THE BOTTOM LINE
As we begin the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, Pastor Ronnie Floyd’s words ring so true: “With each day, while my burden deepens, my hope exceedingly rises.” Founded on God’s gracious and merciful love for us, Pastor Floyd’s hope – and our collective hope – comes from the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For as Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Romans, “And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through his Spirit who lives in you.” (Romans 8:11). Not only is this true for each of us, it is true for the church as well. Powered by the Holy Spirit, we can lead a Great Awakening and recommit ourselves to the Gospel and discipleship and to building up our churches to meet the missional needs of local communities and the far reaches of the globe.
WHAT IS THE BOTTOM LINE CHALLENGE FACING SOUTHERN BAPTIST CHURCHES TODAY?
Church membership is down, while the evangelism need is up. And of equal concern, the vast majority of our churches are considered to be “plateaued, declining or at risk.” However, new churches continue to open.
For those focused on church health, church renewal and church revitalization, these factors are of real concern. Why?
· The Great Commission is not being fulfilled as widely as it could be;
· Resources are likely being used to keep churches going rather than growing; and
· New churches require additional support to move from the “create and grow” stage to the “grow and sustain” stage.
WHAT IS THE BOTTOM LINE SOLUTION FOR THOSE SAME CHURCHES?
Additional resources should be dedicated to church health and, more specifically, the health of church staffs. This means working with church staffs to:
· ensure an internal culture that puts a premium on collaboration, communication, clarity and capacity;
· properly align its organization for evangelical success; and
· clarify and simplify its strategy and mission.
According to data from LifeWay Research, membership in Southern Baptist churches has been declining for at least the past five years – down three percent between 2008 and 2013. And while that decline is the lowest among all Christian denominations, the Pew Research Center reported in May of 2015 that the number of self-identified Christians in the U.S. is down 7.8 percentage points over the same general period (2007-2014). The same Pew report said the number of Americans who considered themselves non-religious affiliated is up 6.7 percent between 2007 and 2014. Even more stark are the results of a Barna Group research report released in late 2014. Based on Barna’s work, they have determined that nearly 40 percent of all Americans are “post-Christian” and another 28 percent are “moderately post-Christian.” Barna defines “post-Christian” as people who acknowledge no religious affiliation or, for those who self-identify as Christians, have no commitment to prayer and study time or commitment to a local church. In many ways, they could be characterized as “cultural Christians.”
As a result, our evangelism need continues to increase. Unfortunately, many of our churches are not in a position to effectively meet those needs, if church health is an indication. According to LifeWay Research, the health of Southern Baptist churches today is characterized as follows:
· Healthy and multiplying: 10% -- 15%
· Plateaued or declining: 70% -- 75%
· At or near risk: 10% -- 15%
About this data, Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research said, “In the years that this statistic has been calculated, we have never had fewer growing churches and never had more declining churches.”