A downward spiral?

New research came out today that highlighted a recent SBC trend away from baptisms. [click here] Oh, we still say that they are important, and we still communicate that we’re an evangelistic denomination, but the truth is that we are not. No, today we are more known for which side of the methodological fences we stand on than we are known for our passion for connecting disconnected people with the Gospel.

Ed Stetzer has written a great article detailing what these statistics mean for our convention. I would highly encourage you to read his thoughts. You can do so by clicking here. In his article, Stetzer makes a tremendous statement, but one which I predict will not be kindly received by everyone. He says,

The Conservative Resurgence failed to produce a Great Commission Resurgence. It restored our denomination’s value of Scripture but application is often absent, at least in the area of evangelism.

Stetzer is absolutely right. Our battle for the priority of scripture was absolutely necessary. If we are not a people who believe in the supremacy and innerancy of God’s word, we are nothing in my opinion. Having said that, right belief means nothing if it is not accompanied by right action. In other words, orthodoxy must be partnered with orthopraxy for it to be beneficial. Our convention, and the churches that make up her number, claim a great commitment to God’s word. We are proud of our positions. We are so strongly tied to them that the word “innerancy” has almost become our club’s secret password without which one cannot serve. Now, I do not want to diminish innerancy at all, but if our behavior doesn’t link hands with our belief, what good is our belief?

It’s time that we heed well the other words of Stetzer and rally around the gospel. Frank Page’s words from his initial election as SBC president should be embraced. It’s beyond time that people know us for what we are for, rather than simply know us for what we are against. We are for the gospel. We are for the sufficiency of Christ on behalf of those who are separated from the Gospel due to sin. We are for people experiencing grace, hope and forgiveness through the cross of Christ.

In my own town, here in St. Joseph, MO, we have a population of 105,000 in the metro area. Of that number approximately 80,000 are in a group that I refer to as “disconnected”. In other words, they are either unchurched, dechurched or are not involved in the church that they claim to belong to. My passion in life is to help connect those 80,000 disconnected people with the gospel. Our church specifically must do whatever it takes to accomplish that task. Up to this point, we are not fulfilling that task as we should.

Each person reading this post lives in a city or area where the majority of the population does not appear to have an active relationship with Jesus Christ. Our charge must be to somehow connect them with the Gospel. Beyond that, it is time we think creatively about ways to effectively do so. So many of our churches are convinced that if they can just hold another revival meeting, and beat on a few more doors, that will do the trick. Statistics are also bearing out that those methods are simply not seeing success. When we become desperate to fulfill the task that God has given us, we will throw off any unsuccessful efforts and continue to work until we find more effective ways to engage people with the Gospel.

Someone asked me the other day how our church, Frederick Boulevard, was doing. I told them honestly that attendance and finances are at an all time high but that I was disappointed right now. When asked why I shared that our baptisms are plateaued at the same place they were last year. We may have seen a few more, but not many. I’ve shared the gospel with a number of people lately, but I haven’t shared with enough. I’m afraid that too often it’s easy for us to become satisfied in our churches. We want to reach other people as long as we can continue to be happy. The truth is, maybe it’s time that we become uncomfortable for the gospel. Maybe it is time that we step outside of our usual pattern so that our neighbors who don’t know Christ can respond to His grace. Maybe it’s time that we get desperate to complete the task God has given us.

I’m afraid that if we don’t the downward spiral that we are seeing today, will only be the tip of the iceberg.

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

8 thoughts on “A downward spiral?

  1. Micah,

    The facts you reference above concerning the decline in SBC baptisms and the probable continuation of that trend may be just what is needed in SBC life.

    Consider the story of Nehemiah. Once Nehemiah fully grasped the reality of the situation and communicated it for all to see the people began to band together for a common goal. It would appear that one of the reasons for such a unified effort was the antagonism of Sanballat and the others (Neh 2:19).

    Is this not exactly what took place in the conservative resurgence? The threat to orthodoxy had to develop far enough that a battle plan could be developed. The need at that point was large enough for all to see and thus commit to. The result was a concerted effort involving everyone from the pew to the pulpit to the convention platform.

    Perhaps the Lord would grant us an opportunity to do likewise in the area of evangelism!

  2. You almost had to expect this with the way that those who hold to Gospel-rich theology (Calvinist one might say) are lambasted. To me, the more they (non-Calvinists) point fingers, the more it says their way just isn’t working and they are worried. Maybe, but doubtful, a true desire to read and study the scripture to know God, and His will, will come from this.

  3. I agree that it’s “beyond time that people know us for what we are for, rather than simply know us for what we are against.” But preeminent in all of this is our being known for what we are…It’s the application about which you spoke. If my life is not transformed, where is the evidence that there’s truly a relationship with God at all? We are to come to church on Sunday to continue worship corporately–continue a worshipful life that should be in evidence personally when I’m away from church. At church, as we worship, we’re also–amazingly, graciously–to become equipped to reach others for Christ. It’s not for lack of orthodoxy in our congregation, nor is it a lack of passionate, faithful preaching that more is not happening. It’s a life lived. Maybe, when it gets down to it, people ought not to see me as “for” or “against” at all, but ought to see Christ, Christ formed in and radiating through me. If I live my life sacrificially as a drink offering poured out for Jesus, and if it’s Jesus that they see, they will come to Him through the work of the Spirit. There’s a photo on the front of a biography of the late Rich Mullins that shows Rich standing on a hill, arms stretched downward at 45 degree angles. The photographer took the picture just to be photographing Rich and only when the photo was developed did the photographer notice that Rich looked like an arrow pointing Heavenward, and he thought, how appropriate, for that’s what Rich’s life did. That’s what our lives must be if we’re to see salvations and baptisms and commitments; we must be arrows pointing to Christ by the nature and character of our lives.

  4. Great post Micah!

    “Maybe it is time that we step outside of our usual pattern so that our neighbors who don’t know Christ can respond to His grace.”

    To add to that… Maybe it’s not necessarily that we need to step out of our usual pattern? Maybe it IS our usual pattern…

    I see so many times (including myself at points) that we tend to sync our Beliefs in Christ with the beliefs of the world. In doing so we have an extremely hard time showing others who and what Christ looks like. I know for myself it was not the people in the church, or in fact, even the pastor giving me the Gospel accounts during his sermon that led me to Christ. It was those people that I saw that truly had Christ living IN them. They Just looked different. Most of these people never even approached me with the gospel, but it became obvious to me that I needed more in life, and those people had something that I did not…JOY, HOPE, LOVE for others.

    Upon seeing this fruit in others life I was actually open to the saving grace of our Lord and Saviour!

    How many of us would actually be open to or want to take the time to talk to someone who comes knocking on our door to tell us we are going to hell?

  5. Thanks for getting this research out. This follows closely on the research done by Stetzer about the declining attendance at the convention by under 40’s. All of this is part of a trend with will continue if there aren’t substantial changes.

  6. There is a sense in which the “numbers” are our responsibility – if we’re not praying for the lost, giving to missions, living the joy-filled Christian life, and getting out there with the Gospel, “how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”

    But there is another sense in which this should be expected. Our path is, after all, a narrow road. The world is growing not more apathetic but more antagonistic to Christianity. And that is not because of poor examples or faulty understanding of Christianity, but because of exactly what Christianity is.

    Nevertheless, our task is clear, even if it seems to be of no avail. But God did not call us to be pragmatists, only obedient.

  7. http://founders.org/library/elliff1.html
    I believe this essay will explain why we are a denomination heading down the path to extinction. We are a denomination that is more concerned with numbers than people. We are eat up with rampant absenteeism. We believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, we just don’t believe it is sufficient. We don’t even know why we are Baptist. Micah, ask your congregation why they are Baptist. About 99% will say because they were raised that way. Very few will mention baptism, justification by faith through grace, etc. We resist change, i.e. sanctification. We act like the world to attract the world and when they show up, they find in us nothing different than what they could get at home. We shoot our wounded. We are more concerned with biblical diets/weight loss, financial planning and building programs than we are with God’s glory in grace. We have lost our first love. And according to Revelation 2:5 the solution for this is to remember how far we have fallen and repent. Acts 2:47 says “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” I suppose the converse of that is true also. The Lord will take away from a church that fails to be humble and broken and God-centered in its theology. We are not losing members because we have offended the world, we are losing members because we have offended God.

  8. Hey Micah! Great insights to a REAL issue in our city, state, country, and beyond. I am sick of satisfaction and sick of being comfortable in the walls of a building. I also feel more and more like time is running out for many people (maybe even for us…who knows?).

    Certainly, it can never be wrong for us as the Church to refocus or come back to “the basics” of the LIFE-SAVING Gospel of Jesus Christ. Lord knows we all drift from that in both are personal walks with Christ and as the Christian community. Maybe sometimes we get caught up chasing the “disputables” instead of embracing the most important “undisputable”. (The Gospel which leads to salvation and saving faith in Jesus Christ.) I agree that it is very very important that we stay Gospel focused in these times.

    Keep up the great work for our Lord!!!!

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