In honor of the recently held Southern Baptist Convention, yesterday I began to share ten practical ways that Southern Baptists can flourish again. Our convention has done a tremendous job fighting for the sanctity of the Bible and for robust evangelistic theology. And yet we’re still losing my generation (Generation X) and the next generation (Millenials). The ten suggestions I share come from working on the front lines of ministry in Baptist churches for the past dozen years.
6. Engage millenials with their cultural language. There’s no way to exaggerate the size of the millenial generation. The largest since the Boomers, this generation of young people will decide the course of our country for the next century. We must engage them with their cultural language. Simply put, we need to modernize our services. Our current services reach senior adults so well because they’re custom designed for senior adults. If we want any shot at engaging millenials, then we need to customize our services to reach them in the same way our services have been custom designed for boomers the past 50 years.
7. Walk towards the mess. What sins are acceptable to bring into the church, and which are not? Are divorced people welcome? How about alcoholics? What about homosexuals? How about those that support abortion? The first two are easy, the second two not so much. As long as we draw lines about who is and is not welcome in the church, then we miss the thrust of Jesus’ ministry. If Jesus could hang around tax collectors and prostitutes, then is there any group of people that we should preemptively cut off from the gospel? We need to walk the path of welcoming skeptics and outrageous sinners without compromising our biblical beliefs. Jesus did it; so can we.
8. Create environments that are evangelistically-oriented and teaching that is discipleship-oriented. The seeker-sensitive movement started as a reaction against the closed-door, inside-focused services of evangelical churches that didn’t reach outsiders. So they created environments that were evangelistically-oriented. The great pushback against them was that too often they watered-down the gospel. When people come to church, there’s something already inside of them yearning for deep spiritual truths. We don’t have to water down the gospel for them.
Here’s the perfect combination: Don’t water down the gospel. Lighten up the environment. Teach the deep truths of God. Teach discipleship. Don’t shy away from the hard stuff. But create environments (with greeters, physical space, members attitudes, style of dress and music) that is outreach oriented. Newcomers will stay because of the warm, welcoming environment. They don’t mind the deep stuff. They want that. They just want to be in a safe environment where they can explore their faith. Churches must be intentional about creating a Sunday morning experience that is welcoming to outsiders.
9. Tackle racial diversity head on. Our churches are too white. My church is too white. Electing an African-American pastor as our convention is an incredible first step. Having minority churches within the SBC is another step. Racially integrating our churches is the final step. There’s no easy way to do this, but it must be done.
10. Stay humble and stay hungry. We’re not entitled to anything. Our “glory days” are behind us. We’re not God’s chosen denomination. We’re one small speck in a wide array of Christ-followers scattered throughout the world. Seeing our convention flourish again will take incredibly hard work. We always have been and always will be outsiders in this world. Jesus never said that growing the Kingdom was easy, so why should we expect to merely plan services and have the lost beat down our doors? Stay hungry. Work. Sacrifice.
*I’m incredibly privileged to be a part of a church that is implementing most of these practices. Under the leadership of the previous pastor (Jeff James), Mt Vernon transitioned from a plateaued church to a flourishing church. We’re seeing lives changed every week. It’s incredibly hard work, but it’s incredibly worth it.