A Southern Baptist panel released on Monday the final draft of a report that is expected to set the nation's largest Protestant denomination on a new course.
With the denomination in decline, the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force is challenging the Southern Baptist Convention to adopt a new compelling vision for the sake of its future and the billions of lost people in the world.
"I hope that you will hear our heart cry that we have seen this lostness and we're pleading for us to get on our knees together and refocus," said Al Gilbert, senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., and a member of the task force. "It will take time but at least we can say we need to do better."
Delegates of the 16 million-member convention will consider the report and a set of recommendations made by the task force in June. The upcoming vote is viewed as a significant one that could steer the denomination toward radical change.
"What are we voting on? The future of the Southern Baptist Convention, whether or not the Great Commission really matters, whether the Southern Baptist Convention is willing to have a climate for change," said Dr. Ronnie Floyd, chairman of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, in a recent panel discussion at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Floyd believes the number one thing lacking in the SBC is a compelling vision and what the task force is presenting is just that.
The report, he said, offers a missional vision of presenting the Gospel to every person in the world and making disciples of all nations.
"That's the only thing that can bring us a unity for the sake of the Gospel," he said. "When that brings us together, surely there is a way that churches and Christian will begin to mobilize in a more effective way to make the Great Commission happen."
The task force was appointed last year with the charge of bringing a report and recommendations concerning how Southern Baptists can work more faithfully, aggressively and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission. The charge came as membership in the SBC began to dip in recent years, the number of baptisms has continued to fall, and missions giving has been down.
Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a member of the task force, contends that the denomination has been losing ground since the 1950s. And change is needed.
"Times are changing," he said. "The coming generation is very missional minded. They have grown up in a world filled with lostness and they want to see something done to penetrate that lostness."
He submitted, "We can work together and change now with less pain or you can wait 10 years from now when, this is my opinion, you will experience significant decline in Cooperative Program giving that will force you to make those hard decisions in a more painful way.
"Let's be proactive. Let's get ahead of the curve."
The Cooperative Program, launched in 1925, was established to enhance and channel giving to missions at the domestic and international levels and to other denominational programs and entities such as seminaries. But today, local Southern Baptist churches have only been giving an average of six percent of their collected offerings to the program.
J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., recognizes that younger churches and younger Southern Baptists are not as excited to give to the Cooperative Program as the older generations because they're no longer looking to the convention for leadership. Many of the younger churches are choosing to contribute directly to missions.
Stating it bluntly, Akin said Southern Baptists and churches simply need to give more. Only 27 percent of evangelicals give 10 percent of their income to the work of the Lord, he lamented.
"That's shameful and pathetic," he said.
Obviously, the task force cannot force anyone to give more or do anything else, Akin acknowledged. But the panel can challenge Southern Baptists to rethink and reprioritize what they are doing for greater effectiveness for fulfilling the Great Commission, he said.
Along with the call to adopt language and structure that would enhance the Cooperative Program, the report offers a list of other recommendations, including a call to repent and the reinvention of the North American Mission Board – the domestic mission arm of the SBC – among others.
Greear reminded Southern Baptists that a Great Commission Resurgence is already happening. The question is, is the SBC going to come in line with that or let it bypass the denomination, he said.
A Great Commission Resurgence is not expected to happen overnight in the SBC, the task force acknowledged. But adopting the report and its recommendations this summer would be the first major step toward getting there.