Keeping The First Thing First?
What's the main thing? Making disciples.
Isn't that the "Great Commission"? To go into all the world and make disciples? And doesn't "disciple" mean student or learner?
Everyone seems to acknowledge that the majority of the 16,000,000+/- members, whom the SBC claims, aren't coming to church any more. But they don't seem to want to accept that as a failure to carry out the great commission.
Sure seems to me it is.
A couple of years ago, the Alabama Baptist ... our state Southern Baptist newspaper ... published a display of numbers for church membership and attendance, by county, for Alabama. There were many denominations included in the total, but they also set out the SBC's numbers separately. So ... it was really easy to enter the numbers for the 6 big population centers into a spreadsheet, let it subtract out the Baptists, show the percentage of membership represented by attendance, and then compare them. The results were most interesting.
According to my figures, in the million or so church members in those 6 areas, attendance for Baptists was 33.28%, whereas the other reporting denominations was 53.97%. And as if the numbers themselves weren't depressing enough, it should be mentioned that attendance includes visitors, and children too young to be members. Like infants and toddlers, and some other young'uns.
There's a lot of talk about programs to get people in. But I think it was the Internet Monk, some years ago, who said that's like owning a hospital that loses 2/3 of its patients and thinking the solution is to add more beds. Or maybe start more hospitals.
If our churches were businesses that collectively had 16 million employees, and only 1/3 of them showed up for work, the first thing that'd happen is heads would roll in the HR department. It'd be painfully obvious that they weren't doing their job in hiring the right people, and were also failing to train them once on the job.
It doesn't take a lot of grey matter to figure out what the church equivalent of that, is.
There's a local church that you may have heard of, that's had pretty fair success at getting people in the door, keeping them coming back, and discipling them. It's the Church of the Highlands.
- After starting in January 2000 as a bible study in the pastor's home, they officially kicked off as a church the next month, February of 2000. A few hundred were there.
- That same month, our church moved into its new building. We had attendance of 900-1000. And occasionally topped 1000 in the new building.
- In 2014, the Church of the Highlands has on the order of 20,000 members, 10 locations, and attendance of around 22,000. They have more members, and candidates for membership going through the introductory process, than they do absentees, apparently.
- This year, our church is running 700-800 in attendance, and just went over 3000 enrollment in Sunday School.
I am struck by those numbers. After looking over their material, it's obvious to me that the other church mentioned has been built upon, and continues to operate under, a system which puts people expressing an interest in membership, into a track to grow them into valuable servants of Jesus, in the local church. In fact, they call it their "Growth Track". Simply from looking at the results, and also from talking to members, the conclusion is obvious:
I have wondered for several years why the SBC wouldn't address this. They do have some requirements for churches to participate in the SBC, but they have nothing to do with whether they are succeeding or failing at making disciples.
And lest you say that we have to make converts first before they can become disciples, check out Acts, Chapter 19. Paul tells of finding some disciples at Ephesus, who hadn't heard about the Holy Spirit. When they said they were baptized into John's baptism, Paul told them about the coming of Jesus and then baptized them, and something remarkable happened. So they were referred to as disciples before they heard of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, seemingly.
Look at it this way: Why would God want to send us more candidates for membership? Doesn't He know what our track record is?
I think I know why nobody wants to broach the subject, though. To tell the SBC assembled that it's failed at making disciples is to tell a lot of pastors that they've got it wrong.
I don't blame anyone for not wanting, personally, to do that to several thousand messengers.
But I'm pretty convinced of one thing: if we don't fix that ... and I mean get some kind of system convention-wide, in which local churches verify new members' salvation, determine their Spiritual gifting, educate them as to the church and its operation, and get the members into an area of service corresponding to their interests and gifts, then we're never going to solve the percentages I mentioned.
Which make us look bad enough already.
Without even looking at trends over the past dozen years.