“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ ”
The Great Commission – The last chapter, the final verses of the book of Matthew represents God’s calling to believers to spread His truth, the gospel message to all who will listen.
After more than two thousand years, what direction are we headed as a nation in continuing to focus on that calling with the next generation of Christians?
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is often viewed as a bellwether for the larger evangelical community. Every year they publish an Annual Church Profile, which summarizes the state of the denomination.
The 2017 Annual Report sadly does not have much to celebrate…
The good news: The number of churches grew by 1 percent over the previous year. The number of Southern Baptist churches has increased for the last 18 years.
But the bad news :
- Lowest # of baptisms since 1946.
- Lowest total membership since 1990.
- Lowest # of worship attenders since 1996.
- Average weekly worship attendance declined 7% over 2016.
- Baptisms dropped to another record low, down 5% over 2016.
In short, our denomination continues to shrink and its baptism rate has slumped to its lowest level since shortly after the end of World War II in 1945. For decades Southern Baptists were the standout among faith groups, reporting strong baptism numbers while Methodists, Presbyterians, and others encountered deterioration at all levels. But now even the SBC is finding it difficult to overcome the same headwinds that has brought others into a retrenchment mindset. In fact, for the past decade Our domination has actually lost members as the US population has seen a new growth spurt.
A few observations on why is this happening?
- Many Southern Baptists have lost their passion for reaching the unchurched.
- The single fastest-growing religious group of our country are the ‘none’s’, those having no church or denominational affiliation.
- The sad reality is that 80 percent of churches in the SBC are plateaued or declining. Struggles associated with that decline have lessened an intentional focus on evangelism.
- Over the last 20 years we, as a nation, have moved away from an Acts 2 form of evangelism to an Acts 17 mission field.
- Acts 2 – Peter, taught biblical truth to those who already believed in a monotheistic God and knew the prophecies of a coming Messiah.
- Acts 2:22-23 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
- These people knew about Jesus and the true God. They had seen or heard about Jesus’s miraculous works and were curious about who he was.
- Acts 17 – Paul, preaching in Athens, had to start all the way back in Genesis to explain the gospel to a totally unchurched, agnostic or polytheistic audience.
- 2. Acts 17:23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
- Paul could not assume anything.
- Like Acts 17, millennials today are less willing to accept basic concepts such as the authenticity of Scripture, the Trinity, the reality of sin and, most importantly, the need for Salvation as a starting point in spiritual discussions. This refusal to accept long accepted foundational beliefs intimidates church members and lengthens the time and commitment of building relationships as a necessity for evangelism.
- 3. Said another way, it is difficult to share Christ with individuals who have never had a church background and little understanding of who Christ is. The believer has to start from scratch, explaining who God is before having any discussions regarding His plan for a fallen creation.
Bottom line – Biblical Christians, as a group, no longer have the same level of passion as they have had in the past, for sharing the gospel with their neighbors. It’s perceived as too hard and too time consuming.
We have become more and more a closed society, communicating through text messages, twitter and snapchat rather than building relationships face-to-face.
Yet the the Bible has not changed. Scripture calls the church to serve the lost with the Great Commission. But if the Church is defined as a local congregation of believers, they (we) are sadly failing God’s calling.
Church-based efforts to evangelize the lost remain focused on traditional visitation in the home, even as members are more and more fearful to share their faith and the lost millennials become more isolated and resistant to narrow minded Christians and their outdated beliefs. Today’s neighbors do not know each other. People have moved from their front porches to their back patios, often unwilling to even answer the door when church members try to engage local communities. This is not to say that conventional visitation should not be conducted. We, as believers, need to take every opportunity to share what has been shared with us. But it does open the question of whether there is a better, more effective way to spread the Good News.
Where do we spend nearly 40% of our waking hours every week interacting with people? Where can we efficiently invest the time to build deep relationships with people and engage them at whatever place they are in their spiritual walk? Where can we share the gospel message with many who will rarely attend a church service and who have no relationship with a local Pastor?
Luke 10:27 was Christ’s response to the greatest commandment – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
The greatest expression of love we can show to others we work with every day is to tell them about Jesus Christ.