Southern Religion

I can see clearly now … [through the GCRTF fog] … Or not

Annual % change in SBC membership

Annual % change in SBC membership 1950-2007

By SteveDeVane

A March 16 conference call clarified the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) progress report, which outlined a proposal which is intended to revive the declining SBC. A hotly debated proposal [1, 2]. And issues remain.

According to task force members on the call, if the GCRTF recommendations are adopted:

  • The North American Mission Board will still partner with arguably threatened state conventions and associations, but NAMB will guide the strategy.
  • State conventions and associations can still receive funds from NAMB, but the national group will prioritize where the money goes.
  • Existing North American missionaries can keep their positions, but only if they are willing to emphasize church planting.

Discussion focused how the recommendation would affect local groups of churches and less on issues which have recently occasioned heated comment. Nor did the group discuss a serious statistical error which distorted the report’s recommendations — miscounting which produced the shocking, wrong, finding that most NAMB missionaries are deployed in the Old South where the SBC dominates the religious landscape.

Ronnie Floyd, chairman of the SBC task force, said he regrets that some think the group’s report calls for a “top-down” approach. But, he said, the task force remains committed to the SBC’s North American Mission Board (NAMB) “to become the leader, guiding us with a strategy toward reaching North America.”

Floyd said NAMB will continue to work with state conventions, associations and churches, but that partnership might look different. The progress report calls for an end to cooperative agreements between NAMB and state conventions, a move that may kill some smaller state conventions.

“We are not trying to create a North American Mission Board that is operating in and of itself. The North American Mission Board can do nothing apart from local churches and can do little apart from the associations and the state conventions,” he said. “We need each other.”

Floyd said the concept of cooperative agreements will remain, but they might be called something different.

“Obviously there will be some kind of commitment toward partnerships,” he said.

Floyd said the task force believes there needs to be an “overall national strategy” to “penetrate the lostness” of North America.

Bobby Gilstrap, head of communications for the Network of Baptist Associations, said such a strategy sounds as if it would be implemented “across the board.” He asked whether it should be developed in the field, to better meet the overarching objectives of the NAMB.

Floyd agreed, but said NAMB should be to North America as IMB is the “guiding strategist for reaching the world.”

Regarding funding issues that smaller conventions might face, Floyd said he couldn’t speak for the task force, but:

“I foresee personally that in many of these areas these strategies will continue as long as those people are connected to a strategy to penetrate lostness and there is a beginning time and ending time to that partnership, which is exactly what happens right now in relationship to cooperative agreements. But again it is all going to depend on how and who is there to penetrate the lostness of our nation.”

Task force member Jim Richards, head of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, said there are limited resources. The prioritization of those resources falls to the NAMB and the SBC and relates to the association’s strategy, he said.

Richards, who also said he couldn’t speak for the task force, said he is a strong advocate of cooperative agreements with state conventions and associations in strategies “so that we won’t walk on each other, so we can accomplish more by coordinating our efforts.” He said such agreements are “absolutely essential.”

“Now cooperative agreement and cooperative budgeting are two different things. Obviously the cooperative budgeting aspect of it would have to be done on those projects and efforts and strategies and events and goals and long-term and short-term measurable results that would advance the kingdom and carry out the Great Commission at its highest, maximum investment. I think that has to be done among partners.”

The association, the state convention, NAMB and IMB would want to enter into such agreements, he said.

Richards said he thinks it would be “foolish” to bring in new people into areas where people are gifted and skilled and have passion as long as they are “willing to transition to prioritize their efforts and energy to carry out church planting as the number one emphasis in their job description.”

Richards said local associations will be the “point of the spear” for the Great Commission since churches are the “focal point.” As such, he said associations have a “vital and important role to play” in the future.

Floyd responded to a question about perceptions that the task force’s efforts were politically motivated. He said no one in the group wants to hurt anybody, and the members were learning that others are committed to the Great Commission but differ over how to accomplish it.

Floyd said “process always precedes product,” and different processes are required to get different products.

“Some of the processes in the SBC need to be addressed,” he said.

Floyd said choices in the SBC are not “good versus evil,” but “good versus what’s best.”

Task force member David Dockery said the group is primarily casting a vision for how Southern Baptists can fulfill the Great Commission through a renewed commitment to collaboration and cooperation, he said. National, state and local leaders will be responsible for carrying it out, he said.

Floyd said many young pastors have said they loved the progress report because it presented a vision for church planting and penetrate lostness.

“It’s all about the local church. That’s what they understand. They understand that. If we’ll just stay there and take them where they are and have a broad enough entry point into the ministry of this denomination to receive them in love in a way that would honor the Lord and honor biblical truth, listen man they can help in a tremendous way.”

Floyd said that many young Baptist pastors say that if the GCR report passes, the SBC might attract those who have disengaged or who have never been involved with a denomination.

Whether young ministers would indeed be attracted by the change, or whether the SBC will embrace the recommendations at the 2010 annual meeting, June 15-16 in Orlando, Fla., is not at all clear. There is, however, room for revision. The GCRTF recommendations to the SBC have not been set in a final report.


March 17, 2010 - Posted by | SBC | ,


  1. What about the decentralization of NAMB? Floyd gives the impression that IMB is great and the red headed step child NAMB is in need. I don’t think this is accurate. Church planting needs to be prioritized but not to the disadvantage of those missionaries in the field. Many of our NAMB missionaries are church planters, but what I find their strengths are is accessing needs and meeting those needs. Don’t tie their hands. We are notorious for taking this kind of thing and becoming so legalistic that we argue over who is doing what and what percentage he’s doing it. We focus on the minute and not the big picture. There’s still time to re-think this proposal.

    Comment by Jonathan McLain | March 17, 2010

    • Hi Jonathan,

      You raise a good point regarding the IMB. With the task force’s emphasis on “penetrating lostness,” you’d think that the IMB, which focuses on all parts of the world outside the U.S. and Canada, would get more attention. One can only assume, since the task force meetings weren’t open, that they looked at the IMB and decided it was doing its job well enough. Same deal for the seminaries, I suppose.

      I also found it interesting that NAMB missionaries will now have to emphasize church planting in their job descriptions. You’d think there would have to be some exceptions to that, but maybe not.

      The report does contradict itself regarding NAMB. It calls for its decentralization, but then emphasizes the need for a national strategy. It also says the local church is the focus, but wants more control on the national level.

      But, you’re right. The final report may change. It’ll be interested to see if the ongoing discussion has an impact.

      I hope that helps.

      Steve DeVane

      Comment by Steve DeVane | March 17, 2010

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