Is Baptist polity the enemy of church planting?

Discussion in 'Missions / Witnessing / eVangelism' started by Joseph M. Smith, Oct 2, 2006.

  1. Joseph M. Smith

    Joseph M. Smith
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    Is it possible that our cherished Baptist polity, which so focuses on the autonomy of the local congregation, is in a measure the enemy of effective church planting strategy?

    On the one hand, because any individual or group is free to do so, she/he/they can start a church, call it Baptist (affiliated with a denominational body or not), and carry out the church planting task. No credentials to present, no fees to pay, no permissions required -- just do it! (Although if you expect denominational church planting support funds, there are some hoops to go through).

    But on the other hand, this can mean that people start churches that are not strategically located. Sometimes they will be located for the convenience of the founding person/group, and thus not necessarily in a community that is underserved by Baptist churches. Sometimes new churches will be splits from an existing congregation, and may locate rather close to the old congregation's meeting site, the motive being spite or hostility rather than mission.

    Some anecdotal evidence. Twenty years ago, when I accepted a pastorate in Washington, DC, I did a little survey and found that there were 38 churches of all kinds within a one-mile radius of the church I had been called to serve, and that 8 of those were Baptist. Eighteen years later, when I retired, there were still more churches in this small area, and there were 13 Baptist churches! Granted, urban population is dense, but not dense enough to require that many churches of one flavor.

    It is true that most were different in style, demographics, "class" from our church, and so in many ways we did not feel their presence. Most were and are one-man operations, in storefronts, and have very small congregations. Do you think that there is a wasteful duplication of effort in a setting like this -- thinking of all the tithe money going for rent, utilities, etc., not to mention part-time salaries? Or do you think that the more places where the Gospel is preached, the more likely it is that someone will be reached?

    Another back-up anecdote: several years ago one of the old, established Baptist churches in Washington relocated because its old downtown site was taken for a Metrorail station. The new location was just around the corner from another old, established, similar Baptist church. When a denominational official spoke to the pastor of the church that was moving about whether he did not feel he was creating competition for the same neighborhood, his reply was, "He [the other pastor] has his following and I have mine ... no competition." The pronouns say a lot -- churches as personal fiefdoms! But the key issue for me is whether the church moved to its location because it saw a mission/evangelism need or whether they just set up shop because they had the opportunity (in this case) to get a building left behind by another group.
     
  2. Squire Robertsson

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    When you study businesses like Starbucks and MacDonald's, you'll see the pastor's comments are fairly close to the truth. (Though, the words might not have been all that elegantly expressed.) This is especially true in an urban setting. And these corporations are not in the business of cutting their own throats. They study pedestrian traffic patterns. And they come to find out they can put two operations seemingly around the corner (say a five minute or less walk apart) from each other and still have both be profitable.

    Why? Because each has its own following. The same can be true of Baptist churches. If one does not expect each congregation to be a cookie cutter clone of all the rest. Each pastor will have his own style of pulpit ministry. Each congregation will have members with different skills and callings. So, all things otherwise being equal, a person may feel more comfortable at Calvary than at Faith two blocks down and one over.
     
  3. El_Guero

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    and all the while we don't have enough seats in all of the churches in town to seat more than half of the people in town . . .

    And we worry about where we are reaching the lost.

    No wonder we are the 3rd largest mission field in the world . . . there will be a huge amount of Americans in hell . . .
     
  4. USMC71

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    Is Baptist Polity our enemy? I do not think so. It is the distinctiveness and polity of the Baptist history that has caused and allowed the Gospel to be spread throughout much of the world today. Our enemy is our own ego and our own vision. While chuches fuss and fight throughout the USA about this issue, we have a nation going to Hell in a hand basket and parts of world where the Gospel is not being preached. I have been in Sri Lanka for the past two years and did much travel before coming here. We need as many churches as we can get back home, but more than that, we need Baptist churches with a vision to work together to get the Gospel spread throughout all of the world, especially back home. Maybe if we would forget our building programs and family life centers and use that money to reach a lost and dying world, God would take care of the needs of the local churches. Maybe, just maybe, God would prosper them, as their own soul prospers. Just my opinion!
     
  5. John of Japan

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    I just got back from a pastors' fellowship at which I sat for dinner next to Pastor H., a Japanese man with a church just five minutes from mine by car, which is extremely close for Japanese churches. (There is an average of one church per 17,000 people in Japan.) You know what? We had a great time of fellowship, like we always do!

    Are we in competition? No way! He asked about the U. family, who got saved in my church, then went to his church awhile, but are now going faithfully to our church again. Pastor H. was joyful that they were faithful, and that is how I would be if someone from my church became faithful to his church--I hope! The more evangelism there is in an area, the more all churches in that area will prosper.

    Having said that, I'm sure in my heart that a lot of those men starting new Baptist churches in America should be starting them somewhere on the foreign mission fields of the world instead of America. Years ago I counted 200 Baptist churches in the phone book in Chattanooga, TN--and the population was only 200,000. In our town of 360,000 there are only five Baptist churches (one of them with a pastor who doesn't believe in Hell). Does that sound like God's will to you?
     
  6. NaasPreacher (C4K)

    NaasPreacher (C4K)
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    Ouch - take Dublin with 1.5 million (with environs) and 5 Baptist churches (including those environs.
     
  7. El_Guero

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    Brothers

    At the current rate of decline in America.

    The mormons will be larger than the SBC within 10 to 15 years.

    Within 20 years we will not be able to support our missionaries on the field.

    Do I want more missionaries over there?

    Certainly, but with Thom Rainer * placing the unreached (lost) in America at 160 million . . . can we work together on better ways of reaching the lost everywhere?

    :1_grouphug:

    * (The Unchurched Next Door, 25)
     
  8. On the Edge

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    I think there are a lot of enemies of church planting. live right now in the Bible belt. And there are churches everywhere, not necessarily Baptist but most preach the the Gospel. Baptist polity is a problem in that many bicker amoungst themselves because they do this or don't do that. Doctrinally they agree but their preferences are different so they preach to their congregations about the other and how they are wrong. Even with all the churches in my area there still aren't enough seats for the population of the county i am in.

    I believe there should be autonomy of a local church but it doesn't mean we shouldn't work together. There is a church that was started recently in a nearby area. One that really needed one, it is full of dozens of different races. several mosques but not hardly any Gospel-preaching churches. It is also in one of the fastest growing areas in the entire USA.

    There are alot of lost in the States, and we need to have people better trained to plant churches. Remember Paul, he didn't go to small towns, he went to large cities. There is alot of need in the US, but the case is that we really have the amount of people we need to reach everyone if everyone who has professed Christ would truly commit themselves to Christ.
     
  9. Joseph M. Smith

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    I thank everyone for your replies. They are helpful. I confess I had not given much thought to the idea that some of the folks wanting to start "their own churches" (how I dislike that phrase ... it had better belong to Christ, not to the pastor) should be looking for places overseas or in the American hinterlands. Well said, although again some of the folks I know of would not be qualified by the standards of the missions boards, and would not be of a temperament to do so anyway.

    I agree to an extent with those who have pointed out that different churches reach different kinds of people. I said as much in my original post, implying that the participants in the storefronts, for example, were socially different from the middle-class congregation I served. And then there is the personality difference ... I was told before I went to my church that it was likely a congregation of people who scored INTJ on the Myers-Briggs scale, as do I, and that that is a smallish niche of the population, albeit an important one. So while I would not say that we resigned ourselves to reaching only a small slice of the community, it is true that we found that some people came and then left, saying that they wanted a "more lively" worship experience, etc. I can accept that.

    But my concern remains close to those of you who have suggested that some of these folks need to go overseas ... namely, that they need to find a community that is not well served by churches, particularly Baptist churches, and not bump up against others in the same area. It is not likely, to refer to my original example, that there are 13 different kinds of need sets to be met in one small mile-radius area!

    Someone said that the phone book revealed ca. 200 Baptist churches in the Chattanooga area .. well, a similar study I did here in the Washington area, building a database from Verizon.Net to communicate to Baptist churches the availability of Wesley Seminary graduates, revealed about 500 Baptist churches within a 15 mile radius of the White House. More recently, as a trustee of John Leland Center for Theological Studies, I worked with a staffer there to build a 25-mile database for recruiting students, and we found 850 Baptist churches in that area. I am not persuaded that that is good stewardship.

    The Starbucks example was lifted up ... and in the case I mentioned, of two similar churches close to one another, where the pastor claimed his own following would not compete with the following of his now-neighbor, the two churches are, I would judge, very similar in ethnic makeup, social structure, theology, tradition. They are like two Starbucks stores, offering about the same thing. I don't understand that as a marketing or a missiological strategy, just as I don't understand Exxon stations or Shell stations across the street from their own brands. Guess that's why I am not in business!
     
  10. On the Edge

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    I agree with you. Church isn't a business, and you are right when you say "some of the folks I know of would not be qualified by the standards of the missions boards, and would not be of a temperament to do so anyway." the church i go to people come from 10 different counties. I drive 35 minutes to get there. some drive farther. my aunt and uncle who live not 5 minutes from me drive about 20 minutes to a different church but one that is very similar to mine (they were once a member at the one i am in) I believe every person should be in the church God wants them to be in. My aunt and uncle moved churches but i have seen more of a change in them at this church than the one i am a member of. they are highly involved and doing well. Is that church better than mine or their pastor better than mine? I don't think so; i know the pastor very well he's a great man of God (or better put a man of a great God)

    Anyways i said all that to say this, I believe God wants people in certain places for certain reasons. People are very diverse and even though both churches that i have mentioned are very similar in prefeerences and beliefs and of similar society. After salvation, choosing the right church is the most important decision we should make and shouldn't be taken lightly.

    As for people just starting a church, It shouldn't be done lightly as it seems it is done. Churches of course should start with Christ not just to have a church because we got angry because we couldn't decide on what color the new carpet should be. I think if a church is started it should be where there is no good church nearby, and it should be done educatedly and by God's direction. Christ builds the church in the end; we just do what we are told to do (go ye into all the world and preach) My Pastor started the church i'm in because he believed God wanted him to do it. He was pastoring in Atlanta and God was blessing there, but he was led a couple hours north to where there weren't many good churches.

    And i believe that the lady whose funeral i attended today is telling Jesus thank you for placing that church there so that her and her family would hear the Gospel and get saved. Truly a bittersweet funeral. I could go on about that but i think i've typed enough. I could give my whole testimony how i came to be in the current church and how I've seen God work in so many people's lives in this church. But the key thing is that it was started because my pastor was well-trained and well-prepared. And he followed God's leading. Churches need to be started by well-trained and well-prepared men of God (and sometimes you can't always be prepared for everything but that's another subject)

    As for the whole business thing, near my church there are two waffle house's (if you don't know what they are....i don't know how to explain them its a restruant) one on the each side of a major highway and neither one hurt's the other's business, go figure.
     
  11. El_Guero

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    It is better than baptists becoming methodists.

    IMHO.
     
  12. John of Japan

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    I agree, El_Guero, that we need many more churches in the States. Anyone called to plant churches there better not come over here!:wavey:

    My biggest disappointment is those who are called to cross cultures and never do so. Last night we were sitting with our co-workers at a restaurant, and I filled them in on some of our mission's history in Japan.

    Here are some figures we came up with (considering a couple as two missionaries):
    Quit on deputation: 6
    Quit after just one or two terms: 7
    Stayed three or more terms: 14
    Still on their first term: 4

    So, 42% of the missionaries with our board who at one time said they were called to Japan to do church-planting (BWM doesn't do institutional work) did not fulfill their call, in my view. One of those who only stayed two terms is now, ironically, planting a church in Vermont. Of course, these figures don't even include those who felt called but never applied to a mission board, or in many cases never even got training.

    I heard figures many years ago in Bible college that went something like this. Out of 50 called to the mission field:
    (1) only 25 went to Bible college and/or seminary
    (2) only 10, or 20%, applied to a mission board
    (3) only 6, or 12%, actually made it to the mission field
    (4) only 4, or 8%, made it a career by staying more than two terms.
     
    #12 John of Japan, Oct 3, 2006
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 3, 2006
  13. El_Guero

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    Saddleback's pastor was a missionary to Japan . . .

    ;)

    [I am not sure about the 'jouneyman program' but we still use it.]

    We need at least 1 million new churches in the USA . . . I would like to see 1 million more in Japan . . .

    Then we could all :1_grouphug: .


     
  14. TaterTot

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    "politics" isnt necessarily the enemy, but traditionalism might be
     
  15. John of Japan

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    I definitely have a problem with this. I've seen two IFB churches within a block of each other. I believe the cause was a church split, the bane of Baptist churches.

    My view in such a case is not that Baptist polity is the culprit, but that the planter of one of those churches did not pay attention to the Holy Spirit's leading. So what we need in Baptist churches in America is not different polity but a revival of dependence on the Holy Spirit, Who is, after all the "Lord of the Harvest."
     
  16. John of Japan

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    If he was then this brings up another missionary pet peeve. Why does the homeland gobble up the most talented and gifted missionaries? Leaving aside the controversies about Rick Warren's philosophy, he is obviously very gifted. If he at one time spent time in Japan but then quit the field, in my mind that is a tragedy for Japan. Not too long ago an IFB missionary with a Ph. D., a very talented man, left the field to take over the home office of his board. Seems like they could have found someone in the homeland worthy to run the board and not robbed the field of one of our best missionaries? (To be fair, he did spend about 20 years on the field.)
     
  17. El_Guero

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    He was a journey man (2 year missionary).

    I am not saying it.

    We do need our best and brightest working in the most strategic spots . . . but, we need to win and disciple the lost!

    We need a million new churches. Right now we need a million new churches. That would yield a net result of about 100 to 300 million new believers (if statistical data on new churches leading to increased new converts).

    And that is not even a dent. IMHO.

     
  18. gb93433

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    I just left an area on the west coast in CA where the majority of GARB and SBC churches are nearly gone. While at the same time some good Bible believeing churches are planting new churches.

    In 1974 one of the Bible churches whcih was very evangelical wanted to engage the evangelical churches to help reach the city for Christ. The SBC and GARB churches chose not to participate. They chose to do their own thing. One of the SBC churches has about 15 people another has about 30. The GARB church has weeds in its parking lot and has only a few people attending. Those churches choe to do their own thing then and they still do today. They are waiting to die while they wonder why they are not growing due to a serious lack of evangelism. Those churches have less than 20% attending of what they had in 1974. When they chose to not partcipate they chose to die. They had excuses for not participating. They were separatists. The funniest thing is that the pastor of the Bible church was an IFB pastor justg before pastoring that church.
     
  19. Joseph M. Smith

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    I find myself continuing to "prime the pump" on this thread I started! So now let me tell you of three "religion corridors" in the Washington area, so that we can continue to think about the core issue I raised ... whether congregational autonomy can work against a sensible church planting strategy.

    16th St., NW, in DC, is a prestige address. From the White House at its southern terminus, it extends straight north through the District and into Maryland. The District portion was designed to be a prestigious street (part of it was built in the early 20th C to accommodate embassies, and was for a while named Avenue of the Presidents). On the roughly six miles of that street there are more than forty churches, of all sorts of denominations (yes, including Baptist, and including our D. C. Baptist Convention center). It was rather clear why churches located on this street .. not so much to reach people as to have a high visibility address. Some of those churches are now in serious decline.

    More recently, two areas in Maryland have become THE place to be for churches -- Largo, MD, in Prince George's County, not far from FedEx Field, for you football fans. In fact you can see one immense Baptist church from FedEx; and there are several others, Baptist and other denominations and non-denominational, all clustered around this vicinity. Almost all are megachurches. How that happens is hard to fathom, but it does. One wonders whether some of these huge buildings (one of them seats 10,000) will not become "white elephants" some day.

    The other is New Hampshire Avenue in Montgomery County, MD, where there is an incredible row of churches, mosques, Buddhist temples, and so on -- including two Ukrainian churches, one Catholic and the other Orthodox. A large Lutheran church is leaving its very fine building elsewhere and is moving to this corridor; since the area where it is now has become populated by poor people, mostly Hispanic, and they are not the typical LCMS Germanic folks, it feels as though this move is all about pleasing the existing congregation rather than reaching out to new people. The new community is choc-a-bloc with churches, some of which are quite evangelical. Admittedly not an example of Baptist polity, but it is a congregational decision. And it just does not seem to be a missionary decision.
     
  20. John of Japan

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    The alternative to congregational autonomy is denominationalism. Does denominationalism produce a missions burden? No it does not. None of the major denominations are growing their missions force. Their mission forces are shrinking, and have been for many years. I can't give figures for the world, but I can for Japan based on the Japan Evangelicals Missionary Association (JEMA) directory, which lists all Protestant missionaries in Japan. I'll give statistics comparing 1980 to 2006. (Note: I can't give United Methodist statistics due to the fact that in 1980 they were included in a larger cooperative mission--now they are down to 21. Also, due to name changes in mission boards, I have to lump all Lutherans, for example, together.)

    Lutherans: 221 in 1980, down to 96 this year (a shocking drop)
    Presbyterians: 66, down to 35 (almost a 50% drop)
    American Baptists (a denominational approach): 22, down to 9 (more than a 50% drop)
    SBC (a denominational approach): 132 down to 96 (28% drop)

    Compare to the IFB missionary force, 120 in 1980 up to 123 this year, probably the only missionary force in Japan to increase in number. This is only a slight increase, granted, but IFB forces have entered eastern Europe by the hundreds since the collapse of the USSR, meaning less forces for Japan. So I have heard (but cannot document) that worldwide the evangelical mission force has decreased in recent years, with the only segment of evangelicalism increasing their mission force being the IFB movement.

    Why are independent churches sending out more missionaries? The independent approach, in my view, allows for the clear leading of the Holy Spirit, Who is the Lord of the Harvest, where denominations may, with their strategic planning, plan the Holy Spirit's role out of the picture. (Not always, I grant you.) Study the advent of the "faith mission" boards over 100 years ago for more evidence of this.

    Sure, sometimes independents get it wrong and end up with two churches on one block. But I don't consider that a reflection of the polity but of lack of spiritual sensitivity, meaning a need for revival. (And of course all factions of evangelicalism need revival, including us IFB's.)
     
    #20 John of Japan, Oct 4, 2006
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 4, 2006

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