Ezell: More missionaries, church planters
HOUSTON (BP) -- North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell, during his report to the SBC annual meeting, called on Southern Baptists to dramatically increase the number of missionaries and church planters being sent to the North American mission field.
"This year we have 600 student missionaries," Ezell told messengers June 11 in Houston. "In a convention with 45,000 churches and 16 million members, that is not bad, that is pathetic. We must have 6,000 student missionaries every year."
Ezell's presentation included an overview of NAMB's strategy and spotlighted several key ministry areas.
"Our mission is to penetrate lostness in North America. Our strategy is Send North America," Ezell told messengers.
"We seek to partner with you and your church to penetrate lostness by planting healthy, evangelistic churches," Ezell said, reporting that 929 new Southern Baptist churches were planted in 2012, with another 155 joining the SBC by affiliation. He noted that 2,589 churches have become engaged in the Send North America strategy.
"Churches plant churches, and we only plant Southern Baptist churches," Ezell said. "We have raised the bar on our church planter assessment and all planters must affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and give to the Cooperative Program and other Great Commission [causes]."
Ezell told messengers that "too many churches are sick, plateaued and are dying." To help remedy this Ezell said NAMB has sponsored nine church revitalization conferences led by Johnny Hunt in nine states and launched a Pastor for Pastors initiative.
"Your generosity to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering resulted in a 1.9 percent increase in giving totaling $57.2 million [in 2012]," Ezell said. "Thank you, Southern Baptists."
A full 81 percent of people in North America live in cities, Ezell said as he shared that NAMB has identified 32 Send North America cities on which to focus, with a missionary serving as a Send City coordinator deployed to each one.
Additionally NAMB's goal is to have at least one church planting catalyst for each 1 million people in North America. Ezell said this is not a hard rule, noting the adjustment in Alaska with a total population of 750,000 people but with three major cities. There will be three catalysts in Alaska.
On balance, in states like Mississippi where there is one SBC church for every 1,385 people, Ezell said Southern Baptists have done well. But he said resources and priorities must recognize places like New Jersey where there is one church for every 78,760 people, or Canada with one church for every 115,040.
A combination of increasing the birth rate of church plants and decreasing the death rate of existing churches is needed, Ezell said, not for the sake of church numbers but for the people those churches will reach -- people like Stephanie Barbaro of Detroit who was featured in a video shown at the convention and who came to faith through the ministry of Lakepointe Community Church and planter Scott Blanchard.
"We need a thousand more Scotts because there are a million more Stephanies," Ezell said, introducing Blanchard and his wife Karen on the platform. Lakepointe launched in 2010 and has baptized more than 60 people.
"Detroit is postmodern and difficult to reach," said Blanchard, who is 80 percent deaf. "It is dark and becoming darker. We need more churches to communicate true light. We need more churches to step up and be involved."
Asked about his personal challenges, Blanchard said people told him he could not be a pastor, but he believed that God made him and God could use him.
"I am thankful for the people who believed in me," Blanchard said. "I am thankful for my wife. I am thankful for NAMB for believing in me."
Ezell said, "We know where the next generation of missionaries are: They are in your churches." He introduced NAMB's "Farm System," a strategy to help reach a goal of 15,000 new church plants in the next 10 years.
The number of student missionaries, Ezell said, must grow from the current 600 to 6,000 each year. The next level in the Farm System -- church planting interns -- must grow from the current 125 to 3,000 annually.
Church planter apprentices, NAMB's final level of training before a missionary becomes a church planter, need to increase from the current 125 apprentices to 1,500 per year in order to meet the need for 1,500 church plants each year.
To help existing churches, Ezell pointed to church revitalization.
"There are churches that are sick and dying and they are in denial," Ezell said. "I pray your church can come alongside them and help bring them back to health."
He said dying churches can become legacy church plants, passing on their resources.
Ezell next introduced Chaplain Maj. Gen. (retired) Doug Carver, who encouraged churches to be prepared for returning military chaplains and troops who have been deployed in the war on terror.
Carver introduced a video of Charles Woods being interviewed about his late son, Navy Seal Tyrone Woods, who was killed defending U.S. diplomats under attack in Benghazi, Libya, last September.
The video featured NAMB-endorsed Navy Chaplain Commander Don Biadog who was part of the chaplain team who ministered to the Woods family at the funeral service. Biadog came to the platform to a standing ovation.
"I told the family that God will never abandon them," Biadog said, "and that Jesus loves them. Our ministry of presence helps remind them that God does care."
A video detailing the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief response to the May 20 tornado in Moore, Okla., followed.
Sam Porter, disaster relief director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, joined Ezell onstage to thank Southern Baptists for their prayers and support.
"Four thousand people lost their homes in the Oklahoma City area," Porter said. "We have responded to 878 of those homeowners in the first three weeks because of trained volunteers assisting us from across the country."
In addition, Porter said Oklahoma Baptists already have distributed $895,000 to survivors.
Because "we want to connect the help that we provide with the hope that is in Christ," Ezell shared a new television ad that will be used to raise awareness about Baptist relief. It can be viewed at baptistrelief.org on the media tab.
Ezell also introduced NAMB's new prayer initiative, TenTwo, inviting messengers to join NAMB in praying Luke 10:2 at 10:02 in the morning or evening, and to focus on Oct. 2 as an intentional day of prayer for workers for the harvest.
Midwest Region vice president Gary Frost, who leads NAMB's prayer initiatives, introduced a video churches can use to promote TenTwo.
"If plans and programs and conferences could fulfill the Great Commission, the job would be done," Frost said. "We need the power of the Holy Ghost. We need to pray to the Lord of the harvest."
Ezell concluded the presentation by asking messengers to surround church planters and chaplains at the microphone stations on the floor as Frost prayed Luke 10:2.
Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board. To learn more about Send North America and partnering in church planting, visit namb.net/mobilize-me. Information and videos about topics from the report and presentation are available at namb.net. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).