Christianity’s decline in America has been well documented, and few dispute the seeming disregard for evangelism among believers these days. Our SBC Executive Committee chairman and south Georgia pastor, Mike Stone, recently reminded the messengers of the Georgia Baptist Convention of our crisis. He shared that 19 Southern Baptist churches close their doors every week. Closer to home, 48 percent of Georgia Baptist churches were unable to baptize even one convert last year.
To make this point even clearer, Stone shared that “nearly two-thirds of the churches of the leading state convention of the most evangelistic denomination in the world – baptized two or less in an entire year.”
While this is a difficult report to hear, ignoring this reality won’t make it go away. The question remains, what can we do to change this trend? We must turn our churches inside out!
We began this conversation in a previous column, suggesting five simple solution steps toward church revitalization. We established that the first step to turning our churches inside out is for Christians to drop the rocks. We can’t take step two until we’ve committed to step one, but once Christians have dropped the rocks, we will have our hands free to do the mission God has called us to accomplish. Still, we’d better be ready to get our hands dirty. This will require us to trade in our suits for boots as we work the fields that are ready for harvest.
We must think, live, and serve like missionaries. You are a missionary! In fact, every Christian has been called to be a missionary in his own community.
The priority of foreign missions is an undeniable part of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), but no one can claim that God has placed a higher value on foreign missions than your personal local mission field. Scripture makes it clear that our mission begins at home and then expands to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
I’m afraid many Christians have unintentionally defined “missions” as an exclusively foreign effort. We’ve errantly assumed that missions is something someone else does – somewhere else, leaving our primary responsibility prayer for and funding of the work.
While this may have been a productive way of promoting a missions program in the past, it’s an incomplete approach to mobilizing believers today. Does God call people to move to the other side of the planet as missionaries? YES. But He also calls us to walk across the street in our neighborhoods.
The value of a man’s soul does not increase or decrease based on his nationality or the continent on which he lives. Missions anywhere is just as valuable as missions everywhere. Our investment in missions should never be limited by geography. We are all called to live on mission, every day and everywhere we go. You are a missionary, and you must start thinking like a missionary. How do we do that?
Study and adapt to the culture
What do foreign missionaries do when they’re called to serve a particular people group? They learn everything they can about the people they’ve been commissioned to reach. They research the language and customs while attempting to adapt to the culture that God has called them to impact.
Yet when thinking in terms of local church ministry, many wrongly reject this missional concept entirely. A missionary would evaluate and strategically infiltrate the culture. The average churchgoer, on the other hand, likely sees the culture as the enemy of the mission, not the setting in which the mission takes place.
While this may seem trivial, it’s a major part of our problem. Look around you; your community is your mission field!
Turn confrontations into conversations
Does your church desire to make a significant kingdom impact in this generation? Do you want to reach lost souls? If so, stop fighting people and start loving them.
We must turn unnecessary confrontations into Gospel conversations. It’s unheard of in our day, but we should talk with people we disagree with. Christians are not generally greeted with open arms by the secular American culture, but we’ve brought much of the negative public opinion on ourselves.
No, you should never compromise the truth, but you should humble yourself enough to sit down and talk to people. God will use your humility and grace to draw men and women to himself.
Focus on rescue, not survival
With internal focus comes a survival mentality. A church that is constantly worried about keeping its members happy and maintaining the status quo will never accomplish a God-sized vision. While members should never be ignored or neglected, senior leaders should teach them that this faith journey is about sacrifice.
Jesus Himself, God in flesh, left Heaven and came to earth in order to serve unworthy sinners. How can we as sinners consider ourselves more deserving of comfort and preference than the perfect Son of God? It’s not about you!
We are not a boat in distress, fighting back the waves for fear of being toppled over in the deep. We are not in survival mode! We are the searching ship. The Church is sending our team of rescuers, looking for others who are vulnerable to the elements of this world, alone in the dark, afraid for their lives. The Church truly is their lighthouse, and we are called to a rescue mission. Our goal is rescue, not survival.