It’s not new information for Baptists. Leaders have been discussing it, studying it and preaching on it for more than a decade now. And research proves it over and over.
Christians in North America are becoming less and less like Christ, and the church experience is losing more and more of its luster.
And it’s not something that will go away without intentional effort and church leaders re-imagining congregational life, church vitality expert Kennon Callahan said, according to Baptist News Global (BNG) in January. “One of the reasons some churches are weak, declining and dying is they create a motivational gap,” Callahan said in the BNG article. “What draws (people) in our time is movement not institution. Institution has had its day.”
Lack of disciple-making
For Southern Baptists, baptisms tell the story. The decline is now a definite trend and church membership numbers are following suit.
When the North American Mission Board (NAMB) studied the decline of baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in 2014, it determined a lack of disciple-making was one of the key challenge areas for churches.
“We, as pastors, are seeing the lostness all around North America,” said Robby Gallaty, chairman of the task force on disciple-making appointed by NAMB and LifeWay Christian Resources in May 2016.
“It’s all over social media,” he said in an October 2016 Baptist Press (BP) article. “There appears to be a very shallow concept of Christianity and it’s sad to think about. But in order to understand how to disciple, we’ve got to understand the culture we’re discipling.
“Discipleship is the effort to push back lostness, push back against the trends in a holistic way,” Gallaty said in the BP article. “It’s the solution for everything we’re talking about in the world today.”
Bill Wilks — pastor of NorthPark Baptist Church, Trussville, and author of D-Life discipleship resource published by Life Bible Study — agreed.
“Discipleship is the only way to reclaim the Church in America today,” Wilks told The Alabama Baptist. “Jesus never called us to a church-planting movement but a disciple-making movement.”
Roland Brown, pastor of Golden Springs Baptist Church, Anniston, uses the D-Life model and is a strong advocate for churches returning to the basics of disciples making disciples.
“Who we are in Jesus Christ matters more than anything,” he said. “Love God, love people, look like Jesus. Perhaps I oversimplify but I believe that is how we are to reach this generation.”
Callahan added in the BNG article that grassroots gatherings and movements — similar to Wilks’ and Brown’s efforts with D-Life and what others are doing with outreach efforts — are key to engaging church members which in turn will reach the community.
Junior White, pastor of North Valley Church, Odenville, calls it “from pew to pavement.”
“While many say that all hope is lost I totally disagree,” White said. “Because of technological advancements and an ever-growing society of truth seekers, the Church has an amazing opportunity to reach the lost for Christ.
“People want to be involved in a movement that spreads outside the four walls of a building called the Church,” he said. “If we believers want the community to come to the Church, then the Church has to first go to the community.”
Danny Wood, pastor of Shades Mountain Baptist Church, Vestavia Hills, added that short-term missions trips along with community engagement can make all the difference.
“It will not only increase the involvement of your members but also pique the interest of those in the community who are not members,” he said. “Millennials are drawn to those who are on the front lines of meeting needs and addressing wrongs. When they see the Church on the front lines side by side with them, they just might give that church and their Jesus a look.”
Millennials (the generation born between 1982 and 2004) are more interested in compassionate justice and making a difference through activity rather than participating in meetings, Wood said.
And they are not alone, he added. Some in older generations have the same interests.
With that understanding churches should make needed adjustments, he said. “There are plenty of causes and needs out there — orphan care, adoption, human trafficking, clean water, homelessness, abused women, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, etc. Find ways you can tangibly involve the members of the church to address these needs.
“But the key is to not just meet a physical need,” he added. “Make sure you share the gospel and deal with their greatest spiritual need.”
Shades Mountain members are taking community engagement seriously, Wood said. The church even created a new staff position recently — minister of community engagement. Steve Browning serves in the position and works to identify the greatest needs around the church, Wood said.
“Part of the process is bringing together members who live in the community and having them share about the needs of educators, first responders, public works employees, etc.,” Wood said. “With their input we are creating a plan to meet needs.”
‘Hands and feet of Jesus’
“People are excited to help those who serve in our community and be the hands and feet of Jesus,” he said.
“In less than five months we have had more than 120 people jump in at some level with community engagement — and that’s just the ones we know of,” he said.
“Some are individuals who want to make a difference in their neighborhood. Others are leading their entire Sunday School class to join the effort,” Brown said. “Almost every day we get an email or phone call of someone else who wants to get involved and make a difference in the community where they live.”
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