The Church Isn’t a Cruise Ship; It’s an Aircraft Carrier

The following is an excerpt from a blog post by J.D. Geear.

Study after study shows that most Christians have never even shared their faith—most indicating that somewhere 90 percent of evangelicalshave never shared their faith with anyone outside of their family. (Kind of makes you wonder how we get away with using the name “evangelical”!)

Most churches have a difficult time maintaining their ground, much less storming anything that belongs to Satan. Gates, after all, are defensive ramparts, not offensive weapons. “Prevailing against the gates of hell” does not mean keeping Satan out of our backyards, but plundering hiskingdom. According to a recent Lifeway Research study, in the next seven years 55,000 churches in the United States will close their doors, and the number of those who attend a church on the weekend in the United States will drop from 17 percent to 14 percent. Only 20 percent of churches in the US are growing, and only 1 percent are growing by reaching lost people.[1] So 95 percent of the church growth we celebrate merely shuffles existing Christians around.

To read the entire post click here.

The New Normal: How Can Christians Claim Every Square Inch in a Post-Obergefell World?

By: Bruce Riley Ashford

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that every state is required both to license same-sex marriage and to recognize licensing from other states. In one respect, this case—Obergefell v. Hodges—created a new normal as it posited a new Constitutional “right” and legally redefined a millennia-old institution. But in another respect, this case is only one more iteration of the new normal that has been dawning since the Sexual Revolution.

How should Christians respond to the new normal? Here are six guidelines:

  1. Christians should dissent from the court’s ruling. Obergefell attempts to recreate an institution that it did not create in the first place. God created marriage (Gen 2:21-25; Mt 19:4-6) and intends for it to be a reflection of the gospel (Eph 5:32), so he alone can define it.
  2. We must be faithful even when we are encouraged to acquiesce. Faithfulness entails respecting the governing authorities who have been appointed by God (Rom 13:1-7), even as we protest a court decision that flouts God’s creation design and is legally incoherent. Living as we do in a democratic republic, the power of the Supreme Court is derived from the populace. We the citizens have the right and responsibility to examine, debate, and protest the decisions made by its President, its legislators, and the SCOTUS nominated by the President and approved by the Senate. Given such a polity, for Christians simply to be quiet or acquiesce is to disrespect the governing authorities.
  3. Our response must be characterized by grace and joy rather than anger and fear. We can give witness to biblical truth about sex and marriage, but do so in a way that gives the LGBT community the dignity and respect it deserves, having been created in the image and likeness of God. In other words, we can speak the truth while at the same time genuinely loving our neighbor.
  4. We should not become discouraged by the “losing side of history” argument. Many proponents of same-sex marriage argue that evangelical Christians are on the losing side of history on this issue. And indeed, if “history” is the short-term future of the United States, and if “losing” means being in the minority, then yes we are. But the reality is that evangelicals aren’t in this to “win.” We are in this to bear witness to Christ, love our neighbors, and seek the public interest. If we do those things, we “win.”
  5. We should build strong marriages and families. As Christians, and as dissenters from the new normal, we should build strong marriages and families as a way of loving the world, of showing the world a more excellent way.
  6. We must be vigilant to give a gospel-informed response to same-sex marriage, rather than ceding interpretation of it to the lunatic fringe to the right of the Christian right. There is a small but loud contingent of self-professed Christians whose reaction to the SCOTUS decision will be hateful. These are folks in whose hearts the milk of human kindness has curdled, whose ignorance of Christianity is encyclopedic and whose account of it is richly preposterous. If we do not respond with biblical truth, and if our demeanors are not characterized by grace and joy, we will de facto concede the “Christian” response to these persons who will misrepresent the faith.

It was the great Dutch theologian and politician who once said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: Mine!” Kuyper was right, and we should remind ourselves that marriage is included in those square inches. Marriage remains Christ’s. It was designed by him and it remains even today a gospel-imaging union between one man and one woman. No Supreme Court decision can keep us from bearing witness to this reality, with grace and joy, as a way of glorifying Christ and promoting the common good.

The Southern Baptist Decline Continues– and Accelerates

By: Ed Stetzer

For a number of years, a LifeWay Research chart illustrating Southern Baptist Convention membership beginning in 1950 brought Southern Baptist leaders a modicum of solace amidst national uncertainty.

From 1950 till 2007 it showed growth—and impressive growth—while other denominations were declining.

I wrote in 2008 that Southern Baptists shouldn’t build their denominational confidence on this chart, because the growth of the Convention seen in the 1950s slowed as it approached the new millennium.

In 2009, I quoted Cliff Tharp, the late, well-known LifeWay statistician, as saying,

We have been slowing in our growth and have now passed into decline. We are right at the top of the arc and beginning to go down. But changes we make now can change that trend significantly. These stats are not new, but it has never caught anyone’s attention until now.

The just released 2014 Annual Church Profile report shows the pattern continuing—right on track with the trend line first gaining national prominence in 2008. Membership, weekly worship attendance, and baptism numbers continue to decline.

Don’t Be Shocked

Sometimes I miss the days when people debated if we were about to head into decline.

But this shouldn’t shock us. Like Cliff said: it’s just math. And, Cliff warned us we needed to make changes.totalmembership

Yet, in 2008 there was a flurry of articles and debates about these numbers. National leaders spoke of this as a blip. It wasn’t then—I think everyone now agrees—and it isn’t now.

The Southern Baptist Convention is declining and, if the trend continues, the decline will accelerate.

Because, while some graphs like the ones above show us that membership has increased since 1950, others graphs like the one below show us that we have increased at slower rates for decades, eventually dipping into decline, which is where we are today.

The Chart of Concern

The chart that should concern Southern Baptists is one that shows growth vs decline from 1950 through last year. If this trend continues, decline will not merely continue, it will accelerate. (And, this is simply an updated chart from 2007—same trend, seven years later.)

memberchangeFollow that trend line and soon the SBC will be declining at 2 percent a year, then three percent, then…

In 2013, the SBC claimed 15,735,640 members, and in 2014, that number fell by 236,467 to 15,499,173—that’s a 1.5 percent decline. However, on this stat alone, the claim could be made that churches are simply clearing out the cobwebs and tidying up their membership rolls so their numbers more accurately reflect their active members.

The problem is, membership isn’t alone in its decline—it’s joined by baptisms and weekly worship attendance.

In 2013, Southern Baptist churches reported 310,368 baptisms. Last year, they reported 305,301, which is down by more than five thousand baptisms, or 1.63 percent.

The highest percentage of decline last year was in weekly worship attendance. In 2013, 5,834,707 people attended SBC churches for worship each week. In 2014, that number dropped by 2.75 percent (160,238) to 5,674,469.

What Now?

At the core, these numbers tell us this: it is as important as it has ever been for Southern Baptists to share and show the love of Jesus.

But, that does not require a Southern Baptist Convention. That’s true for non-denominational churches as well.

So, for the future, the SBC needs to find a way to cooperatively work together (what Ronnie Floyd has called “visible unity”), to lead out in evangelism and church planting, provide resources for church revitalization, engage young and more non-Anglo leaders, and do so as a denominational family.

Facts are our friends, and the fact is the SBC decline is not reversing, it’s accelerating.

But, it is not too late to make changes that will reverse it—and to do so together.