FIRST-PERSON: Church planting -- a winning strategy
WASHINGTON (BP)--Our nation needs to see more people saved, and more saved people walking with the Lord. A sure way for this to happen is for Christians to embrace a dynamic, determined effort to bring the Gospel of Jesus to more people throughout the nation. That is why I am encouraged by the new emphasis presented by the North American Mission Board at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Phoenix.
Our country's one great hope is the Lord Jesus. Lostness in the United States is palpable. From media to politics to church to family to individuals, a spiritually dark influence is discernible. Without Jesus, the nation is doomed to spiritual decay and irrelevance.
One might think that is a strange proposition from someone who works for the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy arm, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Yet, I believe it is the truth. The ERLC has an important and biblical role to play. We assist the church in its calling as salt and light. We help point out cultural decay, work to influence policies that will restore and improve the culture, and provide the biblically based tools that Christians need to think and act more Christianly. These are all necessary activities in our fallen world. Yet, without an increase in regenerated souls and committed disciples of Jesus, our efforts will become increasingly difficult. If our culture ever reaches the spiritual tipping point of lostness, the ERLC's efforts to help hold back the ocean of spiritual decay that threatens to wash over our land will fail.
The North American Mission Board's emphasis on church planting is right on target. My wife and I had the privilege of starting a church in a suburb of Denver, Colo., in 1984. It was an eye-opening experience for us in every imaginable way. We were sent by our home church in Denver to assume leadership of a small Bible study group that had been started about six weeks earlier. No one in that small group had any significant church background. We literally had to start from scratch.
During the next 12 years, we experienced everything imaginable as we reached lost people for Jesus in a Denver suburb. The fact that people were lost was only the beginning point of the challenges we faced. Many Christians in our growing church family were dealing with the devastating influence of a decaying culture in their own lives, and the people we were winning to the Lord usually had even more deep-seated destructive cultural influences at work in their lives. Only a small congregation, which enabled me to have a very personal relationship with everyone, could offer the level of ministry that was required.
By God's grace and faithfulness, after years of tears, readjustments, hard work and endless prayers, a group of people became a church. We never set baptism records for the number of people baptized, but we baptized a very high per-capita rate of nearly 10 percent of our average Sunday School attendance just about every year. Lives were changed, a community was touched, and today a church building houses a church family that is sharing Jesus where once there was only a vision and a handful of Christians who wanted to make a difference, and did so through God.
A vibrant, strategic church planting strategy will not only result in more churches and more baptisms per capita; it is also likely to result in more spiritual growth. My wife and I look back on those years with awe. We are awed by the level of spiritual conflict required to gain every victory, but we are awed even more by the God Who proved faithful for our every need. A denomination that marches forward through church planting will never lack for men and women, church leaders and laypeople alike, who walk in the Spirit and can believe God for great things. After all, they will be first-hand witnesses of God in action on the front line of the battle between light and darkness.
I am looking forward to hearing of the multiplied millions of saved men, women and children who will come into the Kingdom of God and the Southern Baptist Convention through such a great missional endeavor. I am also looking forward to the cultural transformation that will take place in our nation. Our nation's only hope is that people will be changed through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and start living as His disciples. When this has happened in enough people's lives, many of the great cultural battles we are fighting today will be easily resolved. Every area of human suffering and pain will be touched in a positive way: Families will be healthier; children will be more stable; the unborn will be protected; poverty will be reduced; the sick, the vulnerable and the infirm will have entire new support structures centered in personal support groups rather than impersonal government programs.
Through a determined church planting effort that brings the necessary resources to the task, we could see America's great cities reclaimed. Inner-city and urban churches would become reclamation centers, starting with salvation but continuing through to all the aspects of human need. Such centers would not only reclaim lost souls but would also reclaim broken lives and broken communities, revitalizing our devastated cities in the process. From there, all the surrounding regions would also be helped as these new centers for spiritual engagement reach out to their neighbors near and far.
The North American Mission Board's efforts can even help spur our Convention's great international missions efforts to greater heights. The key to a vibrant international missions endeavor is spiritually strong and growing churches in North America. As new churches are born and more Christians fall in love with the Lord and let the plight of a lost world touch their hearts, we will certainly see more men and women answering God's call to bring His light to every sin-darkened soul throughout the nations.
This could become a reality. It is a strategy for which I am praying and will gladly work. May God give Southern Baptists such a vision and a heart to be His instruments in bringing it to pass.
Barrett Duke is vice president for public policy and research with the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.