Churches Old and New

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Let’s start with the numbers. In the 2015 church year, churches that were established or affiliated with the Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC) from 2011-2015 baptized 224 persons and gave $169,340 to missions through the Cooperative Program (CP). Churches established and affiliated between 2006-2010 baptized 335 persons and gave $130,143 to missions through CP. Churches older than 2006 baptized 1,447 and gave $2,423,637 to missions through CP.

This means that churches older than five years of age baptized 89 percent of those baptized in our NWBC churches, and these same churches gave 93.8 percent of the mission dollars through CP. Churches more than ten years old performed 72 percent of all baptisms and gave 89 percent of the CP mission dollars.
For the past several years much attention and ministry focus of Southern Baptist denominational entities (associational, state and regional, and national) has been on church planting. Church planting has occupied a significant portion of my own ministry, both as a pastor and as a denomination leader in two state conventions. My involvement in church planting is convictional. It is based on my understanding of how people have been reached for Christ throughout history, both in the United States and beyond.

A pithy expression that I sometimes use is “whoever has the most churches wins.” This statement is based on the observation that the group with the most churches also has the most weekly worshippers (whether they accomplish the most for the Kingdom is another question). This has been true throughout the entire history of our nation (see Rodney Stark’s The Churching of America). Southern Baptists have more church attenders than Methodists because we have more churches and Methodists have more attenders than Episcopalians for the same reason. Likewise, the Bible belt is what it is because there are more churches there than in the Northwest where I serve. The Northwest Baptist Convention has 466 churches, but if we had the same density of churches as Mississippi or Oklahoma we would have 8,000 churches or 5,000 churches respectively. That’s why Mississippi and Oklahoma are the Bible belt and Washington and Oregon and Idaho are not.

The statement “whoever has the most churches wins” is not meant to convey that we reach people by planting new churches. New churches are, or should be, the result of evangelism. Church planters focus on reaching unchurched people, leading them to Christ, and gathering them into the new church. From what I can see, that is what our Northwest church planters are doing. But pastors of established churches lead their people to do the same thing, reach people for Christ and bring them into the church fellowship. So, when asked what our greatest need is, I always say that we need more pastors and evangelistic church planting pastors. If you have them, you’ll have more churches and you’ll have healthier churches. Evangelists and church planter/gatherers precede having more churches.

Though we must never diminish our efforts to send out missionary church planters who focus on reaching peoples from among all the peoples inhabiting our nation, the fact is the great majority of the gospel work being done in the Northwest, and throughout the United States, is being done by established churches. Moreover, most of the Cooperative Program mission dollars are given by established churches. This is not to say that established churches are necessarily more generous in their support of missions, nor are they necessarily more evangelistic in their behaviors. It is simply recognizing that most people who attend church are in established churches, and if we do not seek to help these churches remain and regain health and evangelistic effectiveness, we are missing our most significant opportunity to reach people “today” with the good news of Jesus Christ. Moreover, it’s important that we continue to acknowledge and say “thank you” to the faithful churches that built, and continue to build and support, who we are as Northwest Baptists and Southern Baptists.

Our younger churches are a significant part of our present ministry and they will be a growing part of our future ministry. Also, if in the Northwest we hope to increase the percent of our people who know Christ and attend church, we need to continually call out evangelists and church planter/gatherers. Planting new churches will always be a high priority.

That said, we must never forget, and never neglect, those churches long since established. Most of the gospel work is being done through them. And most of the support for new churches is being given by them. Some of these churches have enjoyed continuous ministry for over 100 years. Imagine that! We have churches in the Northwest who have met weekly, preaching the gospel and worshipping Jesus, without fail, for 30, 40, 50 years and more. Our oldest church is the Baptist Church on Homedale in Klamath Falls, OR (formerly the First Baptist Church before a merger with another church) founded in 1884 as Mt. Zion Baptist Church. We thank God for you!

So consider this a “shout-out” to churches old and new, without which the NWBC and the SBC would cease to exist as a people cooperating in gospel work to the glory of our God.

Northwest Baptist Mission Team Returns from Asia

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The following is an email I sent to the volunteers who served several hundred missionaries and their children living in places throughout Asia. The Northwest Baptist Convention constructed a team of 163 individuals from 32 of our churches to do this good work.

Dear Asia Mission Team,

Well done! Remarkable really. When you consider that 163 of us travelled to Asia to minister to hundreds of missionaries and their children, that we all arrived safely, remained quite healthy, and got home in good shape, and left our missionaries with profound gratitude for our having served them and their children so well, it is most appropriate to call it a work of God’s grace in our lives.

I don’t think our minds could have conceived of a better or more consequential mission trip. As a good ball coach might say, “You left it all on the field.” You gave everything of yourself, all of your energy, all of your love, and then you gave some more. The days were long, and there were 10 of them in a row for most, not counting travel and prep days. But you did it. I trust that in the days to come you will get to share some of what you experienced. I also know that we will never fully understand what this retreat meant to our field missionaries. You gave their children a gift more profound than we will possibly understand this side of heaven.

Few Southern Baptists have ever gotten “up close” to so many of our international missionary families. We were privileged to experience some of the result of our Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon International Mission giving. We have great field missionaries and they have many precious children.

We also demonstrated what cooperation looks like to our NWBC and the greater SBC family. To pull individuals and groups from 32 churches together, and to gain the support and prayers of our other 430 churches, was a work of faith. Regarding the work part of it, I must say that Project Coordinator Sheila Allen did an outstanding job in every way. Our sub-coordinators Lance Logue, Sara Eves, Dan and Laurie Panter, and Nancy Hall, were equally outstanding in the leadership they provided. I hesitate to mention others because each of you deserve special mention and each of you has a story to tell about your experience. I hope you get to share your story with many. At our NWBC Annual Meeting on Nov. 15, 2016 in Spokane, we will celebrate our East Asia partnership and this trip. If you can be present that will be truly special.

Perhaps the most affirming thing of all is that our mission leaders want us to serve them again in 2018. They gave you a “10” for your service and I would certainly concur.

Jesus is worth all that we can do and more, and the peoples of Asia need to know Him like we do. Thank you for helping 1.7 billion people have a chance to hear the good news of Jesus Christ through the missionaries into whom you poured your lives.

It’s a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest, and from the Northwest to the world beyond!

Randy