ATLANTA — A sobering
state-of-North America message was voiced to 320 church planting missionaries
by the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) interim president during the 2010
Church Planting Missionary Forum, at which Baptist State Convention of North
Carolina church planter Ralph Garay was recognized as “Asian Church Planting
Missionary of the Year.”
“We have to ask ourselves is
what we’re doing working?” Richard Harris said. “Are we reaching North America?
The answer is no. We have 258 million lost people. That’s three out of every
Garay was among five church
planting missionaries recognized for outstanding service. A native Filipino, Garay
was instrumental in helping to start 25 churches last year.
While the North American
population is growing by 3 million people every year, Harris told the church
planting missionaries that “we’re not keeping up.” Among Southern Baptists in
particular, more than 70 percent of churches are either plateaued or declining,
Harris said, referencing research from New Orleans Baptist Theological
Harris noted the Great
Commission Resurgence Task Force’s (GCRTF) progress report released during the
Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee’s Feb. 22-23 meeting in
Nashville, Tenn. The GCRTF proposals are expected to spur a significant
makeover of NAMB if they are embraced by SBC messengers, but Harris told the
missionaries they must “live in faith, not in fear.”
Harris cited the only words
spoken during the changing of the guard at The Tomb of the Unknowns at
Arlington National Cemetery — “Orders remain unchanged.”
“Missionaries, I say to you
that regardless of what the GCR recommendations are or are not, our orders from
Christ remain unchanged: go, teach, baptize and make disciples,” Harris said.
“We’ve got to get our
churches healthy and reproducing again. Churches that are healthy reproduce.
Healthy Christians, empowered by the Holy Spirit, reach new believers. Yet only
a small percent of our churches are involved in church planting.”
Harris told the missionaries
that much of what Southern Baptists do is not Kingdom-minded.
“I’ve been talking to folks
recently about faithfulness versus fruitfulness,” Harris said. “Jesus said, ‘Abide
in me and you will bear much fruit.’ We need to change the markers for success
in what we are doing. Too many people are satisfied to say that they travel so
many miles, teach so many classes or attend so many meetings and, therefore,
“Let’s go past faithfulness,
although we need to be faithful in reading the Bible, singing the hymns,
attending services, loving the pastor, etc. But that’s not the definition of a
fruitful church. We need to get out of the church building into the culture and
into the world. Are we penetrating the culture and lostness, pushing back the
darkness, transforming the world?”
Harris said he agrees with
what Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren has preached for years: “Success in
the church is not how many you gather, but how many you scatter.”
Ken Weathersby, NAMB’s vice
president for church planting, told the church planters that North America is a
mission field of many cultures and languages, worldviews, population centers and
nearly 600 people groups.
“Our job requires
cross-cultural thinking and missiological strategizing,” Weathersby said.
Although 83 percent of the U.S. population — and 78 percent in Canada — live in
cities, Weathersby added that Southern Baptists cannot overlook the hamlets,
the villages, the suburbs, the cowboys, the bikers and other groups when it
comes to planting new churches.
“If under the GPS (God’s
Plan for Sharing) initiative, every believer shares and every person hears by
2020, we would have to plant 165,000 new churches to meet our needs. We have a
great challenge before us. If we’re going to reach North America, it’s time for
us to lay aside turfism, roll up our sleeves and as brothers and sisters in
Christ, not care who gets the credit as long as God gets the glory,” Weathersby
During the Feb. 24-27
conference at Atlanta’s Airport Westin Hotel, NAMB also honored five church
planting missionaries for outstanding service:
- Ray Campbell of Ormond
Beach, Fla., regional director for church planting with the Florida Baptist
Convention, was named “African American Church Planting Missionary of the Year”
for his work to start 12 new churches in 2009.
- Native Filipino Ralph Garay,
a member of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina church planting
staff since 2006, was named “Asian Church Planting Missionary of the Year” for
his role in planting 25 new church starts last year.
- Dennis Holmes, director of
missions for the Baptist Association of Greater Cincinnati with the State
Convention of Baptists in Ohio, was named “Associational Director of
Missions/Church Planting Strategist of the Year” for helping start five urban
churches in 2009.
- Samuel Rodriguez, a church
planting strategist for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, was named “Hispanic
Church Planting Missionary of the Year” for planting eight new Hispanic
churches in 2009.
- Sam Scott, a church planting
missionary with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, was named “Anglo
Church Planting Missionary of the Year” for his role in starting 12 new cowboy
churches, plus a motorcycle church which now runs 400 and has recorded 100
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah
is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)