|WOODSTOCK, Ga. (BP) -- More than 2,000 church planters, pastors and other Southern Baptist leaders -- triple the number originally predicted -- attended the North American Mission Board's Send North America Conference at First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga.
"It's a brand new day for the North American Mission Board," NAMB President Kevin Ezell said as he welcomed the attendees. "Our national strategy is Send North America, which is not only about church planting but also evangelism and church revitalization."
A key intent of the conference was to help mobilize churches to the North American mission field so they can have a more personal connection to and involvement with church planters. Those attending included more than 300 pastors and more than 600 church planters.
NAMB originally planned for 800 at the July 30-31 event, but registration eventually topped 2,200. The meeting drew attendees from all 50 states, Canada, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
NAMB's Aaron Coe, vice president for mobilization and equipping, told an enthusiastic audience that the conference was about only one thing: Jesus.
"This is a historic night as we kick off this conference," Coe said. "It's been in the making for nine months. There are people in this room from many tribes across the Southern Baptist Convention -- denominational representatives, state convention partners, church planters and churches. But this conference isn't really about church planting. It's about Jesus."
Coe shared NAMB's goal: the net gain of 5,000 new SBC congregations across North America by 2022, while seeing the church "death" rate -- on average about 890 churches a year -- reduced through aggressive church revitalization.
"Send North America is not just a big church strategy, it's an every church strategy," Coe said.
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, kicked off Monday night's program as the conference's first guest speaker.
"In the last 10 years, the number of self-proclaiming Christians has declined by 10 percent," Stetzer said. "I don't have to tell you that the world is growing more hostile to the message we bring."
Stetzer quoted Christian author Phil Yancey, who claims in principle it's already "Saturday" on planet earth. But Stetzer told the church planters, pastors and others that "we are not sharing Christ and planting churches like we need to do if it is indeed Saturday."
Louie Giglio, founding pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, asked attendees, "Has the resurrection worn off in me and you? Are you still flipping out that Christ is alive? Because if you're not, don't plant a church."
Workshops throughout Tuesday covered topics such as "Reaching the Nations in North America," "Knowing Your Mission Context," "How to be an Effective Sending Church" and "Rural Church Planting." Other topics covered evangelism, bivocational pastoring and planting. A separate track featured content for minister's wives.
In his message during a general session, Johnny Hunt, pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Woodstock, reminded those in attendance that "oftentimes, we don't need more instruction. We just need more encouragement in what we've already learned."
Hunt, a former SBC president, said church revitalization is his personal passion, along with church planting.
"As D.L. Moody said, unless we stab American cities in the heart with the Gospel, we will lose this country," Hunt said. "In addition to planting new churches, sometimes we need to revitalize existing churches."
Representing NAMB, Hunt soon will lead revitalization conferences in eight states.
Vance Pitman, one of many pastors who have learned from Hunt, challenged those at the conference to see God's bigger story at play in the world. Pitman launched Hope Church in Las Vegas just two weeks after 9/11. The church was a plant of First Baptist Woodstock.
"Why aren't Baptists planting churches like they should?" Pitman asked. "We need to get so broken over this world and get on our faces on the floor before God. We don't need to come up with a plan and take it to Him. His plan is better than ours." Continued...