In 1924 the Southern Baptist Convention was faced with a crisis of conscience?how best to reach the rapidly changing population of the United States, a circumstance prompted by migration within its borders.
Baron DeKalb Gray rose to the occasion as corresponding secretary of the Home Mission Board, appealing for “a successful missionary endeavor among a field unmatched in opportunity anywhere.”
“They are in our midst, in our homes, in our fields, and by every consideration of Christian motives must be given the best services we can command. To neglect them is to neglect a large and most vital part of our citizenship. To help them is at once to help ourselves and our country,” he reminded. “We must help them or the curse of God will rest upon us.”
The written version of his report began with the heading, “Brighter Skies,” which led into updates on “A Wonderful Year’s Work.” Gray then closed by facing the facts of “New Adjustments.”
Gray marshaled Southern Baptist troops to assess the new reality of the world in which they lived, addressing “The Great Migration” of 1.3 million African Americans who had relocated to the North.
Eighty-five years later the condition of North America still captivates the hearts of Southern Baptists. Nearly a fourth of the Cooperative Program (CP) allocation budget goes through the North American Mission Board (NAMB).
NAMB “assists Southern Baptists in their task of fulfilling the Great Commission in the United States, Canada and their territories through a national strategy for sharing Christ, starting churches and sending missionaries, in cooperation with Acts 1:8 Partners.” That priority was demonstrated by the founding of the Domestic Mission Board the same year the SBC was organized in 1845, remained urgent during a new wave of immigration and westward frontier expansion, and still today dominates the conversation at mission-focused gatherings.
With three of four people in North America having no personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the task of reaching such a vast continent for Christ is daunting, NAMB reiterates on its website.
Hundreds of Southern Baptist leaders representing state conventions and local associations, along with church planting and evangelism specialists, gathered in late August to review their strategy.
The NAMB president sought to rally troops with the news that Southern Baptists are planting a church every six hours?half of them ethnic and African-American congregations. Still, the pace must increase to keep up with an additional 400 million people in the U.S. over the next 35 years and another quarter million people added to Canada’s population annually.
North American missions must be cross-cultural, reproducible, indigenous, and must use multiplication, not simple addition, in order to reach the continent’s estimated 255 million non-believers, the NAMB leader said. The recently piloted nationwide evangelistic strategy known as GPS?God’s Plan for Sharing?is flexible enough to contextualize to each particular mission field, whether rural, suburban, or urban.
The four components involve praying, engaging, sowing and harvesting. (Details are available at nei2020.org.)
With a complex network of partners at the local church, association, state convention and national entity levels, there’s no doubt the work of reaching North America for Christ will continue at NAMB despite the recent departure of its president. (Related article on Geoff Hammond: page 12.)
But the yearlong study by the 23-member Great Commission Resurgence Task Force could prompt changes in how NAMB operates in the future.