Monday, February 10, 2014

What can be done with all of our plateaued and declining churches?

The standard figure that is always trotted out about the status of our churches is that 80% of all SBC churches are either plateaued or declining. Since I've heard that exact figure for years, decades actually, I presume that it has been accepted into Southern Baptist lore as a given. I don't dispute it. NAMB is using the figure of 70-75% these days.

I attend the minister's conference for one of the larger associations in our state with over 70 churches. A recent conference was led by the Associational Missionary who said that 86% of churches in his association were either plateaued or declining. That would be six out of seven. Maybe ten churches in our association were growing. Every church in this association where I have preached over the past two years has been declining and several barely alive.

What can be done with these churches?

Depends. Maybe nothing. Maybe something.

The association, offered the AM, is ramping up a church revitalization program.

"Oh boy," thought I, "here we go again."

I've been through this. Well-meaning denominational employees designing a program they can use to help all those churches who aren't getting it done and that are slowly dying. State conventions do a lot of this. NAMB is concerned about this and I appreciate the concern. Does any pastor not have an acute sense that enables him to recognize a top-down denominational program?

"Here, pastor, is a program we thought up that will turn your church around and we're the experts, you know."

I haven't seen any effective revitalization program from any SBC-level entity. I doubt there is one.

But I'm all ears for a local program. Let's hear about it.

I heard about it. I like it and am initially impressed for the following reasons:

1. It is locally generated and not based on a national or state level template. No one in Nashville or even Alpharetta sat in their office and strained to generate eureka moments on how they can help a church in dusty West Texas, the hills and hollows of West Virginia, or the South Carolina low country. The people that designed this program live here, work here, minister here, know the churches here.

2. It is free. I'm going to be charitable here. Many programs of this type have featured consultants and publications that cost money, about as large a disincentive for participation that can be inflicted on an SBC church. If those pushing the program profit from it, we are on the wrong track. Our local program costs nothing but prayer and participation. Local people choose to be the working parts of the revitalization team. They don't do it to moonlight and generate extra fish bait money that goes in their pocket.

3. Participants choose which components of the program they need. Every SBC church revitalization program I've ever heard of promoted itself as not being a "one size fits all" program but were, well, one size fits all. Our local program is authentically unique to each church that chooses to participate.

The ultimate test is in the results. So far, no results. But after having acquired a well-earned degree of cynicism over past similar efforts, I am pleased to be persuaded away from such and hope the Lord uses this for the strengthening of His churches.


Anonymous said...

Let’s review a very detailed report that has a good amount of contextual information about these proposed declining churches. With said information we might developed a more accurate and nuanced understanding of these congregations. Missions can change and manifesting mission may result in “decline.”

Statistics like 70-75%, 80%, etc. are basically meaningless until someone defines "declining." And given such a definition, would such be met with agreement? At least with the term defined, we can better gauge the merit of such proclamations. Let me suggest that ‘decline’ is a multidimensional concept; that is, it is a bit more complex than is seemingly used.

Having said that, perhaps it should also be acknowledged that churches, too, may have an end point to their trajectory and that instead of trying to alter its end, it may be best to help it achieve it as gracefully as it is able.

If indeed a church is in decline, such is not necessarily something in which the congregation must be ashamed of, but rather it may be something to be embraced and perceived as natural, as it is with most organizations. Let’s be careful that ‘decline’ that ‘unfaithful’ do not become conflated terms, as is seemingly the case for some evangelists and denominational administrators.

Anonymous said...

‘decline’ that ‘unfaithful’

‘decline’ and ‘unfaithful’