By Will Hall, Baptist Message executive editor
VANCOUVER, Wash. (LBM) – Executive directors representing five Western state conventions and a Midwestern one have written a passionate letter, Aug. 12, 2020, addressed to Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, and his trustees, as well as the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee and its president, Ronnie Floyd, repudiating what they describe as a lack of partnership in the new “Strategic Cooperative Agreement” that NAMB presented to “non-South Baptist state conventions, dated June 26-30, 2020.”
The six leaders include Randy Adams (Northwest Baptist Convention), Bill Agee (California Southern Baptist Convention), Joe Bunce (Baptist Convention of New Mexico), Randy Covington (Alaska Baptist Resource Network), Jack Kwok (State Convention of Baptists in Ohio) and Chris Martin (Hawaii-Pacific Baptist Convention).
Saying “we work most effectively when working in collaboration and harmony, especially in our non-South states where the local context and cultures of our mission fields can vary so significantly,” they described NAMB as becoming increasingly centralized and unilateral in its strategies and relationships with state conventions, adding “we are convinced the results reveal diminished fruitfulness, and guidelines. In spite of this, we have greatly reduced staff and state-directed ministry to provide Cooperative Program funds to the national SBC.”
They specifically objected that the new agreement “leaves state conventions with little or no role in the assessment, supervision, or evaluation of church planters or statewide personnel” and that “evangelism funding through state conventions has been frozen since mid-March.”
The letter further stated that the new arrangements meant that “evangelism funding from NAMB in our annual operating budgets would be reduced by half in 2021 and then eliminated in the years following” because of the uncertainties in the SCA.
NAMB now controls $50 million previously used by state conventions for evangelism and church planting prior to Ezell’s arrival at NAMB. Since he implemented new centralizing strategies in these areas, baptisms among Southern Baptists have plummeted from 349,737 in 2009 to 235,748 in 2019 and church plants have plunged from nearly 1,256 in 2009 to just 552 last year, according to data in the Annual Church Profile archives and information recorded in SBC annuals.
“Tens of millions of dollars that were once part of funding church planting and evangelism through non-south state conventions is now part of NAMB,” the state executives explained. “An agreement that reflects little collaborative partnership and that promises much reduced investment in state strategies, offers little value to our state conventions. As a result of these and other concerns, many of us feel the proposed agreements are simply not in our best interest. Indeed, after years of attrition, many of us believe our longstanding partnerships with NAMB may finally be coming to an end in any meaningful sense.”
In subsequent email communications among state executives, Adams explained that Ezell amended the original agreements “when he was informed many were concerned.” But Adams added that “it did not change the fact that non South conventions will essentially have no funding, and no substantial partnership, by the end of 2021. The exception to this is that the agreement states that grant funding would be available for approved projects, which are quite narrowly focused.”
Summarizing the position of the six state convention leaders, the letter noted “we must be ready to do what is necessary to support the ongoing work of the churches in our home states who look to us for contextualized assistance in church planting, evangelism, and missions.”