Great Commission Resurgence getting a 10-year evaluation, Jan. 30, 2024


NASHVILLE – A six-member task force and a former seminary president are focal points of an evaluation of Southern Baptist missions in North America.

The Great Commission Resurgence Evaluation Task Force appointed by SBC President Bart Barber will relay its evaluation at the 2024 annual meeting in Indianapolis.

The seminary president, Chuck Kelley, who led New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for 23 years, already has delivered his assessment in a 2023 book, “The Best Intentions: How a Plan to Revitalize the SBC Accelerated Its Decline.”

At issue is a 2010 revamping of the convention’s North American Mission Board set forth by a 23-member Great Commission Task Force (also called the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force) and adopted at that year’s annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

A former editor of Baptist Press, Art Toalston, who served from 1992-2015, has undertaken a special report about the Great Commission Resurgence Evaluation Task Force and Kelley’s book, along with numerous other elements regarding the future of home missions, including the longstanding Cooperative Program channel by which Southern Baptists churches support missions and ministry internationally, nationally and in their states.

The GCR task force’s seven recommendations, or components, included a call for NAMB to be “unleashed” for church planting as its primary emphasis, with the mission board subsequently reallocating an estimated $50 million yearly to help fund the initiative.

That shift meant the cessation of “Cooperative Agreements” between NAMB and state conventions that had linked their evangelism, church planting and other ministries for 50-plus years.

Especially for smaller state conventions with limited budgets in the Northeast, Midwest, Great Plains and the West, the Cooperative Agreements were the lifeblood of funding for their evangelism and church planting efforts, including various staff members and directors of missions for Baptist associations across their states.

Cutbacks in evangelism staffing and budgeting by the North American Mission Board – coupled with a “corporate approach to strategy based on centralized planning and control” apart from the SBC’s 41 state conventions – have contributed to “an epic evangelism crisis,” Kelley asserts in his 225-page book.

Still, the North American Mission Board’s implementation of the Great Commission Task Force recommendations has yielded 10,000 church plants, 10 percent of all baptisms across the SBC and 23 percent of baptisms in state conventions outside the South.

Toalston’s special report, spanning more than 9,000 words, includes comments, opinions and information from a broad range of SBC leaders, including Kelley, Kevin Ezell, Bart Barber, Danny Akin, R. Albert Mohler Jr., J.D. Greear, Ronnie Floyd, Scott McConnell, Morris Chapman, David Hankins, Johnny Hunt, Geoff Hammond, David Dockery, Amy Whitfield, Trevin Wax. Jeff Iorg, Jerry Rankin and Jim Elliff.

Toalston, in his report, cites the introductory words of the 2010 Great Commission Task Force recommendations to the SBC, noting that they remain applicable in 2024:

“In every generation, Southern Baptists have been called to reclaim our identity as a Great Commission movement of churches. Now is the time for this generation to answer the same call – to make an unconditional commitment to reach the nations for Christ, to plant and serve Gospel churches in North America and around the world, and to mobilize Southern Baptists. A world of lostness is waiting – what are we waiting for?”

The full text of the special report. 9,100 words, and source notes follow.



Great Commission Resurgence getting a 10-year evaluation

By Art Toalston

NASHVILLE – A six-member task force and a former seminary president are focal points of an evaluation of Southern Baptist missions in North America.

The Great Commission Resurgence Evaluation Task Force appointed by SBC President Bart Barber will relay its evaluation at the 2024 annual meeting in Indianapolis.

The seminary president, Chuck Kelley, who led New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for 23 years, already has delivered his assessment in a 2023 book, “The Best Intentions: How a Plan to Revitalize the SBC Accelerated Its Decline.”

At issue is a 2010 revamping of the convention’s North American Mission Board set forth by a 23-member Great Commission Task Force (also called the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force) and adopted at that year’s annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

The GCR task force’s seven recommendations, or components, included a call for NAMB to be “unleashed” for church planting as its primary emphasis, with the mission board subsequently reallocating an estimated $50 million yearly to help fund the initiative.

That shift meant the cessation of “Cooperative Agreements” between NAMB and state conventions that had linked their evangelism, church planting and other ministries for 50-plus years. It’s a historic juncture “in the SBC story” of Baptist leaders “changing Baptist polity,” Kelley writes.

Especially for smaller state conventions with limited budgets in the Northeast, Midwest, Great Plains and the West, the Cooperative Agreements were the lifeblood of funding for their evangelism and church planting efforts, including various staff members and directors of missions for Baptist associations across their states.

The GCR evaluation is one of two studies underway related to Baptist cooperation to be presented at June’s annual meeting. The other, by a 20-member Cooperation Group, involves a motion from the 2023 convention in New Orleans to study what it means for a church to be “in friendly cooperation” with the SBC “on matters of faith and practice.” The issue was sparked by three churches, two with women in pastoral roles, appealing an Executive Committee vote deeming the churches as “not in friendly cooperation” with the SBC.

GCR: revival or tumult

“GCR supporters,” Trevin Wax, then a Tennessee church’s associate pastor, wrote in a Christianity Today blog, “have sometimes spoken as if (it) will be the spark of a worldwide revival that will send renewal through the SBC.

“GCR detractors,” Wax continued on the day of the convention’s June 2010 vote, “have sometimes spoken as if (it) would end the SBC as we know it and destroy all our cooperative efforts.” Wax currently is NAMB’s vice president for research and resource development.

Kelley, in his book, compiled published Southern Baptist church planting and baptisms data from 2011-2021 after NAMB’s GCR implementation and concluded, “No other decade in SBC history has seen such a broad statistical decline in the standard measures applied to SBC churches, including the decade of the Great Depression and the decade of the tumultuous sixties.”

Cutbacks in evangelism staffing and budgeting by the North American Mission Board – coupled with a “corporate approach to strategy based on centralized planning and control” apart from the SBC’s 41 state conventions – have contributed to “an epic evangelism crisis,” Kelley writes in the 225-page book.

Rather than a resurgence, the GCR has been a “Great Commission Regression,” he writes.

Kelley did not publicly oppose the task force recommendations in 2010 because “I did not want to be viewed in any way as opposed to the need for a Great Commission resurgence,” he said in an email exchange for this report. “I simply could not support the approach taken by the task force,” resolving to “assess its impact 10 years down the road.”

With a 2011-2021 time frame, Kelley moved forward with a critique. “Assessments require the passage of time to fairly evaluate the impact,” he wrote. “Ten years is the standard used by our (seminary) accrediting agencies for evaluating initiatives.”

Southern Baptists are “The New Methodists,” Kelley declared in a 2009 chapel message reflecting a longstanding interest in SBC data as an evangelism professor. He regularly repeated the lament in his speaking engagements, citing the downward spiral among United Methodists and other mainline denominations in recent decades as a likely reality for the SBC.

“Since 1983 I have been saying 70 percent of SBC churches are plateaued or declining,” he recounted to the seminary audience. Now, “we should be calling 70 percent plateaued or declining ‘the good old days.’”

Warning of a downward trend in discipleship training among Southern Baptist churches, he projected the results in a Powerpoint presentation: “Universalism Settling into our Pews, Tolerance Overtaking Conviction, Behavior Blending with Culture, Plateau Becoming Decline.”

‘Important insights’

The new six-member GCR evaluation task force, named at last year’s annual meeting in New Orleans, is being chaired by the convention’s 2023-2024 first vice president, Jay Adkins, pastor of the New Orleans-area First Baptist Church in Westwego.

The task force was created in response to a motion by an Ohio pastor, Randy Chestnut of Dayton, to study “the impact that the adopted recommendations from the (2010) Great Commission Resurgence Report … have had on (1) the effectiveness of our North American Gospel mission effort and (2) the impact on relationships between SBC ministry partners.” The motion called for the new task force to represent “all SBC partners serving from all regions of North America” and to include “any recommendations to enhance and unify our cooperative mission effort to penetrate darkness in North America.”

Barber, the SBC president, said in a Baptist Press report that he has asked the task force “to conduct a dispassionate and fair review” that will “bring important insights to the messengers for consideration in Indianapolis.”

Adkins told BP the evaluation task force will be as “thorough” as possible given the short time frame and the fact that the 2009-2010 Great Commission Task Force proceedings are sealed until 2025. The new task force will be “open-minded,” he said, and provide a “factual and helpful report which will be above reproach.”

In an interview on the “SBC This Week” podcast, Adkins voiced similar aims for the task force report to be “robust,” “well-articulated” and “full of integrity” – one that will “glorify God in the end and bless our convention as we move forward.”

In the podcast interview, Adkins noted that the task force members have research-oriented backgrounds from having engaged in doctoral work. Joining him in the GCR evaluation are Jeremy Westbrook, executive director/treasurer of the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio; Adam Groza, vice president for enrollment and student services and associate professor of philosophy at Gateway Seminary in California; Chris Shaffer, assistant professor of theology at New Orleans Seminary; Robin Foster, associational mission strategist for the Trinity Baptist Association in Arkansas; and Luke Holmes, pastor of First Baptist Church in Tishomingo, Okla.

See also Update 1 below.

Barber, in 2009, had voiced opposition to a “Great Commission Resurgence” declaration, precursor to the Great Commission Task Force’s creation.

“Some of the ideas being bandied about under this heading have the very real potential to be one of the most disastrous mistakes that the Southern Baptist Convention has ever made to eviscerate our efforts to fulfill the Great Commission,” the pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, told Baptist Press.

It is a mistake, Barber said, “to include matters of tactical and organizational bureaucracy in a document that should stick to the highest ideals.”

Reflecting on those comments, Barber said in a Dec. 13 (2023) statement for this report, “Not just occasionally, but regularly over the course of my life that has meant coming up on the losing side of votes. When you lose a vote, in the long-term aftermath you either see that you were wrong, see that you were right, or see that you were partially wrong and partially right. Unless you are caught up in your own ego, every one of those outcomes is a good outcome because through any of them you learn more about God’s sovereign leadership over His churches, and with some of them you get to learn from your past mistakes.

“The work of Jay Adkins and the rest of the researchers on this committee will help us to do just that,” Barber continued. “I suspect that the outcome for me will be that third option – that I was partially right and partially wrong back in 2009. Like everyone else, I anticipate their report and welcome the chance to learn from it.”

Barber added, “I’m a thoroughly convinced adherent of congregational church polity, not merely as a practical matter but as a theological conviction. I believe that the Holy Spirit guides believers as we make decisions together.”

‘Measurable outcomes’

Kelley, in his book, fashioned a chart of declining church planting totals recorded in the SBC Annual, published after each year’s annual meeting.

Church plants initiated by NAMB under GCR and by state conventions totaled 1,003 in 2011, counted by congregations receiving an SBC ID number, then 929 in 2012; 936 in 2013; 985 in 2014; and 926 in 2015 – followed by a decline to 732 in 2016; 691 in 2017; 624 in 2018; 552 in 2019; 588 in 2020; and 600 in 2021.

(Totals for “New Congregations” in the SBC Annual, as differentiated from Kelley’s focus on church planting, also include replants of dying churches, numbering 135 in 2021; new campuses of multi-site churches; and established churches that affiliated with the SBC.)

With NAMB’s church planting budget rising from $24 million in 2011 to $73 million in 2021, Kelley writes, “No other administration of HMB/NAMB (HMB being NAMB’s predecessor prior to 1997) has spent so much money and had such little positive effect on measurable outcomes in SBC churches.”

NAMB, according to its Send Network website, has planted 10,000 churches since the 2010-2011 start of GCR, though falling 5,000 short of the 15,000 goal it placed before Southern Baptists in order to keep pace with population growth during the decade and the loss of 900 churches each year by closure or other reasons.

“Unfortunately,” NAMB President Kevin Ezell stated in the mission board’s 2018 report in the SBC Annual, “there are currently not enough qualified church planters to meet the demand” to reach a revised goal of 1,200 plants per year, lowered from the 1,500 yearly mark at the outset of GCR. Highlighting its “Multiplication Pipeline,” Ezell said NAMB is working with churches to “develop the next generation of church planters.”

Ezell repeated his concern in the 2020 SBC Annual that “our need for new churches is outpacing the supply of qualified church planters” and again in 2023, with NAMB now aiming for 600 church plants per year and 200 replants.

NAMB’s church plants – many in its 25-plus metropolitan “Send Cities” – account for nearly 10 percent of all baptisms in the SBC – and 23 percent of all baptisms in non-South regions of the country, according to its website. And 67 percent of churches planted from 2017-2022 under GCR are still growing, according to a Lifeway Research analysis of the SBC’s Annual Church Profile, the longstanding tally of data submitted by local churches.

NAMB’s Multiplication Pipeline, once called its “Farm System,” entails a two-part “Church Planter Pathway.” In “Planter Discovery,” an online application/assessment process open to all churches helps to confirm potential planters’ calling and abilities. NAMB’s “Planter Development” team then provides training, coaching and care for planters in deploying to the mission field. Twenty state conventions have entered into partnerships with NAMB for additional attention to their potential planters.

In NAMB’s yearly reports, a range of 970 to 1,350 churches were “actively exploring or implementing” the planter discovery process, with 1,400 to 5,100 individuals engaging in some measure of training. In 2023, 359 churches also were offering residency programs.

Record-setting offerings

NAMB continues to draw support from Southern Baptists, setting new records six of the last seven years for its annual Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, reaching a 2022-2023 total of $70 million to support its 2,961 missionaries. NAMB’s 2023-2024 budget exceeds $137 million, including the missions offering and its 22.79 percent share of Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program unified giving channel, along with direct/undesignated contributions, fundraising and interest income.

Whether church plants remain committed to the Cooperative Program following their four-year NAMB subsidy is “worth tracking and reporting to the SBC,” Kelley writes in his book. “One year does not indicate any type of trend,” but only 25.4 percent of 2014’s surviving church plants were supporting CP in 2019, he writes, citing information provided by NAMB.

“The drift of new churches away from the SBC,” Kelley speculates, “could be a consequence of NAMB’s strategy to connect many new churches to itself rather than seeking to root them in the SBC associations and state conventions in the region.”

A NAMB spokesperson relayed the following statement for this report:

“When messengers at the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting overwhelmingly approved recommendations from the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) Task Force, Southern Baptists reaffirmed their commitment to dedicating resources and efforts at every level of Baptist life to fulfilling the Great Commission. We are grateful for that commitment.”

The statement continued, “NAMB has worked diligently to carry out the goals articulated in those recommendations, consistent with our ministry assignments and ministry objectives. We will defer further comment to allow the GCR Evaluation Task Force to do its work and share its report at the 2024 Annual Meeting.”

Requests for comment were sent to two seminary presidents who played key roles in voicing vision for a Great Commission Resurgence and subsequently served on the task force: Danny Akin of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina and R. Albert Mohler Jr. of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky.

Akin responded, “I think changes were needed, the recommendations were sound, and there has not been enough time to accurately assess the impact. … I have been encouraged, in spite of economic challenges and Covid, by the work of the IMB (the SBC’s International Mission Board) and NAMB. … Post-Covid skews everything and in a real sense we had to start all over again. The trajectory, though slow, is moving in the right direction.”

Mohler did not respond to two queries for comment emailed on Oct. 31 and Nov. 27.

Growing, plateaued & declining

Decline among Southern Baptist churches was noted by Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, in comments for a Sept. 22, 2023, Baptist Press story. McConnell was not speaking of the Great Commission Resurgence but the analysis of the Annual Church Profile from 2017-2022 (2022 being the latest year for which complete ACP statistics have been finalized.)

“Southern Baptists have never had more declining churches and fewer growing churches than we see today,” McConnell said. Since 2017, the story noted, “Overall, 18.5 percent of Southern Baptist churches are growing, 42.5 percent are plateaued and 39 percent are declining.”

The BP story reported that 42 percent of churches founded since 2000 were growing (the two decades split between GCR and the former Cooperative Agreements), and 67 percent of churches planted in 2017 under GCR were growing.

Otherwise, among churches with a membership of 500 or more, 35 percent had declined since 2017 while 26 percent reflected a gain of 10 percent or more. In urban areas, 46 percent of churches had declined while 22 percent had grown. Among rural churches, 35 percent had declined and 16 percent had grown.

Church membership in the Northeast had declined in 47 percent of the congregations since 2017, while 36 percent had grown, the highest level among all SBC regions. In the West, the decline was 47 percent and growth 29 percent.

Baptisms and worship attendance in 2022, meanwhile, climbed more than 16 percent and 5 percent, respectively, marking gains for a second straight year, according to the ACP report. (In 2021, coming out of Covid, baptisms increased by 26 percent). However, from 2010-2021 baptisms and worship attendance had fallen in every year but 2021, according to charts compiled by Kelley. Baptisms declined from 331,008 to 154,701, and there were 2.6 million fewer people in worship

Kelley notes in his book a net increase in Southern Baptist churches of 1,887 during the first decade of the GCR, 2011-2021 (churches added, minus those that closed or left the SBC) compared to 4,139 in the 10 years prior to the GCR. Spending on church planting totaled $667,391,815 during GCR’s first decade versus $227,448,246 in the prior decade.

“In the history of the SBC,” he asserts, “there has never been that kind of gap in the net total of SBC churches and budget funds for church planting.”

Kelley, who retired from New Orleans Seminary in 2019, acknowledges a downward trend in baptisms and church plants by Southern Baptists prior to the year 2000. He uses a comparison between 1939 and 2019, however, to underscore a “breathtaking downward change.”

“In spite of all the struggles associated with coming out of the Great Depression, SBC churches (numbering 25,018) baptized 269,155 people. In 2019, prior to the COVID epidemic, the SBC (with 47,530 churches) … only baptized 235,748 people,” he writes.

‘Doing their best’

Even so, those who envisioned and those who implemented GCR, Kelley acknowledges in his book, “were all people who love Jesus, who have effective ministries and who were doing their best to serve Him and the churches of the SBC.”

Kelley wants Southern Baptists to “talk to each other. Let’s not waste time looking for heroes or villains. Let’s not vent anger or frustration with each other. … Let’s accept what the data reveals. We are a convention clearly in decline. Now, where do we go from here?”

A “healthy SBC,” he acknowledges, “should never wonder whether NAMB or any SBC entity should try new ways to accomplish its mission.” Nevertheless, “a healthy SBC must always ask, after a reasonable time, if a new strategy or new approach worked.”

Kelley is not without opinions, suggesting in a statement for this report that SBC leaders overcome their “extreme reluctance” to make an “acknowledgement from the SBC platform that the convention is in the grip of unprecedented decline and is determined to do everything possible to break that grip” through “prayer, discussion and strategic thinking.”

A summit conference involving representatives from NAMB’s staff and trustees and state convention executive directors and presidents, convened by the SBC Executive Committee, could be an important step forward, Kelley suggested, along with developing new strategic agreements between NAMB and each state convention to affirm “a mutual commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission … more than NAMB priorities alone.”

And, he writes in an earlier book, “The Dilemma of Decline: Southern Baptists Face a New Reality,” published in 2020, that NAMB should “return to a passionate embrace of the historic SBC assignment” of evangelism, which the convention added in 1906, joining church extension and compassion ministries.

“The SBC needs a strategic plan that identifies reasonable evangelistic goals and includes additional personnel, national infrastructure, and dedicated budget to help churches by providing plans, resources, and training to reach those goals,” Kelley writes in the 66-page book.

‘A positive turnaround’

Ezell, while encouraged by 2022’s baptism gains, told Baptist Press, “We must remain focused on starting new, evangelistic churches and on replanting dying churches, but to really see a positive turnaround, established churches must lead the way by reaching and baptizing the lost.”

On Facebook, Jim Elliff, who has spoken in churches across the SBC for nearly 40 years, maintained in a December (2023) post that “the biggest problem” reflected in the SBC’s long-term numbers is “the difference between membership and attendance.”

“Our largest churches often have thousands on their rolls who never show up. And our smaller churches often have a similar but slightly less disparity in percentages,” Elliff, president of Christian Communicators Worldwide and founding pastor of Christ Fellowship of Kansas City, wrote in a text message for this report.

“I am a bit amazed that pastors don’t lose sleep over this,” he added.

In a June 2022 blog about Baptists who rarely attend worship, Elliff asked, “How are they any different from the people who attend the liberal church down the street – the ‘church’ where the gospel is not even preached? What does failure to attend eagerly say about the heart of the member?” Such individuals, he continued, “are more interested in themselves than God. … The atmosphere that most pleases them is that of the world and not God (since) their apathy towards regular and faithful church attendance betrays their true affections. The fact is, you do what you love to do.”

Elliff advocated the creation of a study group “to explore our presently deplorable situation” and “re-examine the biblical mandate to have a regenerate church. Then this study group should report back with a strategy to help us out of the dilemma. They should be painfully honest.” He voiced hope “that individual churches will act without this prompting, but this would be an added stimulus to getting us to our fighting weight as a denomination.”

‘Bloated bureaucracies’

An April 2009 sermon by Akin, “Axioms of a Great Commission Resurgence” delivered at Southeastern Seminary, sparked widespread interest across the SBC, partly from his characterization of state conventions as “bloated bureaucracies.”

“The rally cry of the Conservative Resurgence was, ‘We will not give our monies to liberal institutions,’” Akin said. “Now the cry of the Great Commission Resurgence is, ‘We will not give our money to bloated bureaucracies.’’”

Akin’s sermon revolved around 12 one-sentence statements of resolve to pursue the Great Commission with a heightened sense of gospel purpose. In its preparation, he received input from Mohler; then-SBC president and Georgia pastor Johnny Hunt; and then-Lifeway Christian Resources President Thom Rainer. Within two weeks, a Great Commission declaration – minus the “bloated” reference – was being circulated.

Mohler made the motion at the 2009 annual meeting that Hunt appoint a “Great Commission Task Force” to bring a report the next year “concerning how Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.”

In the lead-up to the convention, Mohler told Baptist Press, “Clearly, we have a generation that is wondering about who Southern Baptists are and what we intend to do as we look to the challenges of reaching the world in this new century.”

Rainer, in a chapter for a LifeWay book under its B&H Publishing Group, wrote, “An honest evaluation of the data leads us to but one conclusion: the Conservative Resurgence (the 1979-1992 battle over biblical authority and liberalism) has not resulted in a greater zeal for evangelism in our churches.”

“According to the research, the Southern Baptist Convention is less evangelistic today than it was in the years preceding the Conservative Resurgence. A Great Commission Resurgence is needed desperately, indeed,” Rainer wrote in his chapter, “A Resurgence Not Yet Fulfilled,” in the multi-author 2010 book, “Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Time.” It was a concern he first voiced in 2005 in the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.

Akin, in an interview with the Florida Baptist Witness, said it would be “irresponsible” to “pretend we’re not in a crisis moment, that we’re not facing some very difficult times, and it would be irresponsible for us not to take a good, hard look” at the convention.

J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and another GCR task force member, wrote in a blog of the “need to adjust” the Cooperative Program created by the SBC and state conventions in 1925 by which Southern Baptist churches support international, national and state missions and ministries.

“[T]here are a number of things CP dollars go to which are no longer the best and most efficient use of missions giving,” said Greear, who was elected as SBC president in 2018, serving through the Covid 19 pandemic until 2021.

Greear cited, for example, church planting networks, worship resources, Bible study materials, help for starting new ministries and pastors’ conferences that could be pursued online or beyond convention venues. He did acknowledge gratitude for CP funding in support of 65 missionaries with the International Mission Board sent out by The Summit Church; for CP support of the SBC’s seminaries that enabled him and others to graduate at “greatly reduced rates”; and support from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina for The Summit Church’s goal of planting 1,000 churches.

“The only really central, burning question to me is, ‘What would Jesus want us to do with His money?’” Greear asked in the May 2010 blog at “We should remember we are going to have to answer to Him one day for what He gave us stewardship over. I think we should do whatever it takes to get the money to the Great Commission, and most specifically to the 6,500 Unreached People Groups in the world.”

GCR envisioned

Several visions of what a Great Commission Resurgence would look like were set forth in the 429-page book, “Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Time,” spanning chapters by 20-plus contributors.

Jerry Rankin, then-president of the International Mission Board, wrote, “Only as every church and every believer catch a vision for God’s purpose and are mobilized to be on mission with God can a lost world be reached and the kingdom of God extended to the ends of the earth.

“That is what a Great Commission Resurgence must be,” Rankin stated in his chapter, “To All Peoples: The Great Commission and the Nations.”

Jeff Iorg, president of Gateway Seminary in California (formerly Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary) in his chapter “North America as a Mission Field: The Great Commission on Our Continent,” wrote, “A Great Commission Resurgence will coincide with intensification of two specific spiritual realities: increased intercession for people to be saved and fresh dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit for witnessing.”

Southern Baptists’ “future effectiveness,” Iorg stated, “depends on a fresh approach, initiated by NAMB but embraced by denominational partners, to a coordinated strategy for national evangelism, church planting, and mission ministries.”

A focus on major cities will be needed, Iorg wrote, explaining that first-century missionaries “knew that if they successfully planted in cities, within a relatively short period of time the city’s influence would spread the gospel to the surrounding areas” via commerce and governmental influence.

For Akin, “Our mission will require aggressive and intentional cooperation in church planting,” he wrote in his “Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence” chapter. “The churches we plant must be sound in their doctrine, contextual in their forms, and aggressive in their evangelistic and mission orientation.

“In order to make this work,” he continued, “we need renewed commitment from our churches, local associations, and state conventions.”

Greear, meanwhile, stated, “A Great Commission Resurgence will happen only when we return to the strategy God has established for the propagation of His gospel … the planting of healthy, local churches in strategic cities in the world.”

In the New Testament, the first work of the Holy Spirit after Jesus underscored the Great Commission in Acts 1:8 was to plant the congregation recorded in Act 2:42-47, Greear recounted in his chapter, “Great Commission Multiplication: Church Planting and Community Ministry.”

Questions arise

Concern developed, however, as news of the task force’s deliberations became known – particularly its potential impact on state conventions along with another of its seven components: the idea of “Great Commission Giving” to “celebrate” all designated giving to Southern Baptist causes, not just the established Cooperative Program. CP, in funding the SBC’s mission boards, seminaries and religious liberty advocacy, was created nearly 100 years ago to alleviate the numerous direct appeals churches were receiving from an array of Baptist organizations.

Morris Chapman, then-president of the Executive Committee, became the most outspoken GCR critic, warning in analyses posted on Baptist Press that the task force proposals will begin “a process of erosion of all things ‘cooperative’ in the Southern Baptist Convention.” The measures will “demote, devalue, and potentially destroy the cooperative spirit” between NAMB and the state conventions, he contended, predicting “it will not be a journey of cooperation and collaboration” but of “control and competition.”

In a Baptist Press interview, David Hankins, then-executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, noted that “there’s a lot more important issues to the Great Commission that need to be addressed, such as holiness, prayer, sacrifice, generosity, personal growth – those kind of things.”

“Structure is not a bright pathway to a Great Commission resurgence,” Hankins said in an October 2009 meeting between 22 state executive directors and a dozen task force representatives. “The Covenant for a New Century taught us that,” he said of the mid-1990s restructuring that had not sparked renewal in creating NAMB from three former SBC entities and closing the former Stewardship Commission, Historical Commission and Education Commission.

State conventions have “a coordinated presence in every region. We are in the churches. We know the pastors. We promote the denomination and raise the money,” Hankins said, reminding that they receive Cooperative Program funds from the churches and then share a portion with the SBC, ranging from about 25 percent to 50 percent depending on the convention.

The “boots on the ground-motivating-mobilizing function (of state conventions) makes us indispensable partners for a ‘Great Commission resurgence,’” said Hankins, a former Executive Committee executive vice president and, earlier, vice president for policy and the Cooperative Program over the course of eight years. As a Louisiana pastor, he served as an Executive Committee trustee from 1986-1994, including two years as chairman.

Keith Harper and Amy Whitfield, describing the Cooperative Program process in their book “SBC FAQs: A Ready Reference,” write, “The Cooperative Program begins with individuals and ends with ministries. Church members give financial resources to their local congregations. Churches then forward a portion of their budget to the state convention. State conventions designate a percentage of total monies received to pass on to the Southern Baptist Convention. The messengers of each state convention decide what their respective percentages will be. Money that stays within the state is disbursed among state and local ministries.”

Great Commission Giving

Although the task force’s final report called Southern Baptists to “honor and affirm the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our reach,” controversy arose over its recommendation to add “Great Commission Giving” to the Annual Church Profile’s categories.

To Chapman, the task force was “subordinating CP as a mere component of ‘Great Commission Giving.’” The executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware at the time, David Lee, described Great Commission Giving as “tantamount to the local church saying to members, ‘We would like for you to give to the general fund, but if you had rather designate your tithe for the pastor’s salary or the student ministry or to buy a new bus, that will be OK.’”

Four years before the GCR task force report, Hankins observed that some churches had begun to view the SBC’s mission opportunities as just “another option” for their support.

Their relationship to the convention and parachurch groups is “as a donor,” he wrote in the 2006 book “One Sacred Effort: The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists,” published by B&H Academic. “No longer do they sense an obligation as the ‘owner’ of the Convention and thus responsible for its health and success. The relationship is more akin to that of a vendor whose services they contract rather than that of a company of which they are stockholders.”

And in the task force’s call for state conventions to increase the percentage of Cooperative Program funds they send to the SBC, pressure was being exerted on their budgets in light of a years-long drop in CP giving by local churches along with a looming decrease in NAMB’s financial support.

Southern Baptist churches gave 10.5 percent of their undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program in the 1980s to support state and SBC missions and ministry, according to a chart Kelley compiled from SBC data. The average fell to 8.73 percent in the 1990s; 6.8 percent in the 2000s; and 5.22 percent in the 2010s.

Yet “the most shocking statistic,” Kelley points out in his book, is that “approximately 40% of SBC churches did not give a dime” through the Cooperative Program.

The state conventions, in essence, would be providing “a larger piece of a shrinking pie” to the SBC under GCR, forcing cutbacks in their ministries as a result, Kelley writes.

In NAMB funding, meanwhile, the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, for example, faced a $1 million loss from its $6 million 2011 budget if NAMB’s Cooperative Agreements were to end. The Alabama Baptist State Convention, meanwhile, would lose nearly $650,000 from its $43 million budget.

At the 2010 convention when it came time for the GCR task force report, debate over Great Commission Giving filled most of the allotted time before messengers voted, taking “all the oxygen out of the room for conversations about actual Great Commission challenges and activities in Southern Baptist life,” Kelley writes.

A 10-year initiative

Missing from the 23-page GCR task force report was any reference to a broad Southern Baptist evangelistic initiative by NAMB, “God’s Plan for Sharing” (GPS) to get the gospel to every person in North America by the year 2020.

NAMB reported in the 2008 SBC Annual that the campaign would have “a flexible, multifaceted, contextualized focus on evangelism over the next decade.” The “National Evangelism Initiative,” as it was first called, will be “a huge task, and we are praying that this will be part of a Great Commission resurgence,” NAMB stated.

“Unlike previous national campaigns,” then-NAMB President Geoff Hammond wrote in a Baptist Press column that year, GPS is “not a one-year or five-year emphasis” and its development “has not been a top-down approach, but rather a grassroots effort.”

GPS reflected “input and direction from directors of evangelism, ministry evangelism leaders, prayer evangelism leaders and state directors of mission” as well as individual Christians, Hammond wrote. Each pastor in the SBC would be receiving an informational mailing about GPS, with the campaign to be promoted at various times by TV and radio ads, social media such as Facebook, print materials, door hangers and billboards.

“There is more synergy,” Hammond stated, “when Christians work together” leading to “a stronger destination when we partner together.”

He acknowledged that “partnership sometimes brings challenges. For starters, things don’t move as quickly. Sometimes there are disagreements. Effective communication can be a challenge. God has gifted all of us with different skills and perspectives and sometimes it takes a while to arrive at a place we all believe is best. But if we work through these challenges together, we will reap the great benefits from our toil.”

In the 2009 SBC Annual, NAMB reported that six GPS workgroups involving 97 individuals had set forth an initiative that every two years would entail “a coordinated activity drawing Southern Baptists together in evangelism.” Two hundred leaders had participated in training to implement the campaign in their geographical regions, and GPS brochures had been prepared in Spanish, Korean and Chinese.

Planning for GPS continued despite Hammond resigning under pressure in August 2009 after a seven-hour trustee meeting over questions related to “staffing decisions, his relationship with the board of trustees and the morale of NAMB employees,” according to an on-site report by The Alabama Baptist newsjournal. Richard Harris was named interim president, having served at the mission board 28 years, most recently as senior strategist for missions advancement,

In 2010, NAMB reported in the SBC Annual that 41 state conventions had signed on to participate in the first GPS effort in the Easter season, titled “Across North America,” which had been piloted in four parts of the country, with 300,000 homes receiving a printed gospel piece. More than 17 million copies had been ordered by state conventions by the end of 2009.

Retirements, severance packages

After Kevin Ezell, a Kentucky pastor, was elected as NAMB’s new president in September 2010, the mission board was soon being reshaped to implement the convention-adopted move to church planting. A retirement incentive package was accepted by 81 staff members, NAMB reported in the 2011 SBC Annual, and 28 others accepted severance packages – totaling more than one-third of its staff. “We are committed to moving the savings from this downsizing to place more missionaries and more resources into the North American mission field,” NAMB stated.

After 2015, GPS no longer appeared in NAMB’s reports in the SBC Annual. The 2011 report mentioned training sessions related to GPS and other NAMB programs followed by mentions in 2013 of GPS-themed promotional materials for area crusades, block parties and other evangelistic events; 2014, the distribution of 2.4 million New Testaments; and 2015, a scaled-back campaign the previous year, “Serving Across North America.”

Amid the attention NAMB was receiving in prioritizing church planting and phasing out Cooperative Agreements with the states, an elephant-in-the-room question was festering, as reflected in the headline of a February 2013 column in Baptist Press:

“Does NAMB still do evangelism?”

Al Gilbert, the mission board’s then-vice president for evangelism, wrote, “That’s a question I get from time to time, and the answer is, absolutely, ‘yes.’”

NAMB was utilizing about 13 percent of its budget for specific state evangelism efforts, including those by conventions outside the South, Gilbert wrote.

Those state conventions were receiving assistance to help pay for an evangelism staff member along with a measure of funding for outreach, he wrote. Currently, NAMB provides project-by-project block grants of about $100,000-$300,000 for evangelism efforts by non-South conventions.

Gilbert cited the convention-wide “LoveLoud” media campaign in which NAMB was calling Southern Baptists to elevate their gospel witness as they help meet the needs of people facing medical issues, crisis pregnancies, involvement in foster care and adoption and the challenges of inner-city schools.

Gilbert also pointed to the witness of disaster relief volunteers; chaplains serving in the armed forces and law enforcement; and collegiate ministries. And New Testaments with Scripture’s “Romans Road” plan of salvation were being distributed to churches throughout North America, he wrote.

For several years, beginning in 2014, NAMB’s primary evangelism resource was a booklet, “3 Circles: Life Conversation Guide” by Florida pastor Jimmy Scroggins to help believers share their faith one-on-one. More than 1 million copies of the booklet were ordered in the months following its debut at the 2015 annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio.

Johnny Hunt arrives, departs

In June 2017, an Evangelism Task Force was created at the request of then-SBC President Steve Gaines, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church, at the annual meeting in Phoenix. Kevin Ezell made a motion for a task force to study “how Southern Baptists could be more effective in personal soul winning and evangelistic preaching”; messengers gave approval; and Gaines named Paige Patterson, then-president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, to chair the 19-member group.

In mid-May 2018, the task force finalized its report. Two weeks later, SWBTS trustees terminated Patterson from his status as president emeritus and theologian-in-residence over “new information” regarding his administrative handling of a sexual abuse allegation at Southeastern Seminary, where he previously served as president. Trustees did not specify the new information nor subsequent statements Patterson made that were deemed “inconsistent with SWBTS’s biblically informed core values.” The evangelism report nevertheless moved forward without Patterson and was adopted at the SBC annual meeting in Dallas.

Among the recommendations: that NAMB “help re-establish evangelism as a denominational priority” by employing “senior level leadership … tasked with involving churches, associations, and state conventions in outreach to the lost, as well as providing evangelism resources and training events on a consistent basis.”

Johnny Hunt was named as NAMB’s senior vice president of evangelism and leadership just over two months later. “I want to lead Southern Baptist churches to put evangelism back on the front burner again,” said Hunt, the SBC’s 2008-2010 president and longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga.

“My priority will be to help facilitate the present and next generation of pastors to embrace gospel conversations, soul winning if you will, witnessing as a lifestyle,” Hunt told Baptist Press. “After being a pastor the last 42 years … I have come to believe deeply that whatever is important to the pastor is what is important to the people. Evangelism must be the heartthrob of our pastors.” A podcast, “Evangelism with Johnny Hunt,” was launched alongside his numerous speaking engagements.

NAMB partnered with a “Who’s Your One?” initiative by J.D. Greear following his election as SBC president, with a resource kit for churches to encourage believers to build a relationship with an individual and pray that he/she would turn to Christ as Lord and Savior during the coming year.

Hunt added his voice to the effort, saying, “I pray that the Who’s Your One? movement encourages Southern Baptists to get back to our roots as a Gospel-focused people.” Various promotional items included T-shirts and a “Who’s Your One?” frisbee.

Also part of the campaign was a one-day simulcast for Baptist associations across the country, numbering more than 1,000, with Greear telling Baptist Press, “Associations have always served as a valuable partner in cooperation, mobilizing churches together.”

In May 2022, however, Hunt resigned when an independent Guidepost Solutions investigation into sexual abuse within the SBC, commissioned by the Executive Committee, listed an allegation that Hunt had abused a pastor’s wife in 2010 in a beachside condo. Hunt initially denied the allegation but in an open letter to his former church five days later he acknowledged, “I allowed myself to get too close to a compromising situation with a woman who was not my wife.” On March 19, 2023, Hunt filed suit against the SBC, the Executive Committee and Guidepost Solutions seeking unspecified damages for defamation and invasion of privacy.

NAMB’s 11-member evangelism team is now led by Tim Dowdy, a former trustee chairman and 30-year pastor of the Atlanta-area Eagles Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough. The staff includes directors for outreach to the next generation, collegians, women and ethnic populations; directors for personal evangelism and renewal retreats for pastors and wives; and four administrative personnel.

GCR in the courts

In NAMB’s relationships with smaller state conventions, however, several disputes made headlines – and one reached the U.S. Supreme Court and could return there again.

NAMB went to the Supreme Court after a federal appeals court reversed a district court’s dismissal of a 2017 lawsuit by Will McRaney, former executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCMD), which terminated him in 2015.

NAMB has denied McRaney’s allegations of improperly influencing his dismissal and engaging in “libel and/or slander” to impede his subsequent speaking opportunities. The suit seeks unspecified punitive damages.

McRaney, a former evangelism professor at New Orleans Seminary, and NAMB were at odds over the mission board’s GCR-assigned prerogative to conduct SBC-funded church planting in the two-state convention. In December 2014, NAMB sent the convention a “one year notice for termination” of cooperation and funding. McRaney was dismissed six months later and the Maryland-Delaware relationship with NAMB was maintained.

A First Amendment issue came to the fore when a federal district court in Mississippi initially cited legal precedent in April 2019 barring the government from interfering in church or religious matters, dismissing McRaney’s suit, derailing it as a civil suit. Also in question is whether the ruling improperly views the SBC as a hierarchical denomination exercising authority over churches and state conventions.

McRaney took the ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which in July 2020 overturned the lower court’s stance on the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. NAMB appealed to the Supreme Court, which sent the case back to the lower court in February 2021. When his suit was again dismissed in August 2023, he filed another appeal the following month.

See also Update 2 below.

McRaney taught at NOBTS from 1996-2007 and was the Florida Baptist Convention’s evangelism and church planting strategist from 2007-2013. He currently is lead pastor of Island Church in Tierra Verde, Fla., and president of the leadership training Bullock Institute.

‘Unilaterally directive’

In August 2020, frustration with NAMB was voiced by six state convention executive directors from outside the South in a letter to Ezell and Ronnie Floyd, then-president of the Executive Committee.

“Over the past ten years, NAMB has grown increasingly centralized and unilaterally directive in its strategies, its personnel and funding processes, and its relationships with state conventions,” the leaders from California, New Mexico, Ohio, the Northwest, Alaska and Hawaii wrote.

State conventions are left with “little or no role in the assessment, supervision, or evaluation of church planters or statewide personnel,” they wrote concerning the latest “Strategic Cooperative Agreements” set forth by NAMB to qualify for the greatly reduced block grant funding under GCR compared to the sustaining support they had received through the former Cooperative Agreements.

The state leaders wrote that their conventions may find it necessary, among other things, to retain a larger portion of Cooperative Program gifts to support work in their states or reduce the funds they send to NAMB through the annual Annie Armstrong Easter Offering to create “a more robust state missions offering.”

An unflinching reply by NAMB’s trustee chairman and two vice chairmen caused the state leaders to react that the tone of the three men “illustrates the breakdown of the relationship and partnership.”

Mediation was requested by the six leaders in accord with Executive Committee bylaws. EC trustee officers and executive staff held separate meetings with both sides in the fall of 2020. They also interacted with leaders of other state conventions, resulting in an Executive Committee white paper, “Cooperation Is the Way Forward,” the following January.

“It is very important that each of us remember Jesus desires for us to walk in unity together,” the white paper stated in the first of several “advisements,” citing Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17. “We appeal to all parties to walk in unity together as a testimony to the world.”

Cooperation “will never be any greater than our relationships,” the white paper continued. “Cooperative relationships demand a commitment to communicating honestly, clearly, and consistently.”

“Southern Baptists are deeply concerned for the overwhelming lostness that clearly exists across the non-south regions of North America,” the white paper noted. “We encourage NAMB to find every way possible to push more resources into these areas through increases in financial resources, missionaries, evangelism strategies, and more strategic partnerships and platforms with every Southern Baptist body and with Southern Baptist churches in these areas.

“The SBC also strongly desires for associations and state conventions to cooperate with NAMB in these efforts,” the white paper stated. “Each state convention has value; therefore, please do all you can to allocate resources through the Cooperative Program as we work together to advance the gospel across the entire globe.”

NAMB trustees adopted a resolution in February 2021 stating that the mission board remained committed to “the missional mandate provided to NAMB by an overwhelming majority of SBC messengers at the 2010 SBC annual meeting.”

The trustees stated that NAMB intends to cooperate with churches, Baptist associations and state conventions but noted that “disagreements over missional strategy and structure can and will sometimes occur in a large faith family like the SBC.” The resolution encouraged “our ministry partners and all Southern Baptists to communicate any strategic concerns to NAMB directly, with grace and love.”

Added dissent

In September 2020, messengers at the Alaska Baptist Resource Network’s annual meeting voted to retain the percentage of Cooperative Program funds (22.79 percent) that otherwise would go to NAMB beginning in 2022 “until such time as there is a collaborative, cooperative and mutually agreed upon strategy with the North American Mission Board.”

Lack of input into NAMB’s church planting efforts in the state prompted the action, Alaska Baptist leaders stated, even as the mission board reported spending $8.3 million in GCR funding to plant churches there since 2010.

In January 2022, the Alaska Baptist Resource Network reached an agreement with NAMB to cooperate on several church revitalization and student outreach projects. “There have been positive steps toward rebuilding the relationship, but there is still much more to do,” said Randy Covington, the network’s executive director and a former International Mission Board missionary in eastern Russia.

From the Northwest Baptist Convention encompassing Oregon and Washington, the executive director, Randy Adams, entered the race for SBC president in 2021, contending that “failures in accountability, self-dealing, top-down centralized strategies and broken partnerships” were “destroying much of our mission capacity.”

In a February 2020 interview, Adams cited GCR as a key factor why “every metric that (Southern Baptists) use to measure our effectiveness is moving in the wrong direction. … Baptisms are down about 30 percent over the past decade. Our four lowest years since 1947 are 2015, ’16, ’17 and ’18,” each lower than the year before.

“We need to listen to the people on the local field,” Adams told the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s news outlet. “They live with their choices more so than people more remote from the situation. … We know the people. We know the issues.” Without mentioning NAMB by name, he advocated “going from a top-down approach to more of a bottom-up approach in terms of strategy development and implementation. Which is what we used to do, by the way.”

The issue with NAMB, as Adams put it in a March 2021 Baptist Press interview, is “them telling us what they’re going to do, not asking us what we need. And not necessarily working with us (but) setting up their own system in our conventions, autonomous and separate.”

Adams pressed his case in an eight-page “SBC News” tabloid distributed at the 2021 annual meeting in Nashville. He received 673 votes from the 14,283 cast by messengers, or 4.6 percent, in a four-nominee field that included Al Mohler. In a runoff, Alabama pastor Ed Litton topped Georgia pastor Mike Stone.

‘What are we waiting for?’

Whether the Great Commission Task Force’s church-planting vision and NAMB’s implementation are “tearing away at the fabric of cooperation” that has marked the SBC, as Chuck Kelley asserts in “The Best Intentions,” the next juncture for debate will be June’s annual meeting in Indianapolis when messengers will hear from the Great Commission Resurgence Evaluation Task Force appointed by SBC President Bart Barber.

The abandoned Cooperative Agreements that had linked the North American Mission Board with state conventions in evangelism and church planting served as “the engine that drove the growth and expansion of Southern Baptists across the nation for decades,” according to Kelley.

“(W)ith state by state strategic plans,” Kelley writes, “Southern Baptists created a regionally-based national strategy for reaching North America with clearly defined roles for the state conventions, including their local churches and associations, and the Home Mission Board” (replaced by NAMB in 1997).

“Great Commission strategies in every state convention were funded by both the giving of churches in the state convention and the giving of all churches in the Southern Baptist Convention through CP (the Cooperative Program) and the Annie Armstrong Offering,” Kelley recounts. “Stronger conventions received a smaller percentage of budget support from CP. Newer conventions received a higher percentage of support for their budgets.”

All churches had “skin in the game” for supporting, strengthening and promoting the Cooperative Program, Kelley notes. “Most importantly, as Baptists began expanding outside the South, it provided early logistical support for new churches and emerging state conventions at their most vulnerable phase of development.”

David Dockery, then-president of Union University in Tennessee, writing in 2010 of “the changing global context around us,” noted, “Learning to work afresh in cooperative ways will be essential.”

“We must see other Christ-followers, in various Southern Baptist contexts, as co-laborers together in the gospel. We must look for commonalities rather than rivalries,” Dockery, now president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, wrote in his chapter, “Convictional Yet Cooperative,” in the B&H book, “Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Time.”

“With fresh eyes, a cooperative spirit, and genuine convictional grounding regarding doctrinal matters, the future of the SBC can be very bright. We will need conviction and cooperation, boundaries and bridges, and denominational structures that will be open to the fresh winds of God’s Spirit,” Dockery wrote.

Hankins, the former Louisiana Baptist Convention executive director and Executive Committee vice president, reminded that Baptist leaders “have a heavy responsibility” to carry on Southern Baptists’ hallmark of cooperation.

When those who “receive and employ the resources provided by the churches” –SBC and state convention officers and trustees and denominational employees – “are known for their spirit of working together across all levels of Baptist enterprise, it builds confidence among the churches,” he wrote in the 2006 book, “One Sacred Effort: The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists.”

“On the other hand, if the churches observe a spirit of competition or criticism between or within the state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention, it lowers their enthusiasm for the Cooperative Program process.

“This does not mean there can be no disagreements or that constructive criticism cannot be offered or that one convention has to please the other in every decision that is made,” Hankins wrote. “It does mean that adversarial, competitive, ‘us versus them’ attitudes and actions ought to be avoided. … To act as if there is no obligation to talk about matters of concern could be prima facie evidence that the partnership really doesn’t exist.”

Ronnie Floyd, who chaired the Great Commission Task Force, voiced a reminder about the centrality of the local church in Baptist life in comments emailed for this report.

“The work of the SBC does not determine the growth of our churches,” said Floyd, the convention’s 2014-2016 president and 2019-2021 president/CEO of the Executive Committee. “Each Southern Baptist church is responsible and accountable to God for penetrating the lostness in their region and making disciples of all the nations.

“A large entity like the North American Mission Board or a state convention can serve and assist our churches in their Great Commission work and always keep the need before the churches,” Floyd said. “However, the North American Mission Board or a state convention cannot and does not determine if a church grows or does not grow.

“The pastor and people in each church determine their commitment to reaching their town or city, their state, and our nation.”

Though written in 2010, the introductory words of the GCR task force report remain applicable in 2024:

“In every generation, Southern Baptists have been called to reclaim our identity as a Great Commission movement of churches. Now is the time for this generation to answer the same call – to make an unconditional commitment to reach the nations for Christ, to plant and serve Gospel churches in North America and around the world, and to mobilize Southern Baptists. A world of lostness is waiting – what are we waiting for?”


UPDATE 1 – 2/9/24

Great Commission Resurgence Evaluation Task Force members “have read an enormous amount of material and are knee-deep in interviewing individuals who were involved with the formation and implementation of the GCR report,” chairman Jay Adkins said in a Feb. 2 Baptist Press news story.

In the Great Commission Resurgence Special Report (above), go to the subhead “Important Insights” for the section on the six-member task force appointed by SBC President Bart Barber in response to a motion at last June’s annual meeting in New Orleans.

Former New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley had a Zoom meeting with the task force on Jan. 4.

“I have no idea where they will end up, but we had an excellent conversation,” said Kelley, author of the 2023 book “The Best Intentions: How a Plan to Revitalize the SBC Accelerated Its Decline.”

“They asked good questions and made thoughtful comments,” Kelley said in a Feb. 7 email exchange for this update.

UPDATE 2 – 2/9/24

Amid media attention occasioned by the Great Commission Resurgence Special Report released on Jan. 30, former state executive director Will McRaney circulated a seven-part series, “Is the New NAMB Really Working?” written in 2016.

McRaney’s Feb. 7 email distribution linked to the series he drafted a year after his termination as executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (2015) and a year before he filed suit against the North American Mission Board (2017). Details of various junctures in the court case are in the “GCR in the courts” section of the Great Commission Resurgence Special Report.

Numerous parts of the McRaney’s series reflect the rancor/antagonism between him and NAMB, with the mission board responding to McRaney in a Baptist Press story at

The sections of McRaney’s series were titled: Part 1: Introduction; Part 2: Baptisms; Part 3: Church Planting; Part 4: Partnership; Part 5: Financial Stewardship; Part 6: Character; and Part 7: Oversight & Accountability. It can be accessed as Is the NEW NAMB Really Working? Introduction | Will McRaney

McRaney, in an email exchange for this update, stated that he “did not want my state convention to neglect its mission field by removing themselves from church planting to allow NAMB to have 100% control.

“God called us. The SBC and (the Maryland/Delaware convention) had a partnership in the work, not a ‘we send you our money and you do the work in our mission field,’” McRaney said. “I wanted a good partnership but I was not going to not do my job or stick my head in the sand.”

McRaney led the BCMD from 2013-2015 after seven years as the Florida Baptist Convention’s evangelism and church planting strategist and 11 years as professor of evangelism at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.


“Unleashed” NAMB – “Penetrating The Lostness: Final Report of the Great Commission Task Force of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Component Four: Reaching North America,” June 15, 2010,

Chuck Kelley – historic juncture – “The Best Intentions: How a Plan to Revitalize the SBC Accelerated Its Decline,” 2023, p. 83.

Trevin Wax – “The Great Commission Resurgence Debate: A guide to what the Southern Baptist Convention is arguing over today,” June 15, 2010,

Chuck Kelley – “No other decade in SBC history….” – “The Best Intentions,” p. 103.

Chuck Kelley – corporate approach, “epic evangelism crisis” – “The Best Intentions,” p. 190.


Chuck Kelley – “Great Commission Regression,” “The Best Intentions,” p. vii.

Kelley not opposing GCR in 2010 – Email answer to Art Toalston query, Jan. 8, 2024.

Kelley 10-year time frame for evaluation – Email answer to Art Toalston query, Jan. 8, 2024.

Chuck Kelley, “The New Methodists: Reflections on the SBC Today,” Powerpoint, 2009,

Text of GCR evaluation motion provided by Jon Wilke, EC media relations director, Nov. 8, 2023.

Jay Adkins and Bart Barber – “Adkins to lead GCR Evaluation task force study,” Baptist Press, Sept. 13, 2023,

Jay Adkins –  “IMB trustees meet, SBC24 theme announced, and an interview with Jay Adkins,” “SBC This Week,” Sept. 28, 2023,

Bart Barber on GCR declaration – “GCR: Tone, focus, clarity of declaration questioned by non-signers,” Baptist Press, May 5, 2009,

Bart Barber then-and-now statement – email received Dec. 13, 2023.

Church planting chart in “The Best Intentions,” pp. 120-121. Art Toalston confirmed the church planting totals from SBC Annuals for 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021. Information for 2010 was in the 2014 Annual. Chuck Kelley provided information for 2020.

NAMB chart with replanting totals – 2023 SBC Book of Reports, p. 213.

NAMB church planting budget – Chuck Kelley, “The Best Intentions,” pp. 131-132.

10,000 church plants, 10 percent of SBC baptisms – Kevin Ezell bio,

15,000 goal – 2013 SBC Annual, North American Mission Board report, p. 177.

Kevin Ezell: More church planters needed – 2018 SBC Annual, p 189; 2020 SBC Annual, p.151; 2023 SBC Annual, p. 207.

23 percent of non-South baptisms – “Church planting ‘Class of 2022’ pushes Southern Baptists past 10,000 churches planted since 2010,” May 23, 2023,

67 percent still growing — “Growing Southern Baptist churches more likely in Northeast, among newer churches,” Baptist Press, Sept. 22, 2023,

NAMB Multiplication Pipeline – 2018 SBC Annual, p. 191.

Record Annie Armstrong offerings – “NAMB’s Annie Offering Exceeds $70 million, new all-time high giving milestone,” Baptist Press, Oct. 2, 2023,

NAMB budget – received from NAMB representative Jan. 12, 2024.

Chuck Kelley – new church plants drifting from SBC, “The Best Intentions,” p. 122.

NAMB statement received from NAMB spokesperson, Dec. 8, 2023.

Statements from Danny Akin received by email to Art Toalston, Nov. 27, Dec. 12 and 26, 2023.

ACP data re. church plants since 2017 – “Growing Southern Baptist churches more likely in Northeast, among newer churches,” Baptist Press, Sept. 22, 2023,

Baptisms and worship attendance up in 2022 – “Southern Baptists grow in attendance, and baptisms, decline in membership,” Baptist Press, May 9, 2023,

2021 baptism increase in parenthesis – “Baptisms rebound, but negative trend continues in Southern Baptist churches,” Baptist Press, Jan. 23, 2024,

Chuck Kelley – long-term baptisms and attendance decline – “The Best Intentions,” pp. 117-118.

Chuck Kelly – gap between church planting funds and results – “The Best Intentions,” pp. 190-191.

Chuck Kelly’s 1939 comparison – “The Best Intentions,” also pp. 190-191.

Chuck Kelley – GCR proponents love Jesus, “The Best Intentions,” p. 192.

Chuck Kelley – don’t look for heroes or villains, “The Best Intentions,” p. 197.

Chuck Kelley – NAMB can try new ways, but also evaluate, “The Best Intentions,” p. 132.

Chuck Kelley – acknowledge decline, summit conference, new cooperative agreements – email exchanges with Kelley, Sept. 27, Nov. 21 and Dec. 20.

Chuck Kelley – return NAMB to evangelism assignment — “The Dilemma of Decline: Southern Baptists Face a New Reality,” Colter & Co. Press, 2020, p. 52.

Chuck Kelley – restructure NAMB, “Dilemma of Decline,” p. 52.

Kevin Ezell – established churches must lead the way —  “Southern Baptists grow in attendance, and baptisms, decline in membership,” Baptist Press, May 9, 2023,

Jim Elliff Facebook post regarding worship attendance, Dec. 11, 2023,

Jim Elliff on worship attendance at large and small churches, text message to Art Toalston, Dec. 27, 2023.

Jim Elliff on Baptists who rarely attend worship – “Southern Baptists, an Unregenerate Denomination,” June 7, 2022,

Danny Akin – “Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence,” April 16, 2009,

Danny Akin, “bloated bureaucracies” – Baptist Press, “GCR: Tone, focus, clarity of declaration questioned by non-signers,” May 5, 2009,

Danny Akin sermon receives input from Mohler, Hunt, Rainer – “GCR: Akin discusses its history, intent,” Baptist Press, May 5, 2009,

Al Mohler’s 2009 GCR motion, 2009 Southern Baptist Convention Annual, p. 56.


Al Mohler – lead-up to the convention – “GCR: Signers of document say ‘Great Commission Resurgence’ needed,” Baptist Press, May 5, 2009,

Thom Rainer – Conservative Resurgence, less evangelistic — in a chapter titled “A Resurgence Not Yet Fulfilled” in the multi-author book “Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Time,” 2010, published by the B&H Publishing Group of Lifeway Christian Resources, p. 38.

Thom Rainer concern first voiced in 2005 – Keith Harper and Amy Whitfield, “SBC FAQs: A Ready Reference,” B&H Academic, 2018, p. 48.

Danny Akin – Florida Baptist Witness interview – “GCR: Akin discusses its history, intent,” Florida Baptist Witness, May 5, 2009,

J.D. Greer blog – “Why the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCR) recommendations are good for churches of all sizes,”, May 3, 2010,

Jerry Rankin – envisioning GCR – “To All Peoples: The Great Commission and the Nations,” chapter in “Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Time,” p. 222.

Jeff Iorg – envisioning GCR – “North America as a Mission Field: The Great Commission on Our Continent,” chapter in “Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Time,” pp. 229, 238, 243.

Danny Akin – envisioning GCR – “Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence,” chapter in “Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Time,” pp. 357-358.

J.D. Greear, envisioning GCR – “Great Commission Multiplication: Church Planting and Community Ministry,” chapter in “Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Time,” pp. 325, 341-342.

Morris Chapman – GCR critic – “PERSPECTIVE: The downside of the GCTF recommendations – would likely harm the SBC and its Executive Committee,” Baptist Press, June 2, 2010,

David Hankins – holiness, prayer…. – “State execs offer GCRTF their vision, views about SBC,” Baptist Press, Oct. 28, 2009,

David Hankins – structure not pathway to resurgence, boots on the ground – “A Revival of Cooperation for a Great Commission Resurgence,” an address on behalf of State Convention Executive Directors to the Great Commission Task Force, Oct. 27, 2009.

Cooperative Program described – Keith Harper and Amy Whitfield, “SBC FAQs: A Ready Reference,” B&H Academic, 2018, p. 18.

Honor Cooperative Program – “Penetrating The Lostness: Final Report of the Great Commission Task Force of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Component Three: Encouraging Cooperative Program Giving and Other Great Commission Giving,” June 15, 2010,

Morris Chapman – on Great Commission Giving – “PERSPECTIVE: The downside of the GCTF recommendations – would likely harm the SBC and its Executive Committee,” Baptist Press, June 2, 2010,

David Lee on Great Commission Giving – “GCRTF VIEWPOINT: Cooperation missing – states excluded except to raise funds for national entities,” Baptist Press, March 19, 2010,

David Hankins – churches see SBC as ‘another option – “One Sacred Effort: The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists,” B&H Academic, 2006, p. 174 on Kindle version downloaded Jan. 10, 2024.

States asked to send more — “Penetrating The Lostness: Final Report of the Great Commission Task Force of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Component Three: Encouraging Cooperative Program Giving and Other Great Commission Giving,” June 15, 2010,

Chuck Kelley – CP charts from’70s to 2010s – “The Best Intentions,” p. 59.

Chuck Kelley – 40 percent of churches not giving through CP – “The Best Intentions,” pp. 188 & 164.

Chuck Kelley — larger piece of a shrinking pie – “The Best Intentions,” p. 60.

Maryland/Delaware $1 million loss under GCR – “GCRTF VIEWPOINT: Cooperation missing – states excluded except to raise funds for national entities,” Baptist Press, March 19. 2010,  and “Md./Del. Baptists Celebrate 175 years,” Baptist Press, Dec. 7, 2010,

Alabama loss of Cooperative Agreement funds – “GCRTF VIEWPOINT: ‘It would devastate us,’ Ala. evangelism director says,” Baptist Press, March 15, 2010, and “Ala. pares budget, affirms CP unity,” Baptist Press, Nov. 19, 2010,

Chuck Kelley – oxygen out of the room – “The Best Intentions,” p. 172.

Decade-long NAMB evangelistic effort – 2008 SBC Annual, pp. 183-184.

GPS described by Geoff Hammond – “God’s Plan for Sharing in a changing North America,” Baptist Press, Nov. 21, 2008,

Six workgroups, 97 individuals – 2009 SBC Annual, p. 178.

Geoff Hammond resigns, 7-hour trustee meeting – “NAMB’s president 3 others resign after long day of trustee deliberations,” The Alabama Baptist, Aug. 11, 2010,,than%20seven%20hours%20of%20deliberation%20by%20NAMB%20trustees

41 state conventions participating in GPS – 2010 SBC Annual, p. 201.

NAMB downsizing – 2011 SBC Annual, p. 189 and “99 leaving NAMB as part of downsizing,” Baptist Press, July 15, 2022,

GPS phase-out – 2011 SBC Annual, p. 190; 2013 SBC Annual, p. 178; 2014 SBC Annual, p. 184; 2015 SBC Annual, p. 209.

Al Gilbert – NAMB still engaged in evangelism – “FIRST-PERSON: Does NAMB still do evangelism?” Baptist Press, Feb. 27, 2013,

3 Circles – 2015 SBC Annual, p. 208.

Steve Gaines names Evangelism Task Force – 2017 SBC Annual, p. 84 and “Personal soul-winning, evangelism task force named,” Baptist Press, June 15, 2017,

Evangelism task force finalizes report – “SBC evangelism task force finalizes recommendations,” Baptist Press,” May 16, 2018,

Paige Patterson terminated at SWBTS – “SWBTS: Paige Patterson terminated ‘effective immediately,’” Baptist Press, May 30, 2018,

Evangelism task force releases report – “Evangelism task force releases report, recommendations,” Baptist Press, June 11, 2018,

Johnny Hunt, new NAMB VP for evangelism – “Johnny Hunt to lead evangelism, leadership group,” Baptist Press, Aug. 26, 2018,

“Who’s Your One?” campaign – 2020 SBC Annual, p. 150, 153; “‘Who’s Your One?’ Emphasis Launched,” Baptist Press, June 8, 2019,

Greear simulcast to associations – “Greear to launch ‘Who’s Your One?’ with associations,” Baptist Press, Jan. 4, 2019,

Johnny Hunt resigns – “Hunt resigns from NAMB, named in Guidepost report,” Baptist Press, May 22, 2022,

Johnny Hunt admits improper conduct – “Former SBC president Johnny Hunt admits improper conduct but denies abuse claims,” Baptist News Global, May 27, 2022, and “It Was Not Abuse Nor Was It Assault: Johnny Hunt responds to Guidepost Report. Admits to Improper Consensual Encounter,” Church Leaders, May 31, 2022,

Johnny Hunt sues – “Johnny Hunt sues SBC, EC and Guidepost,” Baptist Press, March 19, 2023,

Current NAMB evangelism staff – Email circulated by NAMB, “NAMB Apologetics Resources: Defending the Faith,” Dec. 12, 2023,–SokYbWUhu8hWBenlB2qonuWmtqjbDfNizPPBIoz61jCnLTl6O5NyknwbAgG3f27Te4gfX4UWMJ6CKWtIoB7gDnfwEeg&utm_content=285994926&utm_source=hs_email

Will McRaney-NAMB dispute, Supreme Court appeal – “Supreme Court denies N AMB petition, case remanded to District Court,” Baptist Press, June 28, 2021,

NAMB letter of termination to BCMD – “McRaney v. NAMB: Newly released materials appear to show intent to harm,” The Baptist Message, Nov. 11, 2022,

2nd dismissal of McRaney suit – “Federal judge dismisses McRaney case against NAMB, cites First Amendment,” Baptist Press, Aug. 15, 2023,

Will McCraney to appeal 2nd suit dismissal – “LEGAL DIGEST: McRaney files appeal; FCA chapter reinstated after discrimination,” Baptist Press, Sept. 15, 2023,

Letter by 6 non-South execs – “6 state conventions speak out on NAMB cooperative agreements,” The Christian Index, Aug. 27, 2020,,4742

Mediation by Executive Committee requested – “Urging cooperation, SBC EC issues white paper to NAMB, state executives,” Baptist Press, Jan. 28, 2021,

EC white paper – Ibid., text of the white paper accessed via a link in the story.

NAMB trustee resolution re. EC white paper – “NAMB trustees unanimously affirm cooperation, mission strategy of leadership,” Baptist Press, Feb. 4, 2021,

Alaska votes to withhold CP funds – “The Best Intentions,” pp. 111-112 and “Alaska Baptists vote to withhold CP funds,” Baptist Press, Oct. 2, 2020,

Alaska Baptists & NAMB to have joint projects – Email from Randy Covington, Dec. 1, 2023.

Randy Adams enters SBC presidential race – “Randy Adams announced as nominee for SBC president,” Baptist Press, Jan. 20, 2021,

Randy Adams’ SBTC interview – “‘We need a lot more transparency’: Randy Adams on SBC challenges, nomination,”, Feb. 18, 2020 (2020 is correct),

Randy Adams’ Baptist Press interview – “Adams calls for transparency, ‘new chapter’ in BP interview,” Baptist Press, March 12, 2021,

Randy Adams publishes tabloid – “Adams publishes campaign tabloid, declines specifics of funding,” Baptist Press, June 14, 2021,

Randy Adams loses SBC presidency bid – “Litton elected SBC president in runoff,” Baptist Press, June 15, 2021,

Chuck Kelley – tearing away SBC fabric – “The Best Intentions,” p. 131.

Chuck Kelley – Cooperative Agreements – “The Best Intentions,” pp. 77-78, 81.

David Dockery – bright future for SBC – chapter titled “Convictional Yet Cooperative” in “Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Time,” B&H Academic, 2010, p. 400.

David Hankins – spirit of cooperation among leaders – “One Sacred Effort: The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists,” B&H Academic, 2006, pp. 188-190, on Kindle version downloaded Jan. 10, 2024.

Ronnie Floyd – the centrality of churches – email comments Nov. 13, 2023, in response to questions emailed from Art Toalston.

Great Commission Task Force final report, “Penetrating The Lostness,” Introduction, adopted June 16, 2010 by the Southern Baptist Convention.

Kelley quotes in this report: pp. vii, 59-60, 83, 103, 118, 120-122, 131-132, 164, 172, 188, 190-192, 197.

Kelley quotes in order of appearance in report: 83, 103, 190, vii, 131-132, 122, 118, 190-192, 197, 132, 59, 188, 164, 60, 172, 131, 77-78, 81.