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7/28/97 What should a new Christian be like in 5 years? Mims asks

NASHVILLE. Tenn. (BP)–“If you were to lead your next-door neighbor to Christ, would you want that person in five years to become like the average church member?”
That’s a question that haunts Gene Mims, vice president of the Baptist Sunday School Board’s church growth group.
“The average church member doesn’t attend much, if at all. The person gives little, if any. The average person rarely serves in a position. He or she will never lead anybody to Christ,” Mims said.
Out of that awareness and concern has come what might be termed “gut-wrenching” reflection on the impact of resources and services produced by the church growth group.
“It seems the people in the churches really enjoy and appreciate our material,” Mims said. “But the population has gone up 20 percent in the last 15 years and church growth has increased 10 percent. It haunts me that we could have wonderful material to little effect.”
As Mims and his staff evaluated their efforts, they came to the conclusion that they needed to increase their efforts at helping churches and individuals to “step back and apply some biblical principles that are very valid.”
First, he said, “the kingdom of God is God’s. He is establishing his kingdom in the lives of people, through their lives and around their lives. He is responsible for doing it and providing power and resources for it. To join him, you have to do it by faith.”
Second, Christians must recognize that the mark of salvation is a transformed life, Mims said.
“I don’t think we’re seeing enough evidence of that. We’re going to a lot of conferences, attending a lot of studies, we’re preaching and we’re singing, but we don’t see the marks of a transformed life,” he said.
“That’s not a judgment; that’s an observation. It’s an observation that really breaks my heart. I think it breaks the hearts of a lot of people — the Sunday school teacher, the pastor, the parent,” Mims said.
Third, he said, growing Christians must live “in proper relationships, not with some people but with all people.”
Fourth, he said, Christians must recognize the Christian life is not a matter of going out and doing things for God in one’s own strength. Instead, “we’re co-laborers with God. We’re joining Jesus in the harvest.”
To seek to increase the impact of their resources in people’s lives, church growth group personnel have identified four strategic priorities.
They are, first, seeking to help churches grow in four areas — numerical, spiritual, missions and ministry.
Second, they are developing a “transforming model of discipleship.”
“We’re working on this now,” Mims said. “If we don’t want that new Christian to become in five years what the average church member is now, what model do we have that really transforms?”
In another area, CGG is seeking to “reclaim the birthright” of evangelism in Bible study. A goal of 100,000 new Bible study units by the year 2000 has been established and Mims feels that may be too low. Also, they want to see Southern Baptist churches baptize 1.7 million people in the next three years. The 1996 baptisms total was 379,344.
Finally, CGG is re-emphasizing leadership development.
In the next three years, “we want to call out 50,000 men and women who will commit themselves to following Christ in full-time vocational service. The fields are white unto harvest,” Mims said. In assisting these persons in responding to God, the emphases will be on call, character and competency.
While the Sunday School Board is sustained not by Cooperative Program funds but by the sales of resources and services, Mims said the more important measures of success will be changed lives.
CGG personnel hope to see numerical goals reached and achieved.
Also, he said, “we’ll begin to see evidences of the erosion of cultural Christianity. People will have a vibrant faith in Christ rather than a religion or ritual. The erosion of cultural Christianity will mean the exaltation of Jesus Christ.”
The growing health of churches will mean “fewer ministers terminated. There’ll be an optimism about the work of God in the world today. We’ll obviously see more people come to Christ.”
Also, he predicted, lives transformed and sold out to Christ will be accompanied by an “increase of commitment in stewardship.”
“We’ll see more money for ministry. We’ll see people giving more time. We’ll see baby boomers choosing mission and ministry as their second and third careers — their careers of significance. I think we’ll fill the seminaries up,” he continued.
Finally, he said, “I think people will change their lifestyles. If this is right, the divorce rate among believers should decline. Families are going to be strengthened. I think our senior adults will find a renewed significance in church ministries.
“God will use the Southern Baptist Convention as a catalyst, not to control this movement but to resource it for churches around the world,” Mims said. “This is not about programs and products but about the activity of God that we recognize, join with him and watch him work.”

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  • Linda Lawson