Who Is Not Here?

I was recently asked to becoming a contributing editor for Facts and Trends, LifeWay’s flagship publication. If you are a Southern Baptist, you probably receive it. If you love Jesus, you treasure its every page. ;-)

In the most recent issue we focused on ministry to first generation immigrant groups based on a study highlighted on my blog today.

In light of the ongoing membership decline of the SBC (the third year in a row) and the still low baptism numbers, I think we have to acknowledge that a big part of the issue is demographics. We are primarily white southerners. We need more white southerners, not less, but we need a lot more of other kinds of believers as well.

Here is what I wrote about it in Facts and Trends:

Assessing the Future

Organizations of every kind measure themselves according to what they have. Businesses assess their profit margin and inventory of merchandise. Charities count donations and the number of people helped over the last year. Families take stock of their household income and property. What about denominations? We count the number of members to our churches, new churches started, and new believers added. And we Southern Baptists are experts in counting. I should know because our research division at LifeWay does the official counting on the Annual Church Profile.

Lately, I have been thinking about how we assess how we are doing. I think we ought to keep counting how many people are saved and how many people are worshiping. When those two stats do not increase, we should be alarmed. But what if we also measured our work by this question, “Who are the people we don’t have?”

The first-generation immigrant study makes it clear that America is not getting more Anglo. We have counted ourselves as the “melting pot” of the world and it is truer today than ever before. America receives immigrants from 202 countries in the world. But does that show up in our churches?

I think the honest answer for most churches is sadly, No.

In June, thousands of Southern Baptists will descend upon central Florida for the annual meeting of our convention. I expect that while there, we will once again see a relatively monolithic group of people. Most of our convention leadership is Anglo. Most of our pastors are Anglo. Most of our messengers are Anglo.

Now, I do not want us to stop reaching and discipling Anglo people. After all, I am one. But I hope the current research will remind us of the vast work to be done in our own country to reach the panta ta ethne, all nations. Any lack on our part should give us pause. Reflecting upon the most-likely make-up of our convention attendees is a reflection of our member churches. Understanding that our churches (and thus our convention) do not reflect the culture should concern us.

Many churches seem to be at a loss regarding a change in the neighborhood resulting in a declining membership or plans to relocate to a new part of town. But encouraging news does pop up from time to time about a church that begins to reach beyond their ethnic group and evangelizes a people who are culturally different.

I was encouraged to hear of a church in Maryland that began as an Anglo congregation and when the community changed, so did the church. The neighborhood became predominantly African-American, the church stayed and now the majority of the members are from the neighborhood. In recent years, the neighborhood has morphed once again, becoming primarily Hispanic. Now, the church is strategizing how to best become a church that reaches the new community surrounding the campus.

Doubtless, asking the question “Who is not here?” is more difficult to assess. But it is one we must do if we are to take serious the command of Christ to “make disciples of all nations.”

Southern Baptists have made great strides in this area… but we have more to go. I hope you will join with me in praying for a darker convention with different languages… and will work to make that happen.

The Future of the Southern Baptist Convention (Pt. 5)

#5) Southern Baptist have a hopeful future if our denomination at all levels begins to reflect the demographic and racial makeup of our nation and the nations.

Southern Baptists were born, in part, out of a racist context and have a racist heritage. That will forever be to our shame. To deny or ignore this is foolish. Actually it is dishonest. By God’s grace and the Spirit’s conviction, we publically repented of this sin in 1995 on our 150th anniversary, but there is still much work to be done. To my utter dismay, some still refuse to own up to our past transgression, perhaps because the seeds of this sin are still scattered across too much of our denomination, especially in the South where most of our people still live.

We must confront the sobering reality that the Southern Baptist Convention remains a mostly middle-class, mostly white network of mostly declining churches in the South. If you doubt what I am saying look around today, visit most State Conventions, attend an annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting, or drop in on 99% of our churches on any given Sunday. We can integrate the military, athletics and the workplace, but we can’t integrate the body of Christ! The lack of urgency and concern in this area is mind-boggling. It is spiritually inexcusable.

Until we get right about race I am convinced God will not visit us with revival. The plea for a Great Commission Resurgence will not move heaven, and it will be scoffed at by the world as a sham.

Starting at home we must pursue a vision for our churches that looks like heaven. Yes, we must go around the world to reach Asians and Europeans, Africans and South Americans. But we must also go across the street, down the road, and into every corner of our local mission field where God in grace has brought the nations to us.

Now please hear carefully what I am about to say. I plead with you to consider its merit. This call to reach the ethne here in America and across the globe will demand a greater commitment and a greater devotion, especially on the part of men. Reaching, for example, Muslim men, will require Christian men! More men must have a Christ-centered passion and gospel-centered priorities. More men must leave our nation and go to the nations like our sisters in Christ have been doing for generations! This will demand a radical reorienting of lifestyles, choices, commitments, and perspectives. Business as usual as a denomination and as individuals will not be an option if a real Great Commission Resurgence is to take place. Fathers and grandfathers must live lives that will inspire their children, especially their sons and grandsons, to do something great for God. Step up to the plate men. The time is now. The need has never been greater!