There is a conversation that is getting louder in Southern Baptist circles, and it is one that I am very excited about. The SBC website says we are a network of over 45,000 churches with nearly 16 million members, but the reality is that we have a great percentage of churches that are plateaued or declining. I have seen statistics showing between 70 to 80 percent of our Southern Baptist churches are at this point. Any honest observation would admit there are many sick, dying, or even dead-and-just-do-not-realize-it-yet churches.
Some of you might be asking, “I thought you were excited about this conversation?” I am, and here is why, until we openly and honestly recognize where we are, we have no hope of getting where we desire to be! Please do not get me wrong, we have many strong and vibrant churches, and God is doing some amazing things in our midst. However, a vast majority of our churches are not experiencing such encouraging times.
Until we openly and honestly recognize where we are, we have no hope of getting where we desire to be!
Last Thursday I attended the Church Growth and Revitalization Conference sponsored by the North American Mission Board and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. We met for nearly seven hours together discussing the current state of churches and hearing encouraging stories of how God is moving to revitalize many of His churches in our denomination. Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church Woodstock, Ga., shared passionately from personal experience as a pastor of various types of churches that all experienced different levels of revitalization during his ministry there. Hunt exhorted that leadership is key in the work of revitalization. He urged that we must constantly be “discovering leaders, developing leaders, and deploying leaders.” Michael Lewis, who serves as Pastor for Pastors with NAMB, explained that we certainly should be striving to increase the birth rate of churches, but we have to be diligent in reducing the death rate as well.
I appreciate NAMB committing resources for these types of events. The schedule is being set for next year and you can find more information by clicking here. I would also like to commend Thom Rainer, President of Lifeway Resources, for the contributions he and others at Lifeway are making to this conversation as well. I would suggest to you his personal blog and particularly two recent posts on Very Sick Churches and Four Steps Forward for the Very Sick Church. I am encouraged to see that we are not only discussing problems but are striving to offer encouragement, assistance, and practical help for those who desire to see God bring change, health, and growth.
I am encouraged to see that we are not only discussing problems but are striving to offer encouragement, assistance, and practical help for those who desire to see God bring change, health, and growth.
We at Southwestern are grateful as well for this conversation and had our entire Pastoral Leadership DMin cohort at the conference. We also desire to contribute to the conversation through our DMin program and our Church Vitalization PhD major. We desire to train our students to effectively lead healthy churches, and often that means starting with not-so-healthy churches and leading in revitalization. We need to keep the conversation going!