When I served as a pastor, I was sometimes criticized for emphasizing numbers, such as how many people attended the previous week’s Sunday School and worship services and how many baptisms we had in a year’s time. That is the way most local church leaders think — and rightly so, I contend.
Statistics for 2008 from across the Southern Baptist Convention are now available for reflection and strategy planning. Southern Baptists are to be commended for their generous giving for the cause of Christ, despite a deep recessionary economy — a point to remember as we analyze the stats.
Indeed gifts through the local church, the Cooperative Program and the special missions offerings were up, but other statistics were not so favorable.
These other numbers should give us pause for sure. Total church membership for our churches was down slightly in 2008. The same is true for Sunday School enrollment, which is a really important barometer of church health for Southern Baptists.
Especially disturbing is the continued decline in THE number of baptisms in our churches. This is the fourth consecutive year for the trend downward — certainly not something that Southern Baptists want to see as a pattern for the future.
The timing for the GPS strategy (God’s Plan for Sharing) for Southern Baptists could not be better. This 10-year initiative is the right focus for the right time. If we believe that all people are lost without Christ, then we will want to share the Gospel with anyone, anywhere, at anytime. Our goal is to increase the population of heaven and to decrease the population of hell. GPS is a timely strategy to share the timeless message of Christ with the mission field we call North America.
Numbers do count because they represent people and, as the song says, “People Need the Lord.” As Southern Baptists who believe in Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life, we need to commit ourselves anew to “do the work of an evangelist.” That is what GPS is all about.
Perhaps, we should view this as a temporary recession, not a permanent trend, for our denominational family. Recessions are downturns in the business cycle; therefore we are definitely in a recession currently. However, even the most pessimistic forecaster would admit that this recession will end at some point. What will bring it to an end? One way to answer that question is to reply, “When there is a revival in the economy.”
The SBC recession will end when we experience a revival as a people of God. When we have a true sense renewal in our relationship with the Lord, the numbers will take care of themselves. Why? Because we will be doing God’s work in God’s way according to God’s will.
My prayer for my denominational family is that in 2010 we can look back and see the beginnings of a revival among us and the end to our own denominational recession.
This blog article by Rick Lance was also published by Baptist Press on April 28, 2009.