The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina has announced a major reorganization and downsizing — with the biggest cuts coming through the virtual elimination of campus ministry, where 10 people will lose their jobs.
According to an article posted by the Biblical Recorder, executive director Milton Hollifield said the substantial downsizing (which must still be approved by the Board of Directors in May) has nothing to do with the Convention being 20 percent short of its already beleaugered budget, which has been in decline for years. Instead, he insisted that the reorganization is all about discipleship, a desire “to stop the bleeding of the loss of people [who are] being led to the Lord, but they’re not being discipled.”
And there has been significant bleeding. In 2011, for example, the BSCNC reported 23,930 baptisms and 19,565 other additions, according to the Annual Church Profile compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources — but despite adding 43,495 people to the rolls, total membership increased by just 297, from 1,243,644 to 1,243,901. While “Total Membership” can be misleading because at least a fifth of the “members” are non-resident and many others are on the rolls in name only, the meaning doesn’t change from year to year. The numbers indicate that Convention churches are losing members about as fast as they are gaining them.
Developing strategies to try and stop people from leaving by the back door as quickly as others come in the front is a smart thing to do. But is virtually eliminating campus ministry the way to do it?
I can’t tell you how many people I have known who have told me how much their real growth in discipleship began in college, through a positive experience in Baptist campus ministry, and how that strong start has stayed with them for a lifetime. That was my experience, as well, albeit many years ago.
But apparently that sort of discipleship came in low on the totem pole when Convention leaders looked for ways to restructure and “stop the bleeding” of church members. The plan adds 11 positions but cuts 16, including 10 in campus ministry, and basically eliminates the campus ministry team, formerly led by Rick Trexler. Trexler will now lead a new team called “Collegiate Partnerships,” and will be tasked with persuading churches in college towns to take up the slack and continue providing some sort of service to students.
There was a time when Baptists in North Carolina were national leaders in effective and meaningful campus ministry, with a Convention-funded leadership team that was second to none. But, most moderate to progressive folk were weeded out years ago, and now even more conservative campus ministers funded through the Convention will get the ax.
If you read the article and follow the links to more details on the BSCNC website, you can see Convention leaders doing their best to put a positive spin on a tragic reduction in a strategic ministry. You can read it and believe the shift will actually make things better, or you can read it and weep.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.