Pastors hear Send North America vision
"In a time of transition when many predicted the Annie Armstrong offering might be hurt or would go down, God blessed it in an incredible way through your generosity," Ezell said, noting that the 2011 offering was 3 percent over the previous year.
NAMB leaders, at the luncheon held during the Southern Baptist Pastors' Conference prior to the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans, encouraged every pastor and every church to connect with the North American mission field.
Aaron Coe, NAMB's vice president for mobilization and equipping, told attendees that the mission board's goal is to see the number of Southern Baptist congregations grow by a net gain of 5,000 by 2022. Because the convention loses an average of 890 churches a year, Southern Baptists will need to plant a total of 13,500 during that 10-year span to reach the goal.
To help curb the "death rate," Coe noted that NAMB vice president Larry Wynn will lead NAMB's church revitalization efforts.
If Southern Baptists meet the goal, it will be the first time in 110 years the convention has planted churches at the same rate as the population growth, Coe said.
"This is something we all can do," Coe said. "But it's not just one of those things where a few of us can get into the game. It's going to require all of us -- all of us banding together under the lordship of Jesus Christ, all commissioned by Him through the Great Commission, banding together to seek out lostness wherever it exists in the North American context. Working together to penetrate lostness, we're going to see amazing things happen. But we need all of you to participate."
Ezell gave special recognition to churches that gave the most to the Annie offering in both overall giving and per-capita giving in their associations. The top 50 churches in the nation overall in giving to the offering were also recognized.
North Carolina and Alabama were honored as the top two state conventions in total giving. South Carolina and Mississippi were recognized as the top Annie-giving conventions with between 500 and 2,499 congregations. The Baptist Convention of Maryland-Delaware was the top giver for conventions with fewer than 500 congregations.
"Our pastors are also recognizing the importance of the vision Kevin Ezell has put forth," said Milton A. Hollifield Jr., executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. "It's a practical way to help state conventions, associations and churches understand what the needs are and also how attainable these goals are in starting the number of churches we need to be starting in North America."
Hollifield noted that besides North Carolina's sizeable investment in the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, the state has committed to playing a significant role in Send North America, NAMB's strategy for connecting churches to church planting and other missions endeavors throughout North America.
Coe made it clear churches play the primary role in reaching North America.
"The question is, what can NAMB do to help, as you seek to penetrate lostness in North America? We want to come alongside of you as you fulfill your mission in North America," Coe said.
John Galey, pastor of Poydras Baptist Church in St. Bernard, La., left the luncheon excited about the future of Southern Baptist church planting and evangelism.
"I'm inspired just to know that there's an intentional strategy, an intentional focus to penetrate lostness in North America," Galey said. "Our Cooperative Program money is well spent. Here are people who are intentionally focused on penetrating lostness in North America. That's very encouraging."
Tobin Perry is a writer with the North American Mission Board. Mickey Noah also contributed to this report.