From 1978-1983, 30.5% of churches in the Southern Baptist Convention were seeing at least a 10% increase in total membership over a five-year period of time. During this same time, 51.9% of our SBC churches were plateaued and 17.6% were in decline. In this study, declining churches are those where total membership declined by at least 10% in this five-year period of time. Plateaued is categorized as between growing and declining.
When you compare that with the most recent five-year period of record between 2008 and 2013, only 25.9% of our churches were categorized as growing by at least 10% in total membership. During this same five-year period, 44.3% of our churches were plateaued and 29.9% were declining, meaning their total membership declined by at least 10% between 2008 and 2013. Again, plateaued is categorized as between growing and declining.
What This Means
This means that we have fewer growing churches and more declining churches than ever before in our history. When you compare these side-by-side, you can see it more clearly:
Relating to these statistics, Ed Stetzer, the Executive Director of LifeWay Research said, “In the years that this statistic has been calculated, we have never had fewer growing churches and never had more declining churches.” This should burden each of us.
4 Actions We Can Take to See This Turn Around
I want to suggest four actions we can take to see this turn around over the next five years.
1. We need to refocus our churches on evangelizing lost people.
We need to stop imagining that real church growth occurs when we trade members between our churches. Real church growth only occurs when we evangelize lost people.
2. We need to develop a strategy and culture of discipling people.
Real church health can only occur as we disciple our people as Jesus said, “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19b-20) Discipleship involves not only baptizing people, but teaching people to obey all that Jesus commanded us to do.
Therefore, we need to develop not only a culture for disciple making, but also have a strategy for disciple making in our churches.
3. We need to believe again that healthy churches grow.
In our excuse making American culture, the church has adopted this same disease of excuse making. Most churches refuse to be honest with themselves in seriously evaluating their spiritual condition. Acts 16:5 says, “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in number daily.”
Church health eventually leads to church growth. Excuse making of any kind by any leader or church cannot ignore nor deny this biblical reality.
4. We need to experience the God Factor in our churches again.
As recorded in Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, “I will build My church and the forces of Hades will not overpower it.” Jesus is committed to building His church! This is the God Factor!
I believe the God Factor occurs when we preach the gospel, strategically reach lost people, and pray to the Lord of the Harvest, who is committed to building His church in this world.
Whether your church touches 35, 350, or 3,500 people a week, ask God to grow His church where you are. Develop a strategic plan to see the church grow. Lead the people to get it done by God’s power and grace, for His glory alone! Ask God for His vision for the church you serve and implement it immediately.
I believe with all my heart that God can move our Southern Baptist Convention churches into having more growing churches than ever before in our history. We need pastors to lead, church members to support, and together strategize to see your church become healthy spiritually and grow numerically for His glory.
Last night, I was in Houston, ministering God’s Word and leading people to pray for spiritual revival in the church and spiritual awakening in America.
This week, pray for me, as I will be ministering in several ways in the cities of Atlanta, Nashville, Cincinnati, and Birmingham. All of this, of course, is between Sunday mornings here at Cross Church. Pray for Cross Church and our staff team, who are diligent in these days.
Yours for the Great Commission,
Ronnie W. Floyd
Dr. Ronnie Floyd is currently serving as the President of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.7 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide.
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