Back in April 2008, Ed Stetzer wrote a post on how to reverse the decline in the Southern Baptist Churches (SBC). He’s just followed that up with some additional thoughts following a year of experience and reflection.
Stetzer is a consultant to the Southern Baptist Churches, frequent speaker at seminars for many denominations, and has lots of thoughts well worth pondering. And his advice is particularly appropriate to the Churches of Christ because —
* The SBC announced that its numbers were in decline the same year that Dr. Flavil Yeakley reached the same conclusion about the Churches of Christ.
* We are a lot like the Southern Baptists. Deny it all you wish, but we share conservative theology, congregational autonomy, and an evangelistic ideal.
As you read his comments, you’ll find other similarities, some of which may surprise you.
I’m going to alternate his advice with my own reflections and reactions, translating into Church of Christ terms as we go.
Three issues rise to the top. First, we have to deal with the continued loss of SBC leaders. As we have recently reported in Facts & Trends, we have witnessed a serious (and increasing) depopulation of young leaders at our convention.
The Churches of Christ are wrestling with the same issue. In the absence of any kind of convention, there are no solid numbers, but it’s widely reported that there’s a shortage of qualified ministers. There are several reasons for this —
* Men are marrying later, and many churches won’t hire a single man. Many elderships are quite frank that they expect to hire two for the price of one. Others are worried about the difficulties raised by a preacher who is dating.
* Many churches want a man with an M.Div., and graduate degrees are expensive. Preachers graduate with tons of school debt, and many college students are unwilling to undertake a career that involves low wages and high debt. Imagine trying to pay off grad school loans on a missionary’s salary.
* Men coming straight out of college or grad school will normally start at a smaller church. The big churches want — and can afford — a man with several years of experience. But the smaller churches tend to be conservative, making it very hard for a progressive, newly minted preacher to get started.
* As a result, new graduates tend to start out in youth or campus ministry, but not all great future preachers are gifted for age-group ministry. And we’re losing campus ministries rapidly — because many have been supported by multiple churches that will no longer cooperate due to the progressive/conservative split.
* Some large churches can hire a younger man in an associate position, but our colleges don’t always train men for administrative work.
Until the progressive mindset becomes more uniform among our churches, this will remain a truly tough problem. The debt problem is being addressed by some of our colleges. And I think churches are slowly learning that single men can preach, too — and have fewer responsibilities competing for their time.
Also, ethnic leadership remains absent after decades of ethnic change in America. Vacant seats still exist at the SBC table for the ethnic and generational diversity that matches the America we are attempting to reach.
I don’t see many black men graduating with Bible degrees — certainly not enough. On the other hand, I sure don’t see enough non-black churches hiring black men. I mean, aren’t we long, long past the notion of white churches and black churches? And until we start having multi-ethnic congregations with multi-ethnic staffs, we are not going to relate well to the culture, young adults and teens, or somebody named Jesus.
The departure by the future leaders of our convention has led to fewer church plants, missionaries, and energetic pastors to lead our faltering churches. We must retain these leaders not because we need them for our churches. We need them to reach the lost whom our churches have yet to touched.