http://www.abpnews.com/www/835.article.print Associated Baptist Press Southern Baptist missions suffering under NAMB's leadership, report says By Joe Westbury and Greg Warner Published: February 16, 2006 ATLANTA (ABP) -- The number of career missionaries funded by the North American Mission Board has dropped 10 percent since 1997, according to a newspaper report, despite promises the restructured Southern Baptist agency would expand the mission work in America. The decrease is among a number of efforts by NAMB that have failed to meet expectations since the Southern Baptist agency was formed in 1997, according to a news analysis by the Christian Index newspaper. Both NAMB and the Index are based in the Atlanta area. Bob Reccord directed the massive Southern Baptist Convention restructuring effort in the mid-1990s and later was tapped to lead NAMB, the centerpiece of the new denominational structure. But NAMB has not lived up to its promises, the Index reported, and Reccord's leadership has raised concerns among Georgia pastors and former employees. Other NAMB shortcomings cited by the Georgia Baptist paper are: -- A lack of a consistent evangelism strategy, illustrated by the failure of two national evangelistic campaigns. -- A loss of momentum in church-planting efforts. -- The outsourcing of jobs to a secular company started by a friend of Reccord's, while NAMB employees were laid off. -- Potential conflicts of interest between Reccord's role as head of NAMB and his moonlighting ministry as a speaker and author. -- A drop in NAMB cash reserves from $55 million to $23 million. NAMB officials dispute most of those charges, which they say distort the facts and ignore successes. The Index analysis looks at the North American Mission Board since it was formed in 1997 by combining three Southern Baptist Convention entities. The report concludes that, while NAMB has accomplished much, it has failed to produce the anticipated results. NAMB announced in January 2000 that it had reached the SBC's Bold Mission Thrust goal of 5,000 missionaries in North America. But the actual number of missionaries on the field depends on how you count them. The number of long-term, NAMB-funded missionaries has actually dropped since 1997, the paper says, while self-funded volunteers now make up more than half of the missionary total. NAMB regularly claims that more than 5,300 North American missionaries are funded through the SBC's Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. A closer look shows only 2,942 are long-term missionaries funded by the offering. The remaining 2,422 -- or 45 percent -- are self-funded volunteers who serve through NAMB's Mission Service Corps. When the Mission Service Corps was founded in 1977, its workers were categorized as volunteers. To avoid any confusion, the Home Mission Board (NAMB's predecessor) included them in the total missionary count but kept the volunteer designation. Volunteers had to serve a minimum of two years before they were listed in the missionary personnel count. NAMB, on the other hand, removed the volunteer status, lowered the service requirement to only four months and commissioned them as full-fledged missionaries -- which blurred the line of who's who in the headcount. Meanwhile, the number of NAMB-funded career missionaries has actually declined by 329 since NAMB's first year -- a drop of 10 percent -- while the MSC volunteers have jumped by 827, or 34 percent. NAMB acknowledged the number of non-volunteer mission workers -- what NAMB calls "career" and "limited-term" missionaries -- has declined since 1997. In a statement released to Associated Baptist Press Feb. 16, NAMB said the drop is explained by the rising cost of health benefits, a rash of recent early retirements, and the inability of state conventions to fund many jointly appointed missionaries. But NAMB said the agency's classification of missionaries has been handled consistently and openly. "There is absolutely no deception in the way these missionaries are categorized or reported," the statement said. As for Mission Service Corps volunteers, "we are proud of the fact that we recognize these dedicated servants’ commitment and calling by referring to them as 'missionaries,'” NAMB said. In January 2003 NAMB announced the launch of the most extensive evangelistic campaign in SBC history. It was billed as the denomination's response to the widespread soul searching which the nation was experiencing following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The "What Now?" campaign, tailored for both the United States and Canada, was built on a three-year strategy for personal revival and spiritual awakening. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent on the publication of leadership materials by NAMB and state conventions that were gearing up to prepare their laity for the campaign. But the campaign failed to coalesce. Halfway into the effort, funding was pulled. But that important decision was not uniformly communicated to state conventions. And some state papers, like the Index, continued to publicize the national campaign for nearly a year after its demise. In response, NAMB officials said the agency's representatives apologized for any confusing communications and explained NAMB discontinued the campaign, at the behest of state conventions, in order to avoid confusion for the local church caused by a number of SBC national initiatives. The biggest holdover from the campaign -- a one-year goal of a million baptisms -- was resurrected last summer when SBC President Bobby Welch, who sensed a lack of emphasis on evangelism, launched his "'Everyone Can' Kingdom Challenge." But in the June 2005 -- during the same SBC annual meeting when Welch was launching his million-baptism theme -- NAMB unveiled a new, improved evangelism initiative. Reccord announced the new "Who Cares?" campaign would begin in the fall of 2005 with a variety of television commercials dealing with life issues. But as of mid-February, eight months after it was announced, there is still no sign of a campaign. No billboards. No newspaper ads. No radio or television spots. NAMB said Feb. 16 "Who Cares?" was not another campaign but simply media support for the SBC-wide effort. Chuck Allen, NAMB chief operating officer, said the rollout had been delayed due to the Gulf Coast hurricanes, which overloaded NAMB staff with other responsibilities. But the campaign was not being produced by NAMB staff but outsourced to InovaOne, a contractor with ties to Reccord. That arrangement would not have affected NAMB's personnel responding to the hurricanes. But in response, NAMB said its staff would have been involved in every step of "Who Cares?" implementation. InovaOne, which was already producing NAMB's video coverage of disaster relief, did not have adequate staff to operate on both fronts. Something had to give, and it was the evangelism launch, according to Allen. At the June 2002 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, Reccord gave a progress report on the first five years of the agency's existence. The committee leading the SBC restructure anticipated $34 million in savings during those early years. "I'm here to tell you we didn't make it; we surpassed it, … redirecting to front-line ministries a total of $40,387,000," he said. The redirected funds, he said, made possible Strategic Focus Cities church-planting and evangelism efforts ($14.1 million), the Nehemiah Project ($7.3 million) to train church planters, and other ministries. But the efficiencies in those early years have not carried over to future years, the Index said. Meanwhile, NAMB has drawn down the cash reserves it inherited from the former Home Mission Board in 1997, despite lower overhead than the HMB. At its founding, NAMB had a $55 million cash cushion for emergency operating costs. The balance is now $23 million, a decrease of $32 million in seven years. NAMB has apparently swung between periods of erratic belt tightening and loosening. For example, in August 2003 it announced it was trimming its 2004 budget by 6 percent, eliminating 31 positions and reducing program support due to a softening economy. But the following year, when staff was being asked to do more with less, NAMB launched the first of five college leadership conferences called Elevate. NAMB confirmed to the Index that the 2004 conferences lost more than $600,000. But rather than canceling the two conferences scheduled for 2005, the first conference was held at a loss and the second was cancelled. A fifth conference in the series, set for next month in Atlanta, has already been cancelled. Another expenditure was the creation of a high-tech walk-through exhibit called the Vision Center, which was constructed in NAMB's lobby. Modeled after a similar interactive information center at Focus on the Family, the three-dimensional, interactive experience of sight, sound, and touch using ultra-realistic professionally designed sets was built, sources say, at a cost in excess of $1.2 million. The exhibit debuted in 1999 as the crown jewel of NAMB's early years. But the repeat crowds failed to materialize and the center was shut down four years later. A look at church planting numbers shows a period of less than stellar growth for NAMB, given the efficiencies that were expected, the Index reported. SBC church planting increased slowly yet consistently for the eight years prior to NAMB's launch. Under NAMB, congregational starts have been on a roller coaster ride. Its most recent year shows an increase of 132 church plants from the Home Mission Board's final year of 1996. The most significant increase was for the years of 1999 and 2000 following Reccord's announcement of providing an additional $2 million for church planting and evangelism. When those one-time funds were put on the field, results were almost immediate -- church plants jumped 258 to a record 1,747 in the first year and baptisms jumped 12,078. But when the funds were depleted, the momentum ceased and growth came to a standstill, the Index reported. The agency disputed that assessment. NAMB officials said the last eight years included five of the highest years of church planting in SBC history. In its eight years of existence, NAMB has averaged 277 more church plants per year than in the last eight years of the HMB, the statement said. NAMB officials said they were "extremely disappointed" with the Index's article, which they said was timed to cause "maximum damage to North American missions," coming just before the annual Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. "The article clearly was not intended to be an objective review of NAMB and its accomplishments and disappointments, but a highlighting of a few programs where we failed," officials said. -- Steve DeVane contributed to this article.