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.
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?