NAMB trustee report assesses issues critical of entity

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)--Evangelism and church planting will be at the forefront of the North American Mission Board's work, a trustee task force has underscored in a 19-page report.

The report stated:

"NAMB was given a seemingly impossible task when it was assigned nine ministry objectives by the SBC during the restructuring process [that culminated in 1997]. In recent years, the Agency has done a good job in trying to narrow the focus to six Major Ministry Objectives (MMO's) while still fulfilling its charter.

"However, in the opinion of the Trustees, NAMB's priority remains Evangelism and Church Planting. The Trustees also believe that those two items are the priorities that most Southern Baptists have for NAMB as well.

"Because dollars are so precious in today's economy, the Trustees believe that the Board must look more carefully at the way in which NAMB uses those dollars," the report continued. "Given the need to fund more missionaries and plant more churches, perhaps the Board needs to prioritize even more carefully to insure that the most amount of money possible goes to these two areas.

"The Trustees acknowledge that this may require the Board to make some tough choices, but ultimately, additional money spent in these two areas will strengthen the work of the Agency among Southern Baptists and her state partners, not hinder it."

The report formed the basis of trustee deliberations during a March 23 special meeting at NAMB's Atlanta-area headquarters in Alpharetta, Ga. The document was prepared by a nine-member task force in response to a range of allegations in a Feb. 16 article by the Georgia Baptist Convention's newsjournal, The Christian Index, concerning NAMB's evangelism and church planting strategies; the size and makeup of its missionary force; and management issues related to the entity's president, Robert E. (Bob) Reccord.

Concerning The Index article's assertion that NAMB seems to lack a cohesive evangelism strategy, the report also stated, "The recent hiring of Dr. John Avant as Vice-President of Evangelism has already re-energized the evangelism area. He and his new team are working diligently with NAMB's state convention partners to address this very issue with a goal of strengthening partner relationships and developing a more syncretistic approach to evangelism with our state partners."

Trustee chairman Barry Holcomb, in a news conference after the meeting, stated that Reccord assured the board "that he will take every step as the leader of this agency to assure Southern Baptists that we are on the main thing, that we're going to focus with all our hearts on missions and evangelism and church planting and the other assignments that the convention has given us."

Regarding church planting, the trustee task force took issue with the Georgia paper, which asserted that church plants during NAMB's eighth year of existence were just 132 over the last year of the former Home Mission Board, which NAMB replaced in the SBC restructuring.

The trustee report reiterated the response NAMB issued immediately after The Index article was published, that NAMB has averaged "277 more church plants per year than in the eight years prior to NAMB's existence."

"After studying this issue, the Trustees have reached the conclusion that in spite of the claims to the contrary made by the Christian Index, NAMB has been achieving consistent growth in the area of church planting," the report stated. "This process, which is undertaken with the assistance of our state partners, is one of NAMB's primary responsibilities, and NAMB is committed to moving forward with the goal of planting even more churches in the years ahead."

Beyond evangelism and church planting, the 19-page report addressed the numerous other issues raised by The Index, including:

-- OUTSOURCING

The trustee task force recommended "an immediate study of Board policy regarding the use of RFP's [Request For Proposals, i.e., bids], and that the process of outsourcing be subjected to those guidelines as soon as possible."

The report also affirmed the potential savings from outsourcing. "While the downsizing of NAMB personnel and the outsourcing of media projects is a difficult decision to make, the decision appears to make sense on a couple of levels," the task force stated. "First, it makes sense fiscally in a climate of increasing personnel costs. The savings to the Agency will be more than $2,000,000 annually. Second, it increases the Agency's ability to do quality work for less money."

Outsourcing of NAMB's media jobs resulted in the loss of 28 staff positions, the report stated.

The trustee task force listed expenditures for media outsourcing work provided by a business named InovaOne:

InovaOne's media strategies audit: $35,000.

InovaOne's consulting contract for implementation of the audit: $300,000.

Outsourcing media: $745,000.

InovaOne video: $1,700,000.

InovaOne private airline hours (through Airshares): $142,374.

Total: $3,300,000.

(See additional BP article on trustee concerns about the appearance of a conflict of interest between Reccord and InovaOne's owner, Steve Sanford.)

The report also noted that "equipment in the video suite at NAMB has been sold to InovaOne for $480,000. This money has not been received as cash. The current agreement is for a $20,000/per month equipment purchase credit against the monthly media outsource fee of $200,000 per month. Money from the $200,000 that is not spent on the production of materials in any given month is refunded. The 'refund' for January 2006 was in excess of $44,000. Also, InovaOne is using NAMB's video facilities rent free for the work they do for NAMB."

In the public relations area, the task force reported that two PR firms have been on retainer: Shirley & Bannister at $8,000 per month and the Demoss Group at $4,000 per month.

"The Trustees were unaware of the fact that two outside firms were on retainer to provide PR advice to NAMB, especially given the fact that there are two NAMB employees on staff who are tasked with this responsibility," the report stated.

-- STRATEGIC RESERVES

Concerning the decline in NAMB's strategic reserves, as noted in The Index article, the trustee task force reported that NAMB had $51 million in reserves when it began in 1997 and, at the end of 2005, had $32 million.

NAMB's FamilyNet cable TV channel has accumulated a loss of nearly $10.9 million and also has a loan of nearly $9.6 million, the report stated, while poor stock market performance resulted in an estimated $5.4 million loss from 1999-2000.

"[T]he reserves are now rebounding nicely, as a result of improved market conditions, and they are heading back in the right direction," the report added.

-- MISSIONARY COUNT

The trustee task force reported that its missionary count as of March 13 stood at 5,154, including 66 fully funded national missionaries; 2,730 jointly funded missionaries with various state Baptist entities; 2,358 Missions Service Corps (MSC) missionaries, who are affiliated with NAMB but raise their own financial support.

"The Trustees reject the inference in the [Index] article that because they are self-funded, MSC missionaries are somehow 'second class' missionaries," the report stated. "The Trustees affirm all of the hard-working, God-called servants who are investing their time and resources in helping reach North America for Christ."

The task force cited a number of factors that had led to a decline in the number of jointly funded missionaries, including health insurance costs that were absorbed by NAMB and not passed on to the missionary force.

Among several recommendations listed in the report:

-- "Educate Southern Baptists about the way NAMB partners with state conventions to fill and fund ministry positions.

-- "Challenge Southern Baptists to increase their giving to the AAEO [Annie Armstrong Easter Offering] so that more missionaries can be funded. In reality, the giving to the CP [the SBC's Cooperative Program missions channel] and AAEO has remained flat for many years when compared to inflation. As a result, NAMB has been asked to do more with less in recent years."

-- STAFF MORALE

The task force stated:

"There appears to be an attitude throughout the Agency that affects the willingness of employees to engage in the process of sharing concerns about the direction NAMB is headed and making suggestions for its improvement. Literally, it has been described by some as a culture of fear; fear of reprisals for asking tough questions or appearing to challenge the authority structure. Ultimately, given the number of positions that have been eliminated at the Agency, the greatest fear is the fear of losing one's job.

"The Trustees acknowledge that every organization needs to have an effective chain-of-command strategy," the report continued. "However, they also acknowledge that there appears to be a need for improving employee morale, relationships, and feedback between members of the ELT [Reccord and other officers who form the Executive Leadership Team] and the other Agency employees, as well as a protection system for those who might be perceived as 'whistle-blowers' for trying to address perceived issues of mismanagement."

-- DISCONTINUED/STRUGGLING INITIATIVES

The task force acknowledged that NAMB's post-9/11 evangelistic campaign named "What Now?" "was not widely accepted by the states" and thus discontinued, costing the mission board $343,700.

A subsequent media resources initiative aimed to help Baptists across the country, "See Who Cares," has been delayed by the shift last year "of personnel and resources in order to handle the immense scope" of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief coordinated nationally by NAMB in response to Hurricane Katrina, the report stated, suggesting that InovaOne should not have been the lone company to handle the outsourcing of both See Who Cares and NAMB's disaster relief media needs.

NAMB's "Elevate" 2004-05 conferences -- "to help twenty-something's discover their place of ministry in the workplace," as described by the report -- "were poorly attended" and thus canceled early in the 2005 schedule, resulting in a loss of just over $1 million from NAMB's reserves, the task force stated.

The "Vision Center" multimedia missions exhibit, which opened at NAMB's headquarters in time for the SBC's 1999 annual meeting in Atlanta, cost $1 million to create but later was closed due to a lack of visitors and an estimated $500,000 that would have been needed to update the exhibit. Approximately $1 million was spent instead to renovate the first-floor space into a conference center, mission mobilization and disaster relief centers and an executive board room.

NAMB spent $1.4 million to create a new 316 Network initiative to help churches gain access to web-casting technology and, to date, has received about $30,000 in revenue.

"The Trustees believe that it may be too soon to tell if the 316 Network can succeed financially," the task force report stated. "In their opinion, the Board should monitor it carefully this year and be prepared to make a decision regarding its viability in the near future."

Under an accountability plan adopted by trustees March 23, a trustee subcommittee will be appointed "to develop a set of Executive Level controls to be used as a guide" related to the various issues in the report, including controls for "when the President ... wants to develop new initiatives, including the appropriate oversight and approval by the Board."

-- RECCORD'S SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS

Reccord is a featured speaker at the 19 Promise Keepers rallies this year, another of the points of contention in The Index article.

The task force report stated, "When Dr. Reccord shared this opportunity with the Trustees, he gave his assurance that this speaking engagement, which is the evangelistic message at each event, would not affect his ability to lead the Agency. Further, he is using these opportunities to meet with local SBC pastors and leaders in each city where he speaks.

"While this is a substantial amount of speaking engagements, they do provide NAMB with a platform for expanding the awareness of Southern Baptist life across America and helping to mobilize men to assist in the build-up in the wake of Hurricane Katrina," the report said. "The Trustees believe this can be beneficial for NAMB, but they also believe that it must be monitored to insure that the Agency does not suffer as a result of these events."


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