Depending on the statistics used, two-thirds – or as many as eight in 10 – Southern Baptist churches are plateaued or declining these days.
Depending on the statistics used, two-thirds – or as
many as eight in 10 – Southern Baptist churches are plateaued or
declining these days.
Ken Hemphill has seen the numbers.
He thinks he has a solution.
“How do you turn the plateaued or declining church
into a growing, vibrant church?” asked Hemphill, Southern Baptist
Convention strategist for the Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis that
seeks to help persons focus all of life on the kingdom of God and its
“My conviction is the problem that creates plateaued
churches is spiritual myopia. When we look inward, we see all of our
flaws and shortcomings – we don’t have enough staff, we don’t have
enough room, we don’t have enough buildings. Everything turns inward.
“The only way to change that is to get a global
vision as we begin to look at the world as God sees it,” Hemphill said.
The church growth movement contributed to the
condition by leading churches to focus on their particular congregation
without equal concern for the world, Hemphill suggested. “The problem
is such thinking creates a competitive spirit rather than a cooperative
strategy,” he said.
And if a church focuses only on reaching its
community, it will end up forsaking the rest of the world, Hemphill
To counter that possibility, Hemphill has joined
Southern Baptist International Mission Board and North American Mission
Board leaders in promoting the Acts 1:8 model, which challenges each
local church to join with partners to reach Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria
and the ends of the earth with the gospel. The four realms correspond
to the local community, the state, the nation and the world.
“When the church simply focuses on Jerusalem, it
will lose sight of the world,” said Hemphill, adding that he sees Acts
1:8 as the missions component of the Empowering Kingdom Growth
emphasis. “But if you can get the church to focus on the world, it will
always impact Jerusalem.”
Hemphill acknowledged that no church is capable of
achieving the Acts 1:8 challenge alone. The key is partnering.
He cited the Southern Baptist structure as a prime example.
“Since no one church is capable of reaching an
entire community, the SBC is organized into associations of churches in
communities to form partnerships for reaching those areas,” Hemphill
noted. “Through the associations, Jerusalem is reached.”
Judea is reached when churches join together on the state level through the various state conventions, Hemphill said.
Samaria is reached when churches partner with the North American Mission Board.
When churches broaden their horizons further and
join resources with the International Mission Board, the ends of the
earth are reached for Christ.
In addition to having a structure that is conducive
to the Acts 1:8 challenge, Southern Baptists have a means of funding
such partnerships through the Cooperative Program, Hemphill said.
“The Cooperative Program is not a budget to fund a
denomination, but a local church’s budget enabling it to join with
other likeminded churches to accomplish the Acts 1:8 challenge,” he
“The Cooperative Program is like a vast mutual fund
that enables the individual church to buy into a mission strategy that
covers the entire universe of mission needs, rather than having to pick
and choose among mission assets as an individual investor.”
Unfortunately, Southern Baptists are not
consistently supporting the Cooperative Program, which channels gifts
from the churches worldwide missions and ministry efforts, Hemphill
Indeed, research indicates individual giving through
the local church is at an all-time low, Hemphill said, suggesting that
many people are giving to support missions outside the church.
“I’m not sure our local churches have given a
convincing vision that, through the church, they can impact the world,
not just Jerusalem – our community – but Judea, Samaria and the ends of
the earth,” he said.
The average giver is giving just to meet the budget
needs of the local church – to pay the pastor a little more or to
replace the carpet in the church or simply to keep the lights on,
The average giver is not giving in abundance because
the local church has not clearly communicated the mandate to reach the
entire world through the partnerships of the denominational structure,
Even a small church with 50 or 60 in Sunday School
each week is capable of playing a crucial role in accomplishing the
Acts 1:8 challenge, Hemphill said. Despite obstacles, the small
congregation can choose to contact its local association or partner
with a nearby church to do a ministry project together, he noted. Then,
by joining hands with other Acts 1:8 partners – state conventions and
the mission boards – the churches can begin reaching the world.
Such a focus can revitalize a church, Hemphill insisted.
“What happens is the church is electrified because
its people are stepping outside of their comfort zones,” he said.
To facilitate such a mindset, Hemphill cited an
event created to complement the Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis –
the EKG Challenge and Celebration. For the event, the local church sets
up its fellowship hall or gym with four quadrants to represent
Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. In each quadrant,
they look at the partnerships they have to assist them in accomplishing
the Acts 1:8 task.
“We are asking our churches to consider a mission
project in each of the quadrants,” Hemphill said. “The larger church
may build sufficient momentum to work in all four quadrants each year,
while the smaller church may choose a different quadrant for a mission
project each year.”
Also, to keep the Acts 1:8 challenge at the
forefront of Southern Baptist minds, Hemphill has initiated the
distribution of blue “JJSE” bracelets, which are similar to the What
Would Jesus Do? (WWJD) bracelets. The JJSE bracelets are meant to
remind people to pray for the four realms of the Acts 1:8 challenge –
Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.
(JJSE bracelets are available at LifeWay Christian
Stores, at www.lifewaystores.com or by calling 800-448-8032)