Editor’s Note — This is part 2 of 5 in a series of stories related to Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd’s Vision 2025 proposal that will be voted on at the SBC annual meeting in June. To read part 1 and follow the series, visit tabonline.org/vision2025.
Bottom line for how to achieve Action Step 2, according to SBC/NAMB leaders: more churches focused on sending, supporting and praying for church planters.
As Southern Baptists consider a new five-year initiative to reach “the world for Jesus Christ — every person, every town, every city, every state and every nation,” entity leaders are seeking to add 5,000 new churches to help turn concerning church trends around.
In February 2021, SBC Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd — in partnership with entity leaders — announced an ambitious challenge called Vision 2025 that consists of five “strategic actions.” One of them focuses on seeing an increase of 5,000 churches in the next five years, expanding the number of Southern Baptist churches from about 47,000 to more than 50,000.
When Floyd first announced Vision 2025 in February 2020, the plan called for 6,000 new SBC congregations, rather than the 5,000 announced in February 2021. The number was changed based on projections following the pandemic, said Jonathan Howe, vice president for communications for the SBC Executive Committee.
Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, told Baptist Press, “I know of no better way to bring His presence into a community than with a new, evangelistically focused church. We have to stay committed and focused on planting gospel-proclamation outposts where they are needed most in North America.”
To reach the goal, NAMB leaders suggest adding 1,250 new congregations each year — 600 of those as new church plants, 200 as replants, 100 as new campuses and 350 as new affiliations.
Churches who agree with the faith, practice and mission of the SBC, intend to cooperate with the SBC and contribute financially in some way to SBC causes may affiliate with the SBC.
In 2019, NAMB reported a total of 552 new church plants, 59 new church campuses and 297 affiliations, which accounts for a total of 908 congregations.
The total number of new congregations started each year has declined since the high of 1,781 in 2004, with the exception of an uptick in 2008 (see chart below).
Attempting to compare the numbers isn’t as easy as it once was because church plants and new affiliations were reported together prior to 2010 when NAMB went through a “major recalibration” in how they reported their church planting numbers, noted NAMB’s vice president of communications Mike Ebert.
Affiliations are pre-existing churches that have now decided to “affiliate” with Southern Baptists. They might have been a different denomination or non-denominational but now have taken the step to become a Southern Baptist church.
“There was no distinction, so we don’t know how many affiliations are reflected in the new plant count prior to 2010,” he explained.
In addition, NAMB now requires more details about a church plant before it can be counted — SBC ID number, a name of the plant, an address and name of the planter.
Previously, NAMB reported a total of church plants by adding up the numbers provided by individual state conventions, Ebert said.
“The SBC ID requirement is especially important because prior to that, it was easy to double or triple count a church plant,” Ebert told The Alabama Baptist. “Some states reported the same plant for several years in their count because it was still in the process of being planted. Some states also had a wide latitude in what they considered a plant — Bible study groups in some cases. This is not a criticism; it’s just the way the process worked because NAMB required so few details.”
Because of these changes and efforts to “raise the bar on our assessments,” Ebert noted, NAMB believes this has helped them see an “80% survival rate at four years right now with church plants.”
According to NAMB’s latest figures (2018), an average of 900 churches close their doors per year.
According to past studies, Ebert said, only about half of the churches reported as closures are actual closings because some churches merge with other churches or leave the SBC.
Others reported as closing are part of correcting errors in the database.
The number of churches removed from the SBC list in 2019 and 2020 hasn’t been reported yet, according to NAMB.
Calling all church planters
According to the latest NAMB figures, there are 2,218 missionary units — 2,041 being church planter units.
Ebert noted the pre-2010 numbers included both the missionary and spouse. Today, each number represents a unit, which could mean a single missionary or a married couple.
With the COVID-19 pandemic slowing things down and various missionary sending events canceled in 2020, this year’s number is down from the 3,057 NAMB reported last year.
NAMB officials also note they have 3,720 chaplains that have been endorsed by the entity, which brings the total missionary unit and chaplain count to 5,938.
“The big need is for more qualified church planters,” Ebert said.
“We have the resources to plant. As Kevin [Ezell] often says, we could plant 100 more churches this year [if we had the church planters]. It’s really a matter of calling out the called, as Dr. Floyd is trying to address as well, and bringing more church planters out of our churches.”
Ezell, NAMB’s president, told The Alabama Baptist that “for this part of Vision 2025 to become reality, we must have more churches willing to become directly involved. We need more that will become sending churches and supporting churches. We need more who will be committed to praying.”
And NAMB has seen progress during the past 10 years in its “Send cities” throughout North America.
These are major metropolitan areas where before there may have only been one or two Southern Baptist churches.
But today, new church plants have popped up throughout these cities — like Chicago, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Denver, New York and many others. And churches started since 2010 account for 11% of all churches in the SBC and report 18% of all SBC baptisms.
NYC planting experience
New York City church planter Chris Mills says he connects regularly with about 20 other church planters in the Manhattan area.
This network, he noted, has provided needed support in a city that has been rocked by shutdowns and restrictions because of COVID-19.
“We’re all going through the same things at the same time and all planting,” said Mills, who was planning to launch One Community Church in Hell’s Kitchen with his wife, Sarah, in 2020. But they had to delay and are looking to officially launch in early 2022 following a year of focused community outreach.
“[The Send Network] fellowship alone has been life-giving to me,” Mills added, “just knowing I’m a quick phone call, a quick subway ride away to someone who knows all the frustrations that I’m carrying and all of the dreams that I’m carrying.”
In a neighborhood where a church building is on the market for $20 million, finding an affordable space to meet regularly can be a little more challenging than in other parts of the country, Mills noted.
“We’re still in that space of trying to figure it out but when we do, we will more than likely find a community space here in our neighborhood,” Mills said. “Until then, we may be doing [various outreach efforts and events] in the park.”
Hoping to rebound
NAMB is hoping for a rebound in the next year as church planters like Mills are able to move forward with their plans to launch in the months or year ahead.
Ezell noted, “2020 was an incredibly difficult year in many, many ways … but I am so proud of the way church planters responded. They saw the ministry opportunities within the crisis.
“One advantage church planters have is that they have already taken on a role that is exceptionally difficult,” he said. “Most people would never jump into a task like starting a new church. It is filled with risks and challenges.”
Meanwhile, Floyd reported March 31 in his Advancing the Vision email that the SBC is making strides in expanding the number of non-Anglo or ethnic minority congregations.
More than 60% of new church plants in the past five years have been non-Anglo or multiethnic, he said, noting 22.3% of all SBC congregations fall in this category.
Ethnic minority congregations have grown by 7,992 congregations since 1990, an increase of 223%, Floyd added.
“Through collaborative partnerships, cooperation and generosity, our churches advance the good news of Jesus Christ to the whole world,” Floyd said. “This vision is unlimited when we focus on this global mission together.”