Dr Avery Willis, one of the undisputed heroes of Baptist Missions, is again championing the campaign called Great Commission Resurgence (GCR).  GCR is a reminder that 90% of the world is lost in sin, and 1.5 Billion people have little or no access to the Gospel. 

Dr Willis has himself been a missionary, to Thailand, and the head of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board (IMB).  It was his compilation of disciplemaking materials “MasterLife” that had such a tremendous impact on my spiritual growth.  So when he reminds us that “less than one tenth of one percent of Southern Baptists become missionaries,” we listen.  And when he says that “97.5% of the money in the offering plates stays at home and only 2½ % gets to the rest of the world,” it gets our attention.

The GCR Task Force is due to report out what the Southern Baptists ought to do to reach our world.  It worries him when he thinks what he’ll hear.  I think Dr Willis is worried that we will create another program, but not really motivate anyone to do anything about it. 

I ‘ve been addressing this as a common theme for some time.  On Dec 4, I told you about the 7 Deadly Sins of a Dying Church – number 4 is an inward focus.  Unless a church is focused outside its walls, it is in danger of dying as a congregation.

My recommendation is to start with prayer for an unreached people group.  Pray that God will send missionaries there, and then pray for those missionaries.  Take up special offerings for them.  Treat them as if you are their home church.  Treat them better than their home church.  Take part of the church budget and send someone to that unreached place to gain first-hand knowledge of what to pray for.  Train every member of the church to share their faith and to become mighty in prayer.  Instill a desire in every one to pick up and move to the mission field.  (If they do, God will bring replacements or take you with them!)

The surest way to build a church is through prayer for missions.  It will grow the kingdom and grow the people.  And it will change your giving priorities.

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I was referred to a post from Feb 2 about whether a church should ordain women, and what a denomination should do when one of the members does.

Its writer Matt Svoboda makes the distinction between second tier and third tier issues.  I’m no theologian, but I’d guess the difference is that a first tier is what makes us Christian and not Hindu, a second tier is what makes us Baptist, Presbyterian or Nazarene.  A third tier issue helps us choose between denominational choices in the same town.

Some in the Denomination have come out in favor of removing churches from the rolls that violate the understanding that only men can pastor.  (If a woman wants to lead a ministry area in those churches, she must work “under the authority” of a male pastor, and is called “director of” instead of “pastor for”.)  Given the increasingly gender-neutral society we minister in, maintenance of a patriarchal hierarchy becomes harder to sell.

Svoboda notes that even – especially? – Baptists don’t always agree even on the supposed core statements of faith.  (We used to say that where 2 or 3 were gathered, there were 4 opinions!)  Southern Baptist Churches in good standing will sometimes violate the Baptist Faith and Message – the unifying document – on this point or that, but what causes problems in the denomination is over which point.

This discussion rang a chord because I had just read Seth Godin’s discussion on the dangers of trying to maintain status quo instead of using it to stay relevant to your customers. Godin says “You don’t have to like change to take advantage of it.”

The question is not really whether you think women belong in the pastorate.  It’s more about how you decide what you believe, and how you define what is core and what is cultural.  And even if you decide an issue is core, you might have to change how it’s presented from time to time.

Some churches are still fighting the music wars.  Are we going to use hymns or choruses?  Meanwhile, the more adaptable churches have left choruses for worship songs and even hymns.  Which ones are culturally relevant?  The ones singing hymns to worship band accompaniment.

As Godin puts it,

“Instead of spending time and insight and effort reinventing what they do and organizing for a better future, the members are lulled into a sense of security that somehow, somehow, the future will be just like today.”

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

I keep coming back to Dean Kelly’s Why Conservative Churches are Growing.  He said that for a church or denomination to flourish, it has to enforce the brand identity, and to keep telling the members about those core beliefs.

Which is why I was struck when I was linked to an article (from 2000) that pointed out this important point. It related to the Southern Baptist plans to focus evangelism efforts on Chicago that summer. The mainline churches (the ones Kelly was trying to help in his book) complained about the Baptist’s plans.

Members of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago said they asked Southern Baptists to refrain from visiting Chicago because they feared proselytizing might “disrupt the pattern of peaceful interfaith relations in our community.”

Baptists believe that salvation is only possible through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The Chicago Council was not so adamant in the exclusivity of the salvation method. They were more concerned about disrupting the structures of mainline churches than creating the kind of fundamental change in people’s spiritual outlook espoused by the Chicago Baptist churches, the local Assemblies of God, the Church of the Nazarene congregations (all of whom were on board with the program).

Kelly said the problem in many small churches is that the leaders like being in charge of an unchallenging congregation. They don’t want to do the work needed to stay vibrant, to reach the lost with the Gospel. They are small, dying churches – he says – because they want to be.

Unless you want your congregation to be a small, dying congregation, you need to be out spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.