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Small churches vital to SBC, Page says

LEWISVILLE, N.C. (BP)–David didn’t ask for a break when he faced Goliath. And a church shouldn’t have an inferiority complex because it is small in size, said Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention. If a church reaches out to the “unchurched,” then it’s large in the eyes of God.

Page exhorted small-church pastors attending a three-day “Impact 2008” conference that there is no difference between them and those who pastor mega-churches. It’s a matter of perspective, he told the gathering at Lewisville (N.C.) Baptist Church in late March.

The “human” foundation of the SBC, Page also noted in his remarks, is the small church.

“God commands the church to be the church no matter the size,” said Page, pastor of the 4,300-member First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., preaching from Matthew 16:17-19 in which Jesus told Peter that He would build the church on the rock, and the forces of hell would not overpower it.

“Small church, big church, I don’t care what it is. It’s all about spiritual warfare,” Page said. “We don’t live in a playground. It’s a battleground.” When the church is serious about doing the work of the Lord, he said, it will be “attacking the gates of hell.”

Small churches, Page said, are the future of the SBC. According to a 2006 LifeWay study presented to the conference, nearly 63 percent of all SBC churches have between one and 99 Sunday attendees and about 21 percent have between 100 and 199 on Sunday.

“Our convention is changing,” Page said. “There are some folks who … don’t want to see that, but it’s changing. In the next 20 years, young people will see that.

“One factor is that there are huge numbers of Southern Baptist churches that are nothing more than small groups of white people hanging on until they die,” Page said. They have not reached out to the ethnic groups in their communities nor “to the other generations within their own ethnic groups,” he said.

“There are small churches with small groups of black people who have not reached out to the younger generation,” Page continued.

“So what can happen in 20 years? They’re gone.”

Some of these churches are calling out for help, Page said, but they have never done outreach and don’t want to change how they have done things through the years, while other churches do not want help.

Page also voiced concern about the number of seminary students who do not want to pastor traditional churches. Most students want to be youth pastors, missionaries, church planters or counselors, he said, citing a drop in the number of students who say, “I feel a call to go into a declining church or a traditional church and I want to see it turn around.”

Combining this declining number with the number of aging pastors gives a clear indication about what will happen 20 years from now in the SBC, Page said. There’s a possibility some church pastors will become bivocational where they were never bivocational or maybe “a preacher will come once every other week,” he said.

“I don’t want to be negative, but most of the mega-churches in the Southern Baptist Convention are declining,” Page added. “You don’t know that because most of the pastors won’t admit it to you. But the statistics are there.

“I don’t say that to depress you,” he told the small-church pastors, describing small churches as “the future of the Southern Baptist Convention … because one of the major demographic shifts is that people want small relationally driven relationships.

“That’s what’s going to reach people in the 21st century: Small churches that are relationally driven, that will reach a generation that is not reached.”
Jerry Higgins is a writer based in Raleigh, N.C.

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