- May 18, 2008
Unless something is done to reverse the downward trend, Southern Baptist churches could number only 20,000—down from the current total of more than 44,000—in fewer than 22 years, Page said. His comments came in a conference call with pastors, hosted by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
Page said the problem “resided in the churches” that refuse to change to stop their inevitable demise. He said the SBC downturn is not the denomination’s fault—not due to poor programming or lack of emphasis on the denominational level.
“The reality is it’s our fault,” Page told the Pastor’s Disciple-Making Network, an initiative of the North Carolina convention. “People rarely rise above the level of their pastor’s spiritual life, and it is critical that pastors maintain a vibrant walk with Christ.”
Page confessed to the “busyness” which often accompanies life in modern ministry, with committees and administrative responsibilities overwhelming a pastor’s schedule to the point that he has no time for serious study of the Bible, prayer or mediation.
“Pastors can easily get distracted, and they must fight against it, because pastors must remain learners of Jesus for as long as they live,” said Page, pastor of First Baptist Church of Taylors, S.C.
“Many Southern Baptist churches are small groups of white people who are holding on (until) the end,” he said. “Not only have we not reached out to younger generations, but we have failed to reach out to other ethnic minorities who are all around us.”
Rather than embracing a “whatever it takes” mentality to change and restore a local church to health, Page said, many pastors and churches have “chosen to die rather than change, and they are doing it.”
Stay the course
Page said the vision of pastors must be biblical, firm and resolute, or else when they face “the horizon of trouble, their vision is the first thing out the window.” Pastors must stay the course or risk being blown off course by the trials that accompany any change in any church, Page emphasized.
“Church members must be helped to catch the vision, and pastors must work to bring their people to a place of trust” so they will follow the pastor’s vision, he said.
Personal interaction with the pastor and times of pastoral care and concern are essential to establishing relationships capable of embracing change, Page continued.
“Until I pastored a congregation of more than 1,000 people, I always personally called every member on their birthday,” Page said. As a result, in times of personal crisis or church-wide change, they knew “that their pastor was involved in their lives and cared about them,” he said.
Page’s recent book, The Incredible Shrinking Church, discusses the declining status of churches in America. The book attempts to help churches make the transition from a mentality of an inevitable decline, without resorting to non-biblical organizational tactics.
Although change is a church imperative, Page said, there is “no national entity currently helping them do that.”