Saturday, June 14, 2008

Membership Decline

The SBC and church membership decline.
(okay - for my many non SBC friends- SBC is the Southern Baptist Convention)
It seems many people are writing on this membership decline topic. I figured I would attempt at writing an angle.
I am not including a lot of numbers. You can find that elsewhere.
I read this in The Tennessean, a Nashville newspaper this week.
"The resolution (regarding church membership) , which reflects the growing influencing of Calvinism in the SBC, comes on the heels of denominational statistics that showed the 16 million-member convention shrinking. Membership fell in 2007 for the second time in a decade. Even more discouraging, officials said, baptisms in SBC churches dropped for the seventh time in eight years – down 5.5 percent in 2007."

So there you have it. The SBC is in decline.
What do we do about?
I am sure there are lots of reasons that people are citing.
  • Too narrow as a denomination
  • Too broad as a denomination
  • People are not loyal to denominations any more
  • We have lost the passion to evangelise
  • The SBC needs new programs or methods for evangelism
  • The SBC needs reach the next generation of leaders
  • They need to come together as a convention and work together
On and On the reasons go.
Some of them could even make sense.
I am also sure that this list is not extensive.
I want to explore another angle. It is simply an observation that I want to make.
One reason I feel we are in decline is that most churches (I would venture to say inside and outside the denomination) are churches who are more "attractional". By this I mean their primary way of growth is to invite people to church. This can be done in various ways but often through cool programs or outreach events. A lot of energy and resources are spent on building the church to be an attractive place for the community to come. I have been a part of this approach for nearly all of my ministry.
However, I believe this approach makes a dangerous assumption. It is assuming that people want to come to church. It is assuming that people are looking for a church to attend. I am not that old but I do remember the late 80s and 90s in church growth. I was a young child then. smile.
You could offer quality childcare, relevant preaching, good programs with cool logos and brands, a great band and then you could "attract" a crowd. We have seen churches grow in this way. I personally think much of that growth has always been transfer growth but nonetheless many churches gained a lot of attention by growing in numbers and thus many people felt - IT IS WORKING and this must be the way. However, I would not want to minimize what some times took place in those days for I know that many people came to know Christ personally. Many others renewed their commitment to Jesus. Some great things happened and their are places where great things are happening today.
BUT --- I noticed upon living and ministering in Europe that it is an uphill struggle when you are trying to use attractional methods in a post Christian culture where the vast majority of the people are not looking to go to church. For the majority attending church of any sort on Sunday is not a blip on the radar screen. I think America is quickly following suit and we need to discover ways to minister amongst this culture or we will continue to see decline.
The HOPE is this.
I would say a couple of authors Allan Hirsch and Michael Frost articulate this much better than I in their book "The Shaping of Things to Come". I think the church has to become "missional" in it's approach to ministry. The church has to get out of it's building and programs and traditions and get into the streets and neighborhoods and take the Gospel to the people by living amongst them. Our lives as Christ followers should be the attraction to our lost friends not the building or programs of the church.
Instead of extracting new believers out of their culture and into the church where we expect them to be many hours during the week we must find ways to evangelise, disciple and plant churches (or cell groups / small groups) amongst the people where they are living and working. I believe this is best achieved by what is called "incarnational" ministry. Living as a Christ follower intentionally amongst the people who need Him the most. Sharing Jesus in a natural yet intentional way.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

finding our way

On Friday I took a 6:30 am flight from Basel, Switzerland (near my home in Germany) to Malaga, Spain which is on the Med. in the area called Andalucia, Spain. By 9:30 am I was having a great cafe con leche and a tostada con tomate (toast with olive oil and tomato paste which is one of my favorite Spanish breakfast foods) in a small city called Torremolinos. I went with a colleague of mine to scope out some excursions for an upcoming conference that is being planned. I was the translator. I am not saying I was good or bad but simply leaving it as I was "The Translator".

One of our tasks on our fact finding mission was to find this place in the middle of nowhere (a town on a mountain in the desert is a better description) that hosts outdoor adventure activities.

We found it on a website and it gave us directions. At least we thought. We had pretty good directions from 1 - 6 but for some reason direction number 7, 8 and 9 were missing. Direction number 6 simply got us into this very small pueblo (small town). It was a typical "white washed" Spanish pueblo that you see in post cards. We arrive in the town to really discover this may be harder than we thought. We see no signs or billboards for this place. There were no signs or billboards period. I have my friend pull into the center of town where they have the government building. Luckily they were open and the woman was friendly but she did not know really where this place was located though she heard of it. She said it will be hard to find for it is in the middle of the "campo". (It is in the middle of the country). But, if you will take a right and then a left and then another right through this town you will find a bar (in Spain restaurants and coffee shops are called bars, trust me). The owner knows this person who has the recreation place and you can ask him and he can tell you. So we did.

We walk into the bar and there were 6 other people there and we stuck out a bit especially after I used my Spanish. I ordered a coke and some chips thinking that I would get better directions if I bought something. Plus at 1130 am it was time for second breakfast. In Spain you normally do not eat lunch until 2:30 or 3 pm. I asked the owner who also was the waiter about this place. Sure enough he knew and he gave us another set of directions that got us there. It was quite a journey and adventure.

If there is a point to this story it would be how we gather information in life for life and how that relates to discovering God's will and way for us. I know I really want steps 1- 9. I want all of the directions mapped out for me but it is not always like that. I usually have to stop and ask directions along the way and those directions may only get me to the next stop and it is there where I have to stop and ask for more directions in order to get to the destination. What I am learning is to be "okay" with that.

It suits my desire for control to know all of the steps but life is not always like that and I sometimes have to figure it out as I go. What I need to keep in mind is the Holy Spirit is with me as I go. I have a guide. The Holy Spirit gives me direction even though I may not be able to see it all at first. I think it requires us talking with other believers, studying His Word, praying, experiencing the journey and the circumstances that come from that. It also takes time and it not always an instant discovery.

It is a journey of adventure.
It is a journey of faith.

Though I look forward to the final destination I am learning that it is also possible to enjoy the journey as you go.