This commentary is not meant to be taken in a negative way. It is meant to describe the current situation among declining and closing Southern Baptist Churches and stir up a passion to reverse the trend.
As Southern Baptists, we must acknowledge the facts about our Southern Baptist churches in California. That's the first step to reversing a trend--acknowledging it. And, by the way, it really is--very often--difficult for loyal, faithful members to notice that things are slipping--or have already slipped very far away from healthy and normal.
The second step is stopping all regular service activities and extra-curricular activity schedules of your church in order to organize an ongoing prayer meeting that only stops when the Lord hears and answers. That's right, I'm suggesting that you temporarily stop everything except an ongoing prayer meeting.
Don't you remember that classic definition of insanity? This is it: "Doing the same things over and over expecting different results." So I say to you, stop the routine! Stop the predictable, always the same, eminently boring routine!
The answer is to make praying together the new most important routine. Unfortunately, most church members will not participate. Pray with whoever shows up.
Some unexpected church members will join in and some church members that one would expect to participate will not. Perhaps some non-church members who are Christians will show up at a real, honest-to-God prayer meeting! Some members will not show up because of other matters in their lives beyond their control. Don't judge. Just go with the group that shows up.
Following are some signs of a dying church:
The members have lost their confidence and swagger--I'm referring to humble swagger.
The results that were usual activities or events now require twice the exertion.
Some of the usual results never happen anymore.
The denomination ignores you.
You have more excuses than results, then you completely stop talking about it.
The same volunteers have been in their ministries for years.
The drop in attendance is noticed by friends that visit.
The top expenses are the pastor's salary and building repair costs.
And this goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: The sign of a dying denomination--such as the California Southern Baptist Convention--is easy to spot: its member churches are dying.
Are you asking the question, "What can we do to change this?"
I just told you! An ongoing prayer meeting that doesn't stop until God answers. Can you hear me shouting?
Staff's greatest worry will be that tithing will suffer. Most tithers tithe electronically through their bank and those who don't can be taught how to set it up--or given postage to mail it in. So not passing the collection plate will not be a problem.
If only the pastor and a few deacons show up along with the WMU leaders, you will know that your church is definitely dead and needs a restart. But pray anyway, and if people show up to a regular service invite them to join the prayer meeting. Make the Sunday "service" a prayer meeting if you have to do so.
I'm convinced, through my own experiences, that God will answer such prayers in amazing ways. God will sometimes give the group notice when each session of the ongoing prayer meeting is over. And when the old stick-in-the-mud people start gripping that the preacher is not earning his money for not doing the usual things, ignore them. They belong more to Satan than to the Holy Ghost.
I have witnessed prayer meetings where the attendees stop, look at each other, then stand up for a closing prayer, and leave. Everyone knows it's ended because the Holy Spirit communicates it to each person.
The Holy Spirit takes over and is in charge of a real prayer meeting. I'm talking about the kind of prayer meeting that starts at 7 pm and goes maybe until 3 am. Yes, ladies, you can get up and stretch while others are praying and go to the bathroom. You can also pray sitting down with your eyes open. People will move around in a long prayer meeting and there will be breaks where a conversation takes place and bible reading and discussion take place.
You'll be shocked at the member or members who do not participate in prayer meetings. Some are afraid to talk in front of a group. Some are not born again. Some don't believe in prayer. And, you should know this, some lost people who are evil like to hide by being a church member. Don't wrinkle your brow! It's absolutely true and has been documented--even in the Bible!
I know that this suggestion is scary for most church members. Praying is an intimate activity. We open our hearts to God and all the participants are listening. Yet it is also a refreshing activity and unusual things happen in an extended prayer meeting--say an all-night prayer meeting. As I have said, when a group is in tune with the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit will let everyone know when the praying is done.
Then do what He leads you to do. God the Holy Spirit will be your motivation, so go with it. And stop worrying about tithes and offerings. Start praying and God will provide! ##