JACKSON, Tenn. – March 15, 2010 – An ailing denomination needs the recommendations from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Great Commission Resurgence Task Force as a starting point in returning to health, Union University President David S. Dockery said March 15.
“The SBC is in decline, churches are struggling, denominational loyalty seems to be a thing of the past and fragmentation rather than cooperation seems paramount,” Dockery said. “Business as usual cannot continue.”
Dockery, a member of the GCR Task Force charged with studying the denomination and making a proposal about what should be done, gave a status report on the task force’s work to Union faculty, staff and students in the Carl Grant Events Center. Though the idea of a “Great Commission Resurgence” became a discussion at the convention level in recent months, Dockery said that in many ways a similar idea came out of conversations at the first Baptist Identity Conference held at Union in 2004, and those conversations intensified after the second such conference in 2007.
Greg Thornbury, dean of the School of Christian Studies at Union, said Dockery’s own work in recent years – including his book “Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal” and a booklet called “Building Bridges” that he co-wrote with Timothy George – helped to pave the way for the expanded interest in the “Great Commission Resurgence” concept in the SBC.
“Long before there was a formal discussion of Great Commission Resurgence, David Dockery has been working for consensus and seeking renewal in Southern Baptist life,” Thornbury said. “His expansive knowledge of Baptist history combined with his keen insights as a great institutional leader make him an invaluable resource in the life of our denomination at this time.”
The 23-member GCR Task Force was formed after the 2009 annual meeting of the SBC in Louisville, Ky., in response to a motion from the floor. The group’s responsibility was to help Southern Baptists refocus on the Great Commission.
Such a refocusing is necessary, Dockery said, because the SBC “is not very healthy.” He cited statistics as evidence: In 1950, with a U.S. population of about 151 million, the SBC had 28,000 churches. In 2008, with a U.S. population of 306 million (or more than double what it was in 1950), the SBC had about 45,000 churches. In 2008, SBC churches had 34,000 fewer baptisms than they did in 1950.
In addition, about 70 percent of SBC churches are at a plateau or on the decline. Accompanying the statistical decline is an inadequate understanding of the “lostness” of the world, Dockery said. With a world population of about 6.8 billion people, some estimates indicate that more than 5 billion people have little access to the gospel message. Nearly 6,000 people groups have no access to the gospel at all.
Given this state of affairs, Dockery said a “new sense of urgency is needed along with new priorities for funding and strategies, including changes in structure if needed.” The convention as a whole also needs to repent of its complacency and fragmentation, the Union president suggested.
Dockery then presented the proposals from the GCR Task Force, which can be summarized under the following components:
1. Churches of the SBC must adopt a new missional vision and renew their commitment to reaching a lost world with the gospel.
2. The SBC should adopt a new set of eight core values to shape a new denominational culture: commitment to Christ-likeness, to the truth, to unity and working together in love, to relationships, to trust, to future generations, to the local church and to the kingdom of God. If the SBC is going to be successful in taking the gospel to the world, it will also need partners outside of the denomination, Dockery said.
3. Refocus the work of the North American Mission Board.
NAMB’s ministry assignment list has grown too long and lengthy, Dockery said, and the GCR proposal would reduce NAMB’s priorities from 11 to five: church planting in major cities, evangelism, discipleship, pastoral leadership and disaster relief.
Two-thirds of the SBC’s ministry in the United States is done among one-third of the population, and NAMB’s work needs to shift to the cities where greater numbers of people live, Dockery said.
Under the proposal, NAMB would continue to work closely with state conventions, but would rethink cooperative agreements over the next several years. Doing so would help NAMB become more of a missions-sending organization and less of a funding entity. Dockery emphasized that this change needs to be done with careful consideration of the needs in the various state conventions, especially the newer work conventions.
4. Provide the International Mission Board with the freedom to reach unbelievers without any geographic limitations. This would allow the IMB to work with unreached people groups in the United States, as well as internationally.
5. Move Cooperative Program field promotion and stewardship education responsibilities to the state conventions, while giving the Executive Committee oversight for that work.
The Cooperative Program is the mechanism by which Southern Baptist churches pool their resources to fund mission work around the world, and is the most significant program of its kind in the history of Christianity, Dockery said. The GCR proposal calls for the SBC to reaffirm the CP as its central means of supporting its ministries, while emphasizing cooperation and participation in the process.
6. Develop a trajectory that will allow more CP funds to go toward global missions. Of all the CP money sent to the SBC’s Executive Committee, 50 percent of those funds are then sent to the IMB. The task force recommends increasing that to 51 percent by 2012, and that the SBC investigate ways to increase the giving even more in the future.
The reason this is needed, Dockery said, is because the IMB has about 600 people ready to serve as missionaries, but doesn’t have the money to send them.
The task force gave a progress report to the SBC’s Executive Committee in February, and Dockery emphasized that “it was not the final report.” The final report of the task force will be completed in May, with messengers to the SBC annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., in June considering the proposals.
“May God help us, grant us wisdom and give us a new heart for taking the gospel to the nations,” Dockery said.