After reading the dismal 2010 church growth indicators for the Southern Baptist Convention as published by Lifeway, I am embarrased by how distracted and disobedient I have become towards making disciples of the nations.
The LifeWay article reports a total of 332,321 baptisms from 45,727 churches. That comes out to an average of 7.3 baptisms per church per year, or a 49:1 baptism ratio. It took 49 S. Baptists an entire year of work and ministry to baptize one person.
Saying it another way, it took one disciple twelve months to see one new person added to the Kingdom through baptism, while the other 48 of us "disciples" did nothing. On top of that, the cost of that single baptism was $35,270!
I know many might point out the flaws in my over-generalized and unfair playing around with the reported numbers, but the figures speak loudly for themselves. For all our talk, we are not about making disciples of the nations.
The only number that did not show a negative from the previous year was church plants. According to the report, 717 new churches were started in 2010. From our own experience of seeing the vast majority of baptisms coming from new church starts; I dare say, without these 717 new church starts, the SBC numbers would have indeed fallen into the "F" range--failing big time at what our Lord commanded in Matthew 28:18-20.
While our own baptism ratio has fluctuated over the past decade from a high of 3:1 (three believers for every new baptized convert) to a low of an embarrasing 8:1 ratio, the fact remains that the house churches we relate to are far more serious about evangelism, baptism, discipleship, and church planting than our Stateside brothers and sisters. I have said it many times, but our people here have a lot more to teach their Stateside counterparts, than the other way around!
What differences are there between our Ecuadorian national brethren and their Stateside counterparts? Why are the folks here so much more effective with their evangelism than Stateside Christians?
I can identify at least seven overlapping things I see house church believers consistently doing that are not usually seen in most Stateside churches:
1) Praying daily for the lost. Talk to believers in a Guayaquil house church and they will show you their list of people they pray for daily of unsaved family, friends, and neighbors.
2) Active regular sharing of the Gospel. It is a very natural part of their Christian walk to share the Gospel with people they encounter in their daily lives. Christ has made such a difference in their lives, and they cannot help but share with those they come in contact with.
3) Planning regular evangelistic events. The house churches plan regular evangelistic events inviting those they are praying for to attend (concerts, outdoor street meetings, special programs, family conferences, DVD/Videos, invited guest speakers, neighborhood evangelistic door-to-door blitzes, meals, etc.)
4) Visiting the sick and personally ministering to lost friends, neighbors and family in times of crisis. They are very good about visiting sick people outside of their church family, praying for healing and ministering to lost family and friends during difficult times.
5) Not distracted by a lot of secondary theological issues. We certainly have our share of problems and distractions, but they are more along the lines of things like: can unmarried couples who get saved be baptized? How to counsel people with difficult problems? How to discern if someone is demon possessed or just emotionally unstable? How to handle tough theological questions. Why doesn't God always heal someone when they are prayed for?
6) Intentionally focus on evangelism as a life priority. Talk to them and they will tell you that their ministry is to win/disciple at least four people to Christ this year. They expect God to give them these souls and are consciously praying and working to achieve this goal.
7) They maintain friendships/relationships with lost friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. They play soccer on the street with their neighbors, visit them in their homes, minister to them in times of need. How are we ever supposed to win people to the Lord if we have little/no relationship with the lost? How is a Christian supposed to win lost people if they do not even know any? Folks here know plenty of lost people whom they are burdened for their salvation.
Southern Baptists, and Stateside churches in general may be doing a lot of neat things, have wonderful church programs, great worship services and solid Biblical preaching, but if we are not winning people to Christ, baptizing, making disciples, and teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded, are we really healthy N.T. churches?