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.