[This is part four of a series of reflections from the recent Southern Baptist Convention, held in Phoenix, Arizona on June 11-14] Being part of the Southern Baptist Convention means being part of one of the largest missionary sending organizations in the world, with more than 13,000 missionaries throughout the world (a number that is increasing). One of the great things about this missionary force is that they do not need to worry about raising their own support from multiple churches, because we are able to fund them through the Cooperative Program giving of more than 47,000 churches throughout the United States (which also includes our two special offerings – Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon – which go directly to our mission organizations). These missionaries are able to focus on the task to which they have been called by God without having to worry about whether a church had to withdraw their support.
While all of our missionaries are focused on sharing the Gospel with the lost (whether in North America or abroad) and planting new churches, there seems to be a growing disconnect between what we expect from our missionaries (and I suspect from our pastors as well) and what we expect from every believer in terms of evangelism. This detachment was illustrated during the report from Dr. Charles Kelley, president of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He provided a chart which showed the drastic and growing gap between the number of churches planted and the number of baptisms. Since approximately 1930, we have witnessed a strong and steady increase in the number of new SBC churches planted. However, since about 2000, we have been engaged in one of the steepest and most prolonged periods of decline in terms of the number of individuals receiving baptism. At the same time, we have been seeing an overall decrease in the total number of members at SBC churches every year since the mid-2000s. Even so, giving has been increasing over that same period of time.
What does all this mean? Some of these trends seem contradictory (how can the number of new churches be growing and baptisms be in decline? How can our membership be dwindling while giving is increasing?). In some ways, we can thank God for His provision. Every year, we are starting new churches in communities throughout the world. The increasing generosity of Southern Baptists is a testimony to God’s grace and the heart we have for funding Kingdom work. Yet, it can be easy for us to think that simply giving generously every week is enough or is all that God requires of us. We may be intimidated by our increasingly secular culture, causing us keep our faith to ourselves and rely on others who we think are better equipped to share the Good News. Here’s the problem with that line of thinking: the Great Commission, given to every single believer by the Lord Jesus Himself, is not limited to just those who have been called to vocational ministry. It is given to every single believer, in all times and in all places. None of us have an excuse for not sharing the Gospel with those around us. To help equip this body of believers for the task of evangelism, we are working on bringing some training here to the church in September. Keep your eyes open for more information on this training.
While we can be (and should be!) thankful that God is opening up several doors for church plants, we who are in established churches must not grow complacent with our evangelism. Yes, we have been commissioned by our Lord to tell others about Him, but shouldn’t that just be our joy and privilege to tell others about the God whose grace is so amazing? If God has really done a work in your life, why wouldn’t you want to tell everyone about Him? Just something to think about…