Recently I posted a blog titled “7 Out-of-the-Box Things Southern Baptists Must Do to Stop the Bleeding and Start Growing Again.” Apparently it hit a nerve and was shared over 10,000 times in the first two weeks. Like me, there are millions of Southern Baptists out there who love our denominational heritage and want to see it flourish again, but the numbers are not encouraging. Membership is down, baptisms are down, our churches are getting older and will begin to die off due to no retention of the younger generation.
So, how do we turn things around? Pray? Yes, but not the prayers that ask God to simply ‘send revival,’ which is usually code for ‘turn America back to Mayberry.’ That’s lazy praying, stating ‘God we’re not willing to change, so change everything else to something we’re more comfortable with.’ Should we preach the Word? Absolutely. But not in a way that judges and alienates the very people we’re trying to reach. Look at Jesus. There is an option between the two extremes of condoning and condemning the culture around us. Besides praying more and preaching the Word, what are more ways to jumpstart growth within the Southern Baptist Convention? Here are 5 (more) out-of-the-box ideas:
1. Combine smaller churches. I currently serve in the Deep South, and I can’t even tell you how many smaller churches dot every highway and byway. Churches with less that 100 people, well meaning churches with one part-time or full-time staff, doing good just to keep the lights on. A majority of these churches have the same ministry model and mindset. Rather than individually struggle to create enough critical mass to break past the 100 barrier, why don’t two or three smaller churches from the same area join forces? You would instantly have a church of 200-250, be able to support multiple staff and legitimate age-graded ministries, and the critical mass would add energy and quality to everything they do.
2. Remove the pulpit. I warned you these ideas were out-of-the-box. The Bible is immovable and unchangeable. The pulpit is not. The pulpit is an archaic piece of architecture that harkens back to the Middle Ages. I’m a strong advocate for removing the pulpit and replacing it with something more informal. Some preach from a music stand. I preach from a round table. Why is this important? Because it instantly changes the tenor of the sermon, the central aspect of a Baptist worship service. The pulpit can easily become a barrier, a moral wall of separation between preacher and congregation behind which the preacher can safely lob grenades of judgment. Remove the pulpit, and the monologue can become a dialogue, the diatribe can become a conversation. That’s why I preach from a tall round table. The visual I’m trying to create is sitting together for an informal conversation at your local coffee shop. People don’t want to be yelled at or lectured to. They want to be conversated with like adults.
3. Start a parking lot ministry. A gentlemen in his 80s has been attending our church for the past several months. He’s gotten me in trouble with his home church because he’s gone back to his preacher and told him that he needs to come up to our church to see how it’s done. The first thing he mentioned was the parking lot. “When you open the door there’s someone there to help you out of your car. If it’s raining they have umbrellas at your car waiting for you. That’s how church is supposed to be done.” First impressions make a huge deal, which is why I’ve said previously that your parking lot is more important than your pulpit. Start a legitimate host team for your church and watch guests start to stick around longer.
4. Tell better stories. Everyone wants to be part of something bigger than themselves. One of the greatest tasks any church can do is cast a compelling vision for its people. That doesn’t mean that your pastor has to be an incredible visionary. It just means you have to be able to tell great stories. Stories are one of the greatest ways to reinforce the vision of any organization. Every single Sunday morning your church should tell a story, not just a Bible story, not just a canned illustration from a book, but a real life story from one of your members. Give people a picture of what it looks like to follow Jesus in your localized world. Did Susie hold onto her faith during a battle with cancer? Tell that story. Did Tom get the chance to share Jesus recently on a mission trip? Tell that story. Did the Davis family have a great experience in their small group recently? Tell that story. What gets rewarded gets repeated. When you publicly praise your people for their Christian faith in front of their peers, that behavior will be repeated. Churches don’t tell stories because it’s hard work. It takes intentionality. It takes active listening. It takes you truly being involved with your people. But it works. You want to grow? Tell better stories.
5. Lean into spiritual gifts. Many Baptist churches have shied away from spiritual gifts in an attempt to avoid the excesses of the charismatic movement. But in the end we’ve thrown out the baby with the bathwater. When we’re praying for revival, we’re praying for the Spirit to move. Yet we shouldn’t be surprised that the Spirit doesn’t move when we’ve shut down one of the primary ways the Spirit works in the church today (spiritual gifts). Does your church have a legitimate way for people to discover their spiritual gifts? (It’s easier than ever with great websites like www.spiritualgiftstest.com). But more than that, do you have specific ways for people to exercise their spiritual gifts? If someone has the gift of administration, is their something they can organize? If someone has the gift of wisdom, is there a leadership position for them? If someone has the gift of shepherding or teaching, is there a small group for them to lead? If someone has the gift of leadership or apostleship, what new ministry can they help launch? Everyone wants to feel useful. Deep down, everyone who attends your church wants to do more than simply sit and watch a service. They want to contribute. They want to participate. If you can do the hard work of discovering and developing the spiritual gifts of your people, then hold on tight and get ready for God-sized growth.
QUESTION: What are out-of-the-box things can Southern Baptists do to jumpstart growth?