by David Roach
NASHVILLE (BP) — Recruiting existing churches to cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention is among the components of convention president Ronnie Floyd’s strategy to extend the reach of SBC missions and ministries.
One of three challenges Floyd issued to the SBC Executive Committee in a mid-February address was “to call forth other churches to come into our family and cooperate with us to finish the task of advancing the Gospel to every person in the world.”
Because “our mission is becoming so clear that we are here to reach the world for Jesus Christ, I believe there are churches all over America who have an interest in becoming a part of our network of churches called Southern Baptists,” Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, said.
“… What if we begin to call forth churches aggressively and outwardly, ‘Come and be a part of who we are and cooperate in reaching the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.'” Floyd asked.
There may be hundreds or even thousands of non-Southern Baptist churches in America, Floyd said, that affirm the doctrines articulated in the Baptist Faith & Message, admire the SBC’s methods of doing missions across the world and would be willing to help finance that work.
The Executive Committee’s office of convention communications and relations helps potential Southern Baptist churches understand the convention’s beliefs about doctrine and polity by sending inquiring congregations a packet of information that includes the BF&M and an explanation of what it means to be a “cooperating” church. In 2014, the EC staff sent out approximately 70 packets of information and conferred with an additional 25-30 churches about becoming Southern Baptist.
According to a document in the EC’s information packet, “A cooperating church is a church that freely and gladly identifies as a Southern Baptist church, affirming its willing cooperation with the Convention’s purpose, missions, and ministries and providing regular financial support for the Convention’s work as part of the church’s adopted budget.”
The SBC Constitution stipulates, “The Convention shall consist of messengers who are members of missionary Baptist churches” in “friendly cooperation with the Convention and sympathetic with its purposes and work.” Each cooperating church must be “a bona fide contributor to the Convention’s work.”
Messengers to the SBC annual meeting in Columbus this summer will take the second of two required votes on an amendment to the SBC Constitution that would define a church in friendly cooperation as having “a faith and practice which closely identifies with the Convention’s approved statement of faith.”
Since 2000, 2,860 existing churches have begun to cooperate with the convention, according to the 2014 SBC Annual and data provided by the North American Mission Board. That translates to an average of 204 churches per year with a high of 452 in 2001. The convention keeps no records of whether churches also cooperate with other denominations, so some newly cooperating congregations may maintain other denominational partnerships.
Floyd told Baptist Press in written comments, “Due to the exciting work of our churches that is being expressed through our Great Commission ministries of the SBC and our clear direction to advance the Gospel to the nations, I believe there may be many churches that might have a strong interest in becoming a part of our network of churches.”
Church recruitment ‘promising’
Another advocate of recruiting churches to the SBC is Adam Groza, vice president of enrollment and student services at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. He did not grow up a Southern Baptist but came into the convention after friends told him about the SBC’s commitments to the inerrancy of Scripture, local church autonomy and global missions. Now he encourages others to become Southern Baptist as well.
Groza has helped guide churches in California and Arizona through the process of becoming Southern Baptist — a process that generally involves cooperating with a state Baptist convention and a local association as well as the SBC. Churches may elect to support SBC ministries directly by sending their contributions to the EC, but the EC encourages congregations to support Southern Baptist missions and ministries by sending Cooperative Program gifts through their Baptist state conventions.
“The goal of church recruiting is to connect with churches that share our Baptist theology and principles but who are unaware of the tremendous benefits of the Cooperative Program,” Groza said, referencing Southern Baptists’ unified method of supporting missions and ministries in North America and across the globe.
“Some of these like-minded churches are nondenominational and others may be a part of a denomination that has moved away from the clear teaching of Scripture. Southern Baptists should adopt a cumulative approach to growing and strengthening the convention that includes evangelism, church planting, church revitalization but also church recruiting. Especially in the West, church recruiting represents a significant opportunity for denominational growth,” Groza told BP in written comments.
Church recruiting “is especially promising in urban areas outside the southern United States,” Groza said. “There are churches in areas such as San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston and Seattle [that] may be very open to becoming part of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Groza acknowledged some churches may want to cooperate with the SBC merely to receive a tuition discount at the convention’s six seminaries, but he sees that as a poor motivation. The EC is contacted “on occasion” by churches wishing to make a “minimum contribution” to become eligible for tuition breaks at a CP-supported seminary, according to the information packet sent to inquiring churches.
“Cooperation only works because there is a theological foundation,” Groza said. “For the sake of our cooperation, churches must be properly vetted to ensure basic agreement with important Baptist principles. Any church that would join a denomination without agreeing with its core principles, for the sake of a tuition discount, displays an alarming lack of integrity.”
Recruiting on the state level
Cecil Seagle, executive director of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, has fielded queries from churches that want to become Southern Baptist only to receive a seminary tuition discount. He has returned CP gifts to at least two such churches.
But Seagle has a “keen sensitivity to those [churches] who are of like-minded persuasion” and are seeking avenues for ministry partnership, he told BP.
“If you’re talking about me going on a recruiting mission, I’m not going to do that,” Seagle said. “If you’re asking me, ‘Are you open and are you active in pursuing Kingdom conversations with like-minded people?’ the answer is, I am neck deep in that.”
One way a church can begin cooperating with the Indiana convention is to partner with a local Baptist association and then be voted into fellowship with the state convention based on the association’s affirmation. Alternately, a church can begin partnering with the SCBI by submitting to the convention’s process for credentialing at-large congregations.
The at-large credentialing process requires a church to affirm the BF&M, fill out a form regarding specific doctrinal beliefs, declare its intention to participate in state convention ministries and vote as a congregation to partner with Indiana Baptists. After those steps are completed, a church can be received into fellowship.
Churches that cooperate with the SCBI typically cooperate with the SBC as well.
One congregation to begin cooperating with the SCBI within the past year is Castleview Baptist Church in Indianapolis. After giving $500 directly to the SBC Executive Committee in 2011-12 and $400 in 2012-13, Castleview decided to begin cooperating with the SBCI based on two years of conversations with Seagle and other leaders.
Castleview also began cooperating this year with the Crossroads Baptist Association in Indianapolis. The church now hosts a portion of the SCBI’s church planter assessment process and anticipates giving more than $10,000 through CP in 2015.
SCBI leaders have had a “rich journey” with Castleview, Seagle said. The congregation is “good. It is strong. It is dynamic and highly cooperative.”
Recruiting on the associational level
Jack Long, director of missions for the Beulah Baptist Association in Union City, Tenn., also has seen churches become Southern Baptist, including ethnic congregations.
In 2005, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, an African American congregation, began cooperating with the Beulah Association as well as the Tennessee Baptist Convention and the SBC. Three years earlier, just before Long arrived in Union City, another black church began cooperating with the association, TBC and SBC.
“I think there are a lot of African American churches that have been somewhat independent or have been affiliated with National Baptists, who are seeing the benefits of what the Southern Baptist Convention and the local association can provide them, who are already theologically like-minded,” Long told BP.
To begin cooperating with the Beulah Association, a church must affirm the BF&M, adopt it as the congregation’s doctrinal statement and be mentored by a sister church for one year. Following the mentorship, a church can be received into fellowship upon recommendation of the association’s credentials committee.
No church seeking fellowship with the Beulah Association has refused to affirm the BF&M, but Long remembers one instance when a church was not received into an association where he pastored based on the congregation’s inability to affirm the BF&M’s statement on the eternal security of believers.
Long believes cooperating with Southern Baptists could be a valuable ministry tool for many like-minded congregations.
“Sometimes folks feel God’s call to plant a church,” Long said. “They go out there, they plant it and they realize, ‘I can do a whole lot more [by] fellowshipping with other like-minded people.’ And many times they are baptistic.”
“Join our family”
Floyd, in his address to the EC, acknowledged the need to recruit churches supportive of the SBC’s confessional statement and methodology. He believes there are enough such churches to make a tangible difference in the convention’s efforts to fulfill the Great Commission.
“What if we begin to call forth other churches in America to join our family, cooperating with us in our grand task of reaching the world; and they do it because they biblically believe as we do and are willing to believe and confess with us our Baptist Faith & Message 2000; and missiologically believe in the way we are reaching the world with the Gospel and they want to join us; and cooperatively believe in the way we finance our vision and they help us support our vision and mission of reaching the world for Christ.” Floyd said.
“What if there were a few hundred of those churches in America or even a few thousand churches in America who biblically, missiologically and cooperatively wanted to be a part of our family,” he said.