Longtime readers of this blog will remember a post from last April 23rd called News That Bothers Me. Everything I said in that post still applies to this year and I won't rehash it. Just follow the link and read it again for a refresher.
Here is the bad news. With the publishing of the newest ACP is is official, The Southern Baptist convention baptized fewer people for the fourth consecutive year, and for the second year in a row overall membership has declined. This is very bad news and it really bothers me. What follows is a bit of commentary on the subject.
I do not want to overanalyze the convention, but I do want to maybe diagnose it based on what I know.
I will begin with a bit of optimism. I am very encouraged by the movement towards a great commission resurgence. I suggest all Southern Baptists go to the website and read the resolution. Sign it if you are so inclined.
Secondly I'll say this, I am sure that there are no churches that purposefully avoid evangelism. Every SBC church I know anything about would say that evangelism is a key tenet of the faith; that evangelism is necessary. I believe that what happens is that there are a lot of necessary functions of the church, and it is easy to get distracted by finances, politics, and internal issues so that we find ourselves dealing with these things rather than witnessing.
I also believe that most preaching is gospel preaching. I believe that the message of hope in Christ rings from most SBC pulpits on any given Sunday. Admittedly however, Churches have less impact within their communities than they once did.
Why then do I think the convention is declining?
I believe that, at the core, this problem is really a youth problem. I am not just saying that because I am a youth minister. What I mean is that there is a problem with the graying of congregations. When a church has less youth and children it will baptize fewer people. It's that simple.
Who do we blame for this graying of the church? We certainly don't blame the children who cannot come to children's church when parents won't bring them. Do we blame those young parents? Maybe we blame the young parents' parents. They obviously didn't instill in them the importance of passing on the faith to the next generation. Maybe we blame the church and its old-fashionedness, or its out-of-touchness. Maybe we blame the publishers of the hymn books. Don't they know that hymns are too boring to be worthy of worshiping the 21st century God? Maybe we blame all the hypocrites. You people should be ashamed of yourselves. :-)
I said last week that I think a worldview problem is responsible, in large part, for the lack of evangelism. People have accepted the idea that there can be no claim to religious truth. Acceptance of this world view has lead to the graying of churches. Why pass on what you believe about the world and salvation to come if it is no more true than whatever your children decide to believe? When parents fail to teach their children about God they teach them that God doesn't matter.
Although the culture is shifting further from Christianity, one thing I'm sure of is that the basic problem is not a failure to relate to culture. In fact I believe that we have just the opposite problem. We are far too worldly and far too culture-driven. Do you honestly think the people in the 50% of SBC churches that baptized no one in the last year would not be able to have a conversation about American Idol or CSI: Montpelier with their lost co-workers? Look at the books on your shelves, or the DVDs you have. Are they products of the out of touch church? Not likely. They are almost certainly products of the culture we live in. And they almost certainly teach messages that you would disagree with.
Another thing I'm sure of is that the problem is not that the message of Christianity is irrelevant. In fact, the message is inherently relevant. There simply is nothing more important to the lives of people than the peace, hope and purpose that comes from knowing Christ. What was our President's campaign slogan? One four-letter word - HOPE. That message was incredible powerful and popular. That fact should tell us something. People are looking for hope. Christianity, or rather, Christ offers real hope that won't fade. Hope in the government is pointless and will ultimately fail, but the hope from our salvation is real.
Do I have any solutions for the depressing news at the beginning of this post? The same ones I had last year.
Take this test.
- Do I know somebody who doesn't know Jesus?
- Do I know somebody who doesn't know Jesus that I haven't witnessed to?
- Do I love this person?
If you answered yes to these questions, you are officially part of the reason for this news story. I have been deeply convicted lately that I don't witness enough. And I wanted to share.
Thanks for reading and feel free to comment.