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Maybe this will help… (or the BGCO pt. 2)

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This is not primarily about the BGCO annual meeting, but I am following up on some stuff from there.

I have been seemingly driven to a point of amazing clarity about the reality of our world and the ability of us – Christians, Baptists, any other number of smaller collectives – to reach that world.

When I went to observe New Bethany Baptist Church in Buford, GA (Pastor, Marty Duren), one of the unique things being done there was that the staff was studying a book together and they discussed it after the calendar portion of staff meeting. The book they were reading was “UnChristian” by David Kinnaman and the Barna Research Group. A couple of weeks ago, Marty called me and told me to drop what I was reading, pick up that book and read chapter 4. That was eye opening.

Some amazing things were revealed to me. Primarily, though, that the things we often do as “evangelism” are actually counter productive. Check this quote from a section of myths and realities (pg. 71).

Myth: Anything that brings people to Christ is worth doing.

Reality: When you are talking dollars, there is no price too high for a soul. But the problem isn’t just cost. In our research with some of the leading “mass evangelism” efforts, we found that often these measures create three to ten times as much negative response as positive. [emphasis Kinnaman] In other words, imagine your church is considering mailing Bibles or videos or other Christian materials to homes in your community. Our research shows that the “collateral damage” of doing so – those whose impressions of your church and of Christianity would be more negative as a result – is significantly greater than the positive impact on those who will respond to these efforts. Moreover, such mass evangelism efforts are most effective with marginally churched adults, while outsiders are usually the ones who respond most negatively.

In other words, our effectiveness is with people who are already church members, but who don’t attend. So we can get them to switch to our church and not attend there. Brilliant. On the other hand, the backlash among lost people means that the things we often do in the name of evangelism actually serves to distance the lost further from the Gospel.

Hmmmm.

Then, I went to the BGCO and heard something about us declining. I have received confirmation from Randy Adams – prompt and very helpful – of the decline of Southern Baptists. Here is a quote from an article that was published in the Baptist Messenger (OK’s Baptist Paper):

In 1980, baptisms recorded by Oklahoma Baptist churches totaled 24,803. In 2005, that total had decreased to 15,916, a decline of 36 percent. When examined in five year increments, one discovers that the decline has been quite consistent over the 25 years, with largest drop occurring between 1980 and 1985. Even more telling is the fact that Oklahoma’s population has increased by 17 percent over the same period, a total of 522,594 people. Thus, the decline in baptisms is approximately 50 percent when population growth is considered. That means that we are baptizing half as many people today, as a percent of the population, than we did twenty-five years ago.

The numbers are even more telling when examined by age-group. The decline is steepest in the 18-29 age grouping, dropping from 6,226 baptisms in 1980 to 2,184 in 2005, a sickening 65 percent decline. Next is the 9-11 age-grouping, where baptisms have dropped from 4,687 to 2,798 for a 40 percent decline. In the 12-17 age-group the decline is 7,014 baptisms to 4,282 for a 39 percent decline. Among the 30-59 age-group the decline begins to flatten out at 12 percent, from 3,792 to 3,322. The only areas of increase in baptisms are those under six years of age, with a seven percent increase to 148 baptisms, and those over age 60, with a 13 percent increase, totaling 676 baptisms.

Upon hearing this, the fire that was being kindled in my mind about our ability (or lack thereof) to reach the lost had begun to be fueled. On top of that, I was directed by some church members to an article in the Tulsa World, Southern Baptists: New Law Won’t Change Ministry, about a resolution I was proud to support. The resolution was basically that we would put the Kingdom first when ministering to the lost – regardless of their situation. This is in response to HB 1804, which is designed to combat those who employ or aid illegal immigrants. The problem is that churches that “minister” to illegals could potentially be prosecuted for doing so – or that is the concern, anyway. The gist of the resolution is that we support the government, but ministry is our command in the Kingdom and the Kingdom (and the people to whom we are sent) are our first priority.

The interesting thing about the story is that it gives a bullet list of other resolutions at the end of a very positive piece and readers who are now allowed to comment take the opportunity to absolutely trash Southern Baptists, until one or two step in and mention the Disaster Relief work that Souther Baptists do. Check ‘em out. It’s eye opening.

As a result, I prepared my Sermon for this week: All Things to All People. Obviously, it is about giving up our rights to spread the message in a way that is comfortable to us. We are, in fact, compelled by Scripture to spread the message in a way that is effective at the sacrifice of our comfort.

At the end of the evening on Saturday, I was finishing up my power point when I went to check on my wife, working on a Grad School project. She was watching a You Tube video and it was, to be blunt, challenging to the core.

I want the video to be the last thing in the post so let me write my conclusion first. The world, our culture, is running away from us at light speed. It isn’t coming back. If we don’t drop every hint of baggage right now and sprint toward the future, we will be irrelevant before we know it. It is hard to recognize this reality, because life is still a lot like it was 50 years ago – lights, indoor plumbing, cars, phones – or even twenty years ago – microwave ovens, home computers, etc.

Anyway, we must recognize that we are rapidly changing. We can’t row a boat in an airplane age. In fact, we need to recognize that water, in this analogy, no longer exists, and boats only cause us to look insane to those around us. Don’t believe me?

Watch this:

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19 Responses to “Maybe this will help… (or the BGCO pt. 2)”


  1. David Rogers
    on Nov 19th, 2007
    @ 8:25 am

    Art,

    I was just saying to my wife yesterday: It would be interesting if someone did a study showing what churches are baptizing the most adults per member (not total baptisms, but per member), subtracting out the Presbyterians, Methodists, etc. that were already born-again before becoming Baptist, and those that grew up in the church. Maybe, someone has already done this study. It would also be interesting if there were some way to measure who is really making lasting, growing disciples of these people. Sort of like the recent Willow Creek research that showed they had not been doing as good a job as they had hoped.

    Anyone aware if this research exists, and how to get ahold of it?

    Also, kudos to Oklahoma Baptists for the resolution in resonse to HB 1804.


  2. Marty Duren
    on Nov 19th, 2007
    @ 10:08 am

    Art-
    This is the kind of post that I’ve thought for a while was in you. Perhaps someone could reconfigure the ending of the video to direct similar questions toward local churches rather than school boards.


  3. David Phillips
    on Nov 19th, 2007
    @ 11:11 am

    Art,

    This was a great post! And like Marty, I’ve seen this coming…I’ll add a couple of additional thoughts…

    Good book called America Alone about how we are barely able to reproduce ourselves. We are averaging 2.1 births/family, which is just barely means we are reproducing who we are as Americans. Contrast that to Europe, which is about 1.1-1.3 births/family and muslims in those countries which are reproducing at a clip of 4.0-4.5 births per family.

    Dan Kimball, in They Like Jesus but not the Church, speaks to how we are loosing 18-30 year olds. We are missing at least one whole generation in the church.

    The only state in the US where Christianity is growing? Hawaii, despite the mega-churches in TX, GA, TN, FL, etc.

    The most churched city in the US (and maybe the world)? Dallas, but it has not changed how people live, act or speak.

    The fastest growing religion in the world? Christianity, just not in western culture.


  4. Paul Burleson
    on Nov 19th, 2007
    @ 8:11 pm

    Art,

    A mind-blowing, spirit-stirring, myth-destroying, future-challenging confluence of thoughts and words on this post. You are to be commended…and I do so.


  5. jasonk
    on Nov 19th, 2007
    @ 9:01 pm

    Good stuff Art. I saw this video at a sales conference in Vegas a couple of months ago.

    In our city, there is a church that is reaching people. Everyday, the pastor does a little blurb on several radio stations, all secular. He doesn’t preach, he just tells a little story, makes the connection, challenges people. Then he says, “I’m Tom Harrison, and these are perceptions from Asbury United Methodist Church.” According to one national magazine, Asbury is reaching more people than any church in Oklahoma, and they are the sixth fastest growing church in America. They are conservative, Bible based, and have a strong emphasis on evangelism. They are reaching scores of people aged 18-50.

    I sell for a living. I hate cold calling, because automatically people suspect that you are insincere when you make an unsolicited call to them. A referral is better, at least you are calling for a specific purpose. I never miss calling a referral–it is usually money in the bank. I especially never miss a chance to close a deal when someone walks into my office and asks for information. I would have to be an idiot to let that one slip through the cracks. I work hard to never miss a deal like that. What kind of a salesman would I be if I failed to close most of the deals that walk through my door? What kind of salesman would I be if I never called those people back?

    A few years ago, I visited a church in Tulsa. Twice. My family was searching for a church home. We went, filled out the visitor card, placed it in the offering plate, and went home. We never got a phone call from them. No visit, no letter, no post cards. Six weeks ago, we visited a church here in Sand Springs. Again the same thing. Then after six weeks, we received a letter from the church thanking us for attending their Halloween event. Of course, we had not attended their Halloween event. Five weeks ago, we visited a church, and that week we received a letter from the staff, thanking us for the visit, and asking our opinion of how we enjoyed our experience. I was impressed.

    Maybe we’re not reaching people because we are so concerned about the people who are not coming through the doors, we ignore the ones who do. Or maybe that’s a good place for churches to start. Start with the ones who are interested.


  6. Lu
    on Nov 19th, 2007
    @ 9:05 pm

    All I can think to say is Wow. Preach it, bro. And, Amen.

    Not a very profound response I realize. But, man. That was good. And also what I’ve been thinking for a long time, but so much better than I could ever say it.

    Thanks.


  7. Kevin Bussey
    on Nov 19th, 2007
    @ 9:40 pm

    That was an interesting video.


  8. Gary Snowden
    on Nov 20th, 2007
    @ 8:43 am

    Art,

    Excellent post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts as well as the video. Speaking of the video, here’s a link to a similar one that is also quite powerful – courtesy of Real Live Preacher.

    Keep up the good work.


  9. Art Rogers
    on Nov 20th, 2007
    @ 10:43 am

    David Rogers, that would be an interesting study, but I don’t know of anyone who has even the inkling to try it.

    Marty, David P., Kevin, Paul and Lu, thanks. DP – those are some interesting stats, and certainly add to the equation.

    Marty, I’m afraid that you can’t touch the video, as it is under a Creative Commons copyright. It does, however, relate to my previous allegation that churches and schools are facing similar shifts and the solutions, I think, parallel.

    Jason, You have put me in a difficult position. I want to critique your comment, but don’t want it to sound as though I am dissing a sister church in the area. With assurances of no offense… I would want to know if the people in this rapidly growing church are new in the faith. Has Asbury reached truly lost, never churched people, or have they been very successful in capitalizing on the marginally churched that respond positively to mass evangelism, such as radio ads? Honestly, and again, with no desire to offend, I suspect the latter. Which means that the “collateral damage” of such ads is – according to Kinnaman – 3 – 10 times as much as your “growth.” That is not good. I honestly believe that you are reclaiming some de-churched souls, and that is a good thing. It is (if the research is accurate and I do believe it) at too high a cost to the never churched, completely lost.

    Gary, Obviously it is a good video that explains the shift in the way we process information. It doesn’t quite give as good a picture of the overall cultural shift that is now happening globally. Or glocally, as Bob Roberts might describe it.


  10. jasonk
    on Nov 20th, 2007
    @ 2:06 pm

    Thanks Art, I’m sure you can say whatever you feel you need to, without the fear of offending. Asbury is probably too big to care, and I don’t attend there anymore. We left Asbury almost a year ago to help a smaller church with their worship service. Recently my wife and I decided to dip our toes back in the SBC, because we missed the clarity. So no offense taken here.
    My experience with Asbury is that it is all of the above. Yes, they are reaching the marginalized–those people who have fallen through the cracks. In doing so, they are finding a lot of lost people. But they are also doing deliberate evangelism, and reaching people daily. I love what they do, and how they do it. Before you can become a member of the church, you must have attended a class that spells out the mission of the church, and you must have met one on one with a pastor, who asks you point blank about when you personally accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior. If you cannot tell them that you are genuinely saved, you do not join the church until that happens. It is pretty ingenius, since it seems that so many people want to be members there.


  11. Billy Edwards
    on Nov 20th, 2007
    @ 5:31 pm

    Art,
    Check out Reggie McNeal – especially The Present Future…sounds a lot like Kinnaman.


  12. Phil Ratliff
    on Nov 20th, 2007
    @ 6:29 pm

    One thing I do not wish to forget. Do any of you in the Tulsa area know if Frank Fouch is around? He is a dear friend whom I served with when we had the state ASSIST teams. Last I heard he was at Emmanuel Baptist.

    I am working on our church Purpose and Mission statement. The above description of Asbury caught my attention. We keep enlarging our mission and purpose statement. I know we are in both the salvage (reaching the lost) and the reclamation business (reclaiming those that fall through the cracks), but so far our best purpose statement is “We exist to make him known” using II Corinthians 5:14-21; our mission statement is “To know him (discipleship) and to make him known” (evangelism/missions) using Philippians 3:10.

    Any help would be appreciated.

    Only By His Grace,
    Phil Ratliff, pastor
    Alameda Baptist Church, Norman.


  13. Joe Ball
    on Nov 20th, 2007
    @ 10:27 pm

    Art:

    What a great video. It has alot to say to us as a church.

    I too am reading through the book “UnChristian”, I got it at catalyst in early October.

    Thanks for the great post and for challenging us, we need it.


  14. Art Rogers
    on Nov 22nd, 2007
    @ 8:53 pm

    Billy,

    I have that book – skipped ahead to chapter 4 of UnChristian past it, but hope to go back soon.

    Joe,

    Thanks. I pray all is well with you and your family this Thanksgiving.

    Phil,

    I am afraid I don’t know Frank, so I am of no help there. I have only been in Tulsa a year and a half. Still learning who everyone is.

    As for the purpose statement, I have found a list of core values to be more clear. Usually a purpose statement has phrases that need to be broken down and explained for the full meaning to be understood – which is necessary for it to be truly adopted. Core values are more self explanatory and are not truncated to a phrase.

    I’m afraid that’s all I have time for.

    Art


  15. Phil Ratliff
    on Nov 23rd, 2007
    @ 12:47 am

    Art,

    Thank you for responding to my request about Frank. He is a wonderful Educator who worked and retired from the BGCO about twelve years ago.

    And thanks for your imput on the purpose statement. This was the first time I have commented on this blog.

    I am sorry I was late getting back to you. My son and his wife came in today for Thanksgiving, and I sort of asked and ran away. My wife had a many “honey dos” for me to get done.

    Phil.


  16. Steve Austin
    on Nov 23rd, 2007
    @ 2:50 am

    This post was really good!


  17. Ryan Hale
    on Nov 28th, 2007
    @ 4:40 am

    Great post. Is it possible that we Baptists have created a generational black hole? If we confused numbers with discipleship and that left not one but two generations out of the ministry process, what happens when the wave of ineffectiveness hits that third generation?


  18. Art Rogers
    on Nov 28th, 2007
    @ 5:40 pm

    Ryan,

    Yes, I think it is very possible that we have created a generational black hole. As to “what happens,” you know that there is no escape from a black hole, once you are sucked into its gravity field.

    Moreover, I am afraid that the process and results go beyond Baptists to the church in the west. It may be that a remnant survives, but I think the rest is done for and the hope of the body of Christ for the future may very well lie with the church in the east.

    Sorry to be dark, but I am afraid we are not working in a Christian nation, but what is potentially the largest mission field on earth, right now. If we don’t start acting like it, we may not even be around to be a witness in our own nation.

    I don’t mean to be negative. In fact, I don’t think I am being negative, just assessing honestly. Negative would come out as hopeless despair. Rather, I have a plan to turn the ship around – or at least be a vital part of what survives into the next century in reaching the lost of our very secular nation for Christ.

    First, we cut the baggage. Next, we start going where the lost are to have conversations with them about God. Simultaneously, we are going to have to start making real disciples via deep personal relationships within the church, so they have something to say in those conversations. Finally, we need to release every Christian to be the missionary God ordained them to be when He saved them. Of course, through all of it, we are going to have to pray diligently. That’s not an add on, but a vital part of each and every step.

    It’s not a complete plan, nor is it fleshed out very well, but it is representative of the core values that I think we are going to have to have.

    Just for what its worth…


  19. Joe Ball
    on Nov 28th, 2007
    @ 10:16 pm

    The Baptist Campus Ministries at Northern Kentucky University did an LOVE/HATE event on campus. They placed signs around campus and hosted a on-line dialogue on this blog site: http://lovehatenku.blogspot.com/

    The students dialogued on what they loved and hated about several catagories. Included were Christianity, Church and religion. They got some interesting responses, some of which are included at this link.

    I think it mirrors what is being said here and in UnCHristian.

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