One of the books we have to read in my Intro to Church Planting class is David Garrison’s Church Planting Movements: How God Is Redeeming a Lost World. While I find several things in this book troubling (regarding the CPM’s), I was surprised to find these two paragraphs in the chapter on North America (emphasis mine).
“In the 21st century, mega-churches are increasingly characterizing the North American evangelical landscape. First Baptist Churches in Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas all claim memberships larger than 20,000 as do Prestonwood Baptist Church, Second Baptist Houston, Bellevue Baptist in Cordova, Tennessee, and Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. But not all is healthy in these large mega-churches that can typically only account for one-third of their members on any given Sunday. For too many, church membership has become a spectator sport rather than a vital part of daily life.
A story is told in Kenya of a prominent pastor from the United States who visited Nairobi and was introduced to the Kenyan church leadership as ‘pastor of one of the largest churches in America, with more than 20,000 members. Each week more than 8,000 attend his preaching.’ Visibly moved, the Kenyan leader led his brothers to pray for the American pastor who could not find more than half of his church members on Sunday morning!”
This account is all too familiar when our African or Asian brothers hear about the state of the church in the West. Maybe our eyes could be opened if we saw the robust ecclesiology of churches in Zambia under the leadership of Conrad Mbewe or the high price of church membership in the underground church in China. Just the other day I heard of a church in Mississippi who had planned on hosting a conference under the theme of “Church Discipline” only later forced to cancel because not one of the over 700 pastors contacted expressed interest in attending. Those of us in the SBC need to join our Kenyan brothers in praying for our churches and specifically our pastors. Pray that they would have the courage to take a stand for the integrity of church membership. Pray that they would see that opening the back door and closing the front door could be the beginning of reformation and revival. Pray that our pastors would be willing to pay the price, however great the cost, as shepherds who would be willing to lay down their reputations and ministerial careers for the church. These are days where an outsider look at regenerate church membership should case us to take a hard, sober introspective analysis of what has largely become an unregenerate denomination. May God grant us convictions to meet the challenges and courage to steady us in the face of criticism.