As I write this post the Southern Baptist Convention is having its annual meeting in Houston, TX. Unfortunately, as Ed Stetzer (President of Lifeway Research) so eloquently put it in the Pastor’s Conference before the convention, the SBC is in an undeniable statistical decline. Membership is down, baptisms are down. Over the years, many leaders have attempted to rectify and fix the problem. They’ve focused on innerancy, theology, and church-planting. All of those are well and necessary. Let me add ten practical ways to see Southern Baptist churches flourish again. (Disclaimer: I by no means imply that these are the only ten, just ten to get started. Encompassing all ten of these must be a daily dependence on the Holy Spirit, who fuels and drives the church).
1. Get outside the four walls of the church. We’re mistaken to think that the “church” is brick and mortar, beautiful buildings, or even an address. If people won’t come to the church, then the church should come to the people. We need to find practical ways to serve our communities on a regular basis. There should be just as much activity outside of the four walls of the church as there is inside.
2. Emphasize the gospel over our Baptist-ness. Or let me put it more bluntly: we need to de-emphasize our Baptist-ness. The name “Baptist” is tainted and stained in the eyes of society. It’s becoming a roadblock to the next generation coming to our churches. Too long “Baptist” has been associated with adjectives such as “mean,” “bigoted,” “judgmental,” and “hypocritical.” Those adjectives don’t describe the vast majority of us, but the association is there. We need to remember that before we’re Baptists, we’re Christians. We can de-emphasize our Baptist-ness while still standing firm on the gospel. To those who have spent decades trumpeting their Baptist-ness, this can be difficult. But it’s an unnecessary roadblock for the next generation. If it makes you feel any better, Jesus isn’t a Baptist. Even John the Baptist wasn’t a Baptist!
3. Intentionally strengthen families. The two great institutions God gave humanity are the family and the church. When one flourishes, so does the other. When one suffers, the other does as well. Strengthening and repairing families must be a top priority. Too many families are falling apart. Too many children are walking away from the faith. Sermons, small groups and ministries that strengthen families needs to move to the top of the church’s priorities.
4. Disengage from the culture wars. It reinforces every negative stereotype the culture has about us. It also creates an “us vs. them” mentality that is hurtful to our witness. Church services should not mimic a Fox News program. Is this culture changing for the worse? Yes. Is this world going to hell? Yes. So what? Creation has been decaying ever since sin entered the world. Instead of pointing our fingers and judging sinners for acting like sinners, we must roll up our sleeves and be a part of the solution. Angry diatribes against every perceived slight against Christians does us no good. First century Christians faced persecution at a vastly higher scale than us, and they still found a way to turn their world upside down. So can we.
5. Cut the fat. Simplify. When Steve Jobs walked back into Apple in the 1990s, he found an organization that had lost its way. One of the keys to Apple’s success story was that Jobs cut 70% of the products that Apple was then producing. Instead of manufacturing a dizzying array of mediocre products, Apple would produce a few quality products that would change the world (i.e. iTunes, iPod, iPhone). In Baptist world, we have too many “legacy” programs and services that have far outlived their usefulness. Many discerning pastors know what they are and wish they could cut them. They just need the courage to do so.
Don’t worry. These first five were the easy ones. I’ll share the rest tomorrow.