It’s true if we’re honest: Baptists can get a bit complacent over the fact that we have not suffered the precipitous decline of other denominations.
Perhaps, our thinking goes, it’s because there’s something in the nature of our structures that keeps us afloat.
Perhaps it’s because we’re largely an evangelical denomination, and everyone knows liberal churches don’t grow.
Perhaps we’re just better at this whole church thing than other people.
With every one of those assumptions demonstrably false, though, perhaps it’s time we did take a harder look at ourselves.
Stuart Murray-Williams argues that we face the same issues other denominations do, it’s just that we’re 10 years behind them. We should fix the roof before it starts raining while we’re still able to climb the ladder.
So we need to be radical, committed and creative, willing to put time, energy and money into adventurous evangelism and strategic church planting.
On the other hand, Murray-Williams is far from being a lone voice. The denominational consultation on church planting in February identified many of the issues he raises.
There are exciting initiatives throughout the country in new ways of imagining congregational life.
Some don’t look like church at all: a community minister might have a “congregation” on a street corner or in a pub. Is this a valid expression of church? The answer is, “Who knows? Let’s try it and see.”
But there are, of course, at least two very distinct modes of church planting.
One is oriented toward building the sort of congregation that has a defined identity, might support a minister, or half a minister, and perhaps has a building of its own. It might be a “replanting” of a dead or moribund existing church.
This is church as we know it. It’s good to plant churches like this. We, like other traditions, have a long history of learning together, worshipping together and forming Christian character together.
This is what transmits the faith as we have received it. This “inherited church” is where the resources will come from to nurture the next generation of pastors and theologians. We can’t do without it and shouldn’t try.
The other is the kind of church planting that is less focused, less target-oriented, less sure of what it wants or what it is. These pioneers go out and meet people, listen to them, learn and then perhaps try to teach.
They are not necessarily good in a pulpit, but they are very good in a crisis. They may leave a recognizable congregation behind them; they may not. But they are still doing the work of God.
Are there more people in our churches who’d like to try their hand at one of these? Surely. Step forward; you’re needed.
Mark Woods is a Baptist minister and managing editor for ChristianToday.com. He served previously as the editor of The Baptist Times of Great Britain.