It’s all about obedience. Please join us in praying Luke 10:2. The harvest is indeed abundant. The workers are few.”