We face a triple crisis in the North American church today as we seek to influence a culture that is increasingly lost and indifferent to the things of God. First, our population continues to grow and become more diverse, yet we are not starting enough new churches to keep pace with that growth. Second, we are losing a shockingly high number of churches every year that simply close their doors and disappear. Third, even more of our existing churches have stopped being outwardly focused and are no longer lights for the gospel in their communities.
At the North American Mission Board where I serve, our mission is to help Southern Baptists push back lostness in North America. To do that, we need to close the gap between our number of churches and the growing population. That gap grew from one church for every thirty-eight hundred people in 1900 to one church for every sixty-two hundred today.
To close this gap, we want to help increase the church birth rate by helping Southern Baptists start fifteen thousand new churches over a ten-year period. But we also need to help decrease the church death rate.
If we simply start more churches but continue losing about a thousand a year—which is the current average among Southern Baptists—we will, at best, be treading water. At the same time, if increasing numbers of existing churches lose their effectiveness, you can see how our influence on the world will keep slipping.
Viewed through the lens of any research you look at, Southern Baptist churches are in the midst of a health crisis and have been for many years. We analyzed data from the Annual Church Profile (ACP) and found that between 2007 and 2012, only 27 percent of reporting SBC churches experienced growth. Forty-three percent were plateaued and 30 percent declined.
But our analysis looked at membership numbers. A study by the Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary looked at worship attendance and found that in 2010 only 6.8 percent of SBC churches were healthy.
This is why we must make church revitalization a high priority. We can no longer settle for seeing so many of our churches slip away or lose their influence each year.
If you are pastoring a church in need of revitalization, I hope you will take encouragement from the powerful resource you hold in your hands. Bill Henard has compiled an exhaustive guide for helping you think through the personal and corporate journey you must embark on if your church is to return to healthier days.
As Bill points out, seeking God’s presence must be the top priority, and that begins with a pastor’s individual walk with the Lord. Put God first, follow His lead, and then let Him be responsible for the results. It’s His church and, as much as you love it, He loves it even more.
—Kevin Ezell / William Henard, Can These Bones Live: A Practical Guide to Church Revitalization (Nashville: B&H, 2015).
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