By H. Al Gilbert
ALPHARETTA, Ga. – God works through His people, the Church. The Bible makes it very clear. The local church is central in God’s plan to move the gospel throughout the world. That’s why the evangelism teams at the North American Mission Board (NAMB) are geared to encourage and extend the ministries of the local church.
We believe in the continuum of church-every evangelism effort should be rooted in and flow back into the local church. NAMB’s role becomes clear in the light of this conviction.
North America needs more churches. This may not be apparent in your community but it is clear when we look at the density and diversity of our cities-especially outside the South region. In many places Southern Baptists must plant more evangelistic churches if we want to proclaim Christ and disciple new believers in every place in North America.
Many established churches need help. As we learn from the challenges of church planting in the cities, we can better serve established churches struggling with how to share Christ in a changing and diverse culture. We are committed to discovering best practices for effective ministry and sharing these approaches with Southern Baptist churches and partners.
NAMB’s evangelism teams are encouraging the local church through:
- Church Revitalization. Research indicates that only 10-15 percent of SBC churches are healthy and multiplying. What can be said about the 85-90 percent of our churches that are plateaued, declining or at risk? There may be other factors but many of our churches have lost their spiritual health and outreach focus. That’s why NAMB has placed Revitalization in the Evangelism Group. Working with conventions and local Southern Baptist partners, we encourage struggling churches to refocus. We are also coming alongside dying churches to offer a vision of starting something new by replanting as a Legacy Church.
- LoveLoud. Historically, churches have built relational and evangelistic bridges through mercy ministries. Increasingly, churches across our denomination are renewing their commitment to this way of engaging their communities. Our LoveLoud team is working to identify and highlight churches effectively serving and sharing Christ. We encourage every church to engage in “ministry evangelism.” New life, found in the gospel, can bring restoration to neglected neighbors, neglected communities and neglected children. We encourage churches to join this movement of meeting significant human need while sharing Christ.
- Evangelism Networks and Resources. We are actively working with our partners to provide tools and strategies for churches to use in evangelism and discipleship. NAMB is preparing a new tool that will help pastors teach their members how to enter into gospel conversations. We are encouraging churches in evangelism training, ethnic networks, apologetics, interfaith witnessing, the Evangelism Response Center, Crossover, etc. For instance, our GPS: God’s Plan for Sharing emphasis for 2014-15 is “Serving Across North America.” We are praying that churches will discover new ministry opportunities as they engage in a Day of Service or Season of Service in their communities.
NAMB’s evangelism teams are extending the local church through:
- Chaplaincy. We help extend ministry into areas where local churches might not have ready access. Chaplains seek to represent Christ on U.S. military bases and in deployment situations throughout the world. Chaplains also serve in prisons, hospitals and in other institutional settings. Our chaplaincy ministry endorses chaplains and encourages them as they share Christ where most pastors and churches can’t. Additionally, we are beginning to see the potential of new church plants in communities near military facilities.
- Disaster Relief. For decades, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers have responded in times of great human need with practical help and the love of Christ. NAMB serves in a coordinating role when disasters require multi-state response and maintains relationships with national government and relief entities. We seek to extend the reach of Southern Baptists who represent Christ and share the gospel. In some cases new churches emerge as people respond to the gospel in the midst of their heartache. We are committed to extending help, healing and hope when meeting physical needs in disaster settings.
- Collegiate Evangelism. Currently there are 21.7 million students on college campuses in North America. Our collegiate evangelism team is seeking to accelerate a movement to reach students with the gospel and catalyze a discipleship movement that encourages every student to share their faith. Many college students are being mobilized for mission service as they answer the call of God. Outside the South Region, we are seeking to foster a church planting movement around college campuses.
The Great Commission was given to every believer and every church. It is exciting to work together with you-encouraging and extending the ministry of the local church-seeking to share the good news of Christ with every person in North America.
Al Gilbert is vice president for evangelism at the North American Mission Board.