During the past decade, Southern Baptists have planted 8,200 churches throughout North America, comprising nearly 17% of all churches in the denomination, said Kevin Ezell as he presented NAMB’s annual report June 15 at the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.
Still, each church plant and each baptism points to the “power of one,” believes Ezell, NAMB president.
“It all comes down to the power of one — one ministry opportunity, one church or church plant, one person,” Ezell said, referencing NAMB’s Who’s Your One? emphasis.
The power of one
During Ezell’s presentation, a brief video highlighted the story of Chris Carrier. As a 10-year-old boy Carrier was kidnapped, stabbed, shot in the head and left to die in “alligator alley” in Florida. Carrier survived the ordeal, and his attacker ultimately was arrested and convicted.
Joining Ezell on the annual meeting stage, Carrier described how God used the ordeal to “draw me into the gospel.” For years, people would ask Carrier what he would say to his attacker if ever given an opportunity to speak to him. God used those questions and conversations “to sanctify my heart for a reunion,” Carrier said.
Twenty-two years after the attack, the reunion happened. Carrier met his attacker, who was dying in a nursing home. It was a reunion, although awkward, that Carrier described as “simply two men seeking the grace and the presence of God.”
Carrier shared the gospel with his attacker, and the man, on his deathbed, “prayed to receive Christ.”
God used a horrific event to change lives, Ezell said, encouraging attendees to identify their one person who needs to hear the gospel.
Reaching North America
God continues to change lives, one person at a time, in North America as Southern Baptists are faithful to share the gospel, Ezell believes.
“The gospel unites us, convicts us and compels us to move forward,” he said.
As an animated slide of North America showed 8,200 dots representing the past decade’s church plants, Ezell reminded attendees that each “dot” represented a face of someone reached with the gospel.
Among the 8,200 church plants in North America over the past decade, many are in the U.S. while others go beyond our country’s borders. In Canada, 54% of all current Southern Baptist churches have been planted since 2010, he said, with those congregations reporting more than 50% of baptisms there. In Puerto Rico, where no churches had been planted in about 20 years, 16 churches have been planted since 2016.
Even in the past year, “some of the most trying times for our world in recent memory, your North American Mission Board missionaries, church planters, chaplains, evangelists and staff remain focused every day on sharing the gospel across our continent,” Ezell said.
In 2020, Southern Baptists planted 588 churches and reported 143 new affiliations and 126 new campuses, for a grand total of 857 new Southern Baptist congregations. About 60% of church plants in 2020 are ethnic or multiethnic congregations.
“We are truly a diverse family of new churches,” Ezell said, adding that NAMB has translated and contextualized all church-planter resources into Spanish.
In his remarks, Ezell emphasized that NAMB does not plant churches but, rather, “churches plant churches.”
Beyond the yearly counts of church plants, NAMB, he said, is committed to “equipping those church-planting churches to start strong, evangelistic, healthy churches.”
He also pointed out that the biggest challenge is “the need for more church planters” and that NAMB provides free materials to address the need and to support church planters “on the frontlines.”
Southern Baptist giving to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering totaled $49.5 million in 2020, even amid the pandemic.
“Because of that steadfast giving, we were able to keep every missionary on the field, proclaiming the gospel everywhere for everyone,” Ezell said.
Following his report, three annual meeting attendees presented questions to Ezell concerning NAMB’s salary structure, the training of church planters on the issue of abortion and how much money NAMB spent to request assistance from the U.S. federal government with Send Relief resources.
Regarding NAMB’s salary structure, particularly in regards to Ezell’s salary, NAMB trustee chair Eric Thomas assured attendees that Ezell is a “model of faithfulness when it comes to stewardship.” To answer the question about training church planters on the issue of abortion, Ezell stated, “I’m absolutely against abortion,” and added that he had not identified abortion as an issue among church planters. Finally, Ezell stated that he did not have readily available specific information to answer the question about expenditures used to request Send Relief assistance from the federal government but said that he would provide the information at a later date.