NOTE: I’ve been discussing this issue with Marty King of LifeWay over the last couple of days. His response on behalf of LifeWay is attached below. While we are not seeing this the same way, I am appreciative of LifeWay’s responsiveness and willingness to talk these things through.
World Changers has been coming to Sioux City, Iowa as long as I have lived here (7 years) and for some time before that. When you minister outside of the established SBC states, in what are now called “new work” states, you come to appreciate ministries like World Changers. Southern Baptists struggle for credibility here, battling impressions and prejudices people have formed. One of the most significant things that has happened in Iowa Baptist work is the Disaster Relief response during our 1993 mega-flood and during subsequent disasters. When Baptists show up doing practical ministries like these, there is a credibility established that helps us all.
World Changers has done that in Sioux City. The powers-that-be in the city (and South Sioux City, NE) know what World Changers is and love it. Southern Baptists have established a presence here and developed credibility in the community. Every year there would be a feature in the paper and news reports on our local stations about the work being done. In the neighborhoods in which the teams work, people are amazed and thankful that young people would come from all over the country to Sioux City to work on their homes. We have sent out evangelism teams and shared the gospel in neighborhoods where work was being done.
A couple of days ago, we got word that World Changers was no longer going to serve Sioux City.
We are not happy with this decision and I understand that there are others in places that World Changers used to serve and no longer will that are as befuddled, bewildered and saddened by this decision as we are.
The Crux of the Issue
Obviously, LifeWay cannot serve everyone. There cannot, at this point, be a World Changers in ever town in America. And they have the right to set their priorities and go where they wish to go; where they feel they will get the best return on their missions investment. But I have asked LifeWay privately, and now will ask again publicly, to reconsider what they are doing. Here is the heart of the issue:
World Changers, according to my research, is leaving behind ministries in new work states and focusing more on old-line states where SBC work is already established. When I voted for (and promoted) the GCR, we were told that one of the reasons for this was to focus on the “new work” states and emphasize them more in ministry. The opposite seems to be happening. It seems to us that the trend at World Changers is to lessen involvement in New Work states and focus on the established states.
Just the Facts, Dave
I did a little bit of numbers crunching at the World Changers website.
- In 2012, there were 88 World Changers sites listed on the website. Of those 88, 25 took place in new work states, in Canada, or in Puerto Rico. That is 28.4% of the sites outside the established SBC states.
- In 2013 (after the changes) there will be 84 sites according to the site. Of those, only 16 are in new work states or Puerto Rico. That is 19%.
Note: LifeWay argues that West Virginia is a new work state and should not be considered as part of the established SBC or old line states. I am continuing to consider them as a Southern state in both years’ statistics – they are, after all, south of the Mason-Dixon line. LifeWay has also presented me with different figures on the 2013 sites. However, I rechecked and at this writing (2:50 CDT on 9/6/2012), the website agrees with my numbers, not theirs. Obviously, they could change the website at any time.
That seems to me to be a significant drop. From 25 sites to 16. From 28.4% to 19%. But even more interesting is a look at what sites were eliminated and what sites were added.
- World Changers eliminated ministries in Hawaii, Iowa, New Mexico, Wyoming, New York (2 sites in 2012) Michigan, Vermont and Canada (2 sites). Anyone see a trend there?
- In addition, there were reductions in ministries in California (3 sites to 2), Illinois, (3 sites to 1) and Alaska (2 sites to 1).
- There will be no World Changers ministry this coming year in the Northeast, in the Upper Midwest, in the Plains states, in the Mountain states or in the Southwest (not including Texas).
Where did program increases occur?
- Alabama went from 9 projects to 12 projects.
- Arkansas increased from 4 to 5.
- Georgia increased from 6 to 8.
- Louisiana increased from 2 to 5.
- Tennessee increased from 4 to 7.
- Missouri increased from 3 to 5.
- Oklahoma increased from 1 to 2.
- Mississippi increased from 2 to 4.
- West Virginia increased from 2 to 4.
For the record, I do not regret a single one of those increases. If World Changers has the same effect in those cities that it has in Sioux City, I hope that they continue to add cities in the South. My regret is that they are adding cities in the South while they are eliminating ministry in cities in the North, Midwest, and West.
Are the needs in Birmingham, Alabama greater than the needs in Sioux City, IA? There are 8 projects in Birmingham next year. Good for Birmingham. But could they have gotten by with six or seven, and the programs in Iowa, Wyoming or New York might not have been eliminated? There are going to be 8 projects in Georgia. Couldn’t there maybe have been a couple less and World Changers could still minister in Vermont or Michigan?
Every one of those project is important in Mississippi and Tennessee and North Carolina. But I want you to know how much good those programs do in Iowa, in Wyoming, in Michigan, in New York – in the places where Southern Baptists are seen as outsiders invading foreign soil.
Why Are They Doing This?
The stated reason in the press releases that have come out is that they want to focus more on cities. We have also been told that one of the main reasons places like Sioux City and Casper, Wyoming were eliminated was travel costs. I’m sure they had their reasons.
I am not saying that the Student Ministries leaders at LifeWay are evil people or that they do not care about ministry. But I am asking that they reconsider this decision. Does it have to be either/or? Can we not keep some ministries in big cities and still go to places where this ministry has such a powerful effect by giving credibility to isolated Southern Baptists and our small churches.
I really don’t like confrontation or fighting. That is why CB Scott used to call me Huggy Bear Dave. But I agreed to run as 2nd Vice President at least partially to advocate for Baptists outside the SBC-dominant regions. That is what I am doing here. We feel something like the Hellenistic widows of Acts 6, that we are being overlooked in the distribution of ministry.
Good folks at LifeWay, leaders of the Student Ministries department, I ask you to reconsider this decision to pull back from World Changers ministries in new work areas to focus on more ministries in the established SBC states. We need the ministry of World Changers in Kansas and Nebraska, in Utah, in Wyoming and Montana and Idaho, in New York and Vermont and I can tell you from my own experience, we could sure use it here in Iowa.
I hope you will reconsider your decision.
It should be noted that World Changer’s sister program, called Power Plant, designed to aid in church planting, is indeed focused on large cities most of which are outside the SBC’s stronghold areas. I applaud that. However, I am focused on World Changers, because it is different from Power Plant. World Changers helps in building credibility in a city by practical love and service. I’m sure Power Plant would be a great program, but in areas like Sioux City, World Changers is what we need.
2013 World Changers and PowerPlant will reach new work and old line states
By Marty King, LifeWay Christian Resources
Thank you, first of all, Dave, for your concern for reaching Iowa and the other states that are typically referred to as ‘new work states’ by the SBC. Obviously, we share that passion which is why LifeWay offers programs and resources like World Changers and PowerPlant.
We’re also appreciative of the approach and tone you’ve taken in your post. You give credit where it’s due, but take issue where you disagree and have concerns, even citing statistical information to support your views. And, you’ve invited LifeWay to respond. THIS is the way discourse and discussion should be conducted among brothers and sisters in Christ.
We have announced changes in the World Changers and PowerPlant programs for next year. Change is hard, especially when it impacts us. Deciding to discontinue World Changers and PowerPlant weeks in any community – large or small, north or south (east or west), World Changers or PowerPlant – is difficult for our Student Ministry team. But, as you acknowledge, “there can’t be a World Changers in every town in America.”
But, I assure you the changes we’ve made do not “leave behind ministries in new work states (to focus) more on old line states.” I appreciate your attempt to compare the 2012 and 2013 schedules, but there are so many factors that make the comparisons apples to oranges. For instance, some weeks listed on the 2012 schedule were not held because they didn’t fill up. Other weeks are not being repeated in 2013 because the local association or state convention said they weren’t ready to repeat. Those and other factors make it difficult to compare.
But, I can tell you that while we’ve dropped 13 cities in new work states next year (including yours, unfortunately), we’ve also dropped a 12 cities in old line states. And, even though we’re adding 11 weeks of World Changers in 4 old line states next year, we’re also adding 21 weeks in 8 new work states.
It’s simply not true that we’re moving out of new work states to bolster old line states. In fact, 42% of all World Changers and PowerPlant projects in 2013 will be in old line states.
World Changers projects do tend to be more in the southern states (73% old line states and 27% in new work states), but PowerPlant is the opposite. 87% of PowerPlant weeks are in new work states.
One change we are making is that we’re attempting to follow the North American Mission Board’s lead in focusing more on larger cities as we attempt to have a larger impact by staying longer in the great lost metropolitan areas of our country – a concept much at the heart of the Great Commission Resurgence. But, a quick review of the 2013 schedule shows we’re not abandoning smaller towns and cities like Neptune, N.J., Cherokee, N.C., Bonne Terre, Mo., and Winston, Or.
So, I’m afraid we need to decline your request to “reconsider this decision to pull back from World Changers ministries in new work areas to focus on more ministries in the established SBC states” because, simply, we’re not doing that.
We will, however, make two commitments to you, Dave, and to any others concerned about these issues:
1. We will continue to review and evaluate our World Changers and PowerPoint schedules, being sensitive to yours and others’ concerns, in order to provide the most effective mission experience for the participants and the communities where they’re held.
2. If there are communities interested in exploring the prospect of coordinating their own World Changers’ type program, as you’ve suggested Sioux City might be, our staff will assist them in any way possible, such as sharing processes, programs, policies and procedures that we’ve found effective.
Again, thank you for sharing your concerns and your audience with us Dave. We would appreciate everyone’s prayer support for our staff as they continue to call students to the front line of missions.