LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–What will it take for churches to thrive in the new century?
The “Church in the 21st Century Conference” at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary focused on that question, drawing nearly 150 participants Oct. 5.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Louisville, Ky., seminary, and Thom Rainer, dean of Southern’s Billy Graham School for Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, were the featured speakers, discussing such topics such as the greatest challenges facing the church in the coming century and keys to successful Christian leadership. The conference concluded with a question-and-answer session in which Mohler and Rainer dialogued about critical issues surrounding church health.
Outlining the “10 greatest challenges facing ministers in the 21st century” Mohler underscored the imperative of churches to teach both sound doctrine and reach the lost with the Gospel of Christ in order to effectively minister in the 21st century.
Two types of churches predominate the contemporary evangelical scene, Southern Seminary’s president said: those that focus on teaching and seek to have all their doctrinal foundations properly ordered and those that focus on evangelism and reaching the lost.
Churches will have to do both if they are to impact a world awash in postmodern confusion, Mohler said.
“We don’t have many teaching and reaching or reaching and teaching churches and that is a problem,” he said. “Because if you look at the New Testament, it is the reaching church that is also a teaching church. As a matter of fact, the reaching and the teaching are more intertwined and combined than most people would realize.”
Rainer spoke about the common aspects of the most effective evangelistic churches in America.
Based upon research conducted by interviewing recent converts to faith in Christ, Rainer listed five characteristics of effective evangelistic churches.
First, he said, is an emphasis on doctrinal truth.
“Ninety-one percent of the new Christians [who were interviewed] said, ‘I ended up at the church where I ended up because of its doctrine,’” Rainer said. “When we take stands, when we are clear on what Scripture says …, the lost world begins to say, ‘That might be something that I want to talk about.’”
Because lost men and women are drawn to doctrinal truth, churches must take care to teach scriptural truth and display confidence in the Word of God, Rainer said.
“Doctrinal absolutes are critical,” he said. Churches must “not simply say that we have this fuzzy belief system. But we have a clear and certain belief system.”
In the question-and-answer session, Mohler further emphasized the need for churches to teach the truth of Scripture and aggressively reach people with the Gospel simultaneously.
“There are churches that will sacrifice almost anything in the name of reaching people…. But there are [other] churches … that think their only responsibility before God is to teach and God will do the reaching. A part of this is just an insidious misunderstanding of the Gospel,” Mohler said.
“If we have to choose between the two, I can’t go either way because the apostles would not accept that as a forced choice,” he said.
Every church markets in some manner, Mohler said. The important question is: “Is the marketing driving the ministry, or is the marketing a way of introducing the ministry?”
The common mistake of emphasizing marketing over doctrine should drive churches to refocus on the fundamental issues of Christianity, Rainer said.
“Ninety-six percent of churches in America don’t fit our definition of evangelistic churches and only 4 percent do,” Rainer said. “That is telling me that … we are losing our focus on foundational issues and chasing the peripheral issues.”