You have to know your market if you’re trying to attract new customers. You have to know why people are leaving your church if you’re going to stop the outflow.

Over at Crunchy Con, Rod Dryer posted on the decline of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Some complain that the church is just getting old, hinting the decline is from members dying off. There’s some of that. But why do churches get to the point where the only ones left are ancient?

Jason’s post gives great insight:

The reason why I left the Southern Baptist church was because my world reeked of pious religiosity. It wasn’t worth the effort to sift through the extra-biblical legalism to find the gospel of grace.

Now I know, as Tim Keller famously states, “that I am more flawed and sinful than I ever dared believe, but that I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope.”

My own church is high content, low involvement. The previous pastor gave us 40-minute seminary classes in the name of a sermon, but got upset when we tried to participate in church government. The new pastor prefers to create solutions in private with funds from targeted donations, so he doesn’t need church approval. His sermons are good enough, but full of non-related jokes and humorous illustrations. We’ve had huge number of baptisms (and rebaptisms) but attendance is flat.

What struck me about Jason’s comment is that he was loved and accepted. But isn’t that what Jesus said? “All men will know you are my disciples if you love one another.” But too often we love only our friends, but treat the newcomer the way James 2 :2-3 describes the early church’s treatment of someone in shabby clothes. The newcomer, shabby in his sin, wanders in, but is not greeted. He is the same as the harlot in Luke 7, desperately aware of their own sin, but even more desperate to be forgiven. Instead, do we talk in whispers about them? “If you love only those who love you, what credit is that to you?” (Luke 6, New English Bible)

If Baptists want to stop the decline, we have to stop being so mean to those who aren’t among us. Coming to our churches is a waste of time if the sinner is only going to be reminded of how “not holy” they are without an accompanying dose of acceptance and forgiveness.

c2008, Mike Mitchell, all rights reserved

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