Word Tabernacle Baptist Church is excited about being part of the Southern Baptist family. Pastor Gailliard explains, "We're glad to be a part because of the Kingdom mindset of the Convention …. The connection with the Convention is so solid because of the theology and the cooperation we found there."
This church is like most of the new congregations reporting on the Annual Church Profile for the first time — it is primarily made up of non-Anglos; it is aggressively reaching out to its community; and it is excited about being a part of the Southern Baptist Convention family of churches.
Word Tabernacle began June 3, 2000 when twenty-three people gathered in a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Southwest Philadelphia. The church has baptized over 350 people and grown to almost 600 in attendance by reaching out to its community. While it has grown, it has also been starting even more new churches through the Urban Sanctuary, an urban impact center focused on planting inner-city churches.
Between 2001 and 2002, more than 1,600 new congregations were added to LifeWay's Annual Church Profile (ACP). In other words, they were not on the 2001 ACP list but were added for the first time to the 2002 ACP records. Most are church plants in addition to some new affiliates. They are the life blood of Southern Baptist life — an essential part of our ever-growing family of churches.
For twenty-nine out of the last thirty years, the number of convention churches has increased in spite of the inevitable loss of some churches due to closure or leaving the convention. So, just who are these new churches? What are they like? And, what do they reveal about the future of Southern Baptists.
Rock Springs Church in Lavergne, Tennessee is part of the minority of new congregations in the SBC that are predominantly Anglo. This new church started in April of 2000 as a mission of First Baptist Church, Smyrna, Tennessee. The pastor, Chris Brewer, explains what it means to be part of the Southern Baptist family, "For us, it is a partnership. The partnership we have helps us to play a small part in changing the world."
Through the Cooperative Program, Rock Springs Church received the help they needed to start strong. "We used creative advertising and outreach to see over 142 people come to our first service — and five people prayed to receive Christ that first day."
Rock Springs Church stylistically may not look like many of the other SBC churches in the area, but it shares a commitment to the same doctrine and to cooperation. "We are working with our association to form a Church Planting Network to help promote church planting among our churches," Brewer explained.
Who Are These New Churches?
The over 48,000 SBC churches and missions tend to look different from the 1,600+ new congregations which appeared on the ACP list in 2002 (the most recent year that full statistics are available). The new congregations tend to be more ethnically diverse and more effective in outreach, but they still work together with other Southern Baptists to reach the world.
Ethnicity. New Southern Baptist churches are much more ethnically diverse than the larger pool of existing churches. Today, more and more Southern Baptists speak other languages, worship using other cultural forms, and fellowship over different foods. As our churches become more diverse, we look more like heaven with men and women from every tongue tribe and nation (Revelation 7:9).
The chart1 to the right illustrates how the pool of existing churches compares ethnically to the new congregations that God is raising up.
Baptisms. New churches are statistically more focused on evangelism, and their baptisms show it. According to research from Will McRaney at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary:
In a newly planted church there are 14.4 baptisms per year for every 100 people in regular attendance in worship. When a church has been in existence sixteen years or more, the baptism rate is half that — only 7.3 baptisms per year for every 100 people in attendance.2
In some cases, the baptismal stories are even more remarkable. For the Chinese churches reporting in 2002 for the first time, they baptized fifty people for every 100 resident members!3 If it were not for new churches, baptisms in SBC life would be significantly less than they are today.
Cooperation. New churches are Southern Baptist because they want to be — and their Cooperative Program giving proves it. Established churches give an average of 6.99 percent to the Cooperative Program. Even though new churches are dealing with the challenges of start up costs, acquiring initial facilities, and providing new salaries, a study of over 600 new SBC churches showed that they still give about the same amount to the Cooperative Program — and many increase their CP giving as their churches grow.4
One third of the new congregations contributed almost a million dollars to the Cooperate Program,5 about 20 percent of the entire increase in CP giving between 2001 and 2002.6 New churches are joining with established churches to support the work of missions locally and around the world.
These churches tell us about the future. Our new churches are engaging the cultures where God has placed them — proclaiming the "faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3) in communities and contexts different from where many of our established churches live and serve. These 1,600+ new congregations are a great gift from God to the Southern Baptist Convention.
1 Annual Church Profile, 2002, LifeWay Christian Resources, Nashville, TN; Compiled by Research, North American Mission Board, Alpharetta, GA
2 Church Planting as an Effective Evangelistic Strategy (Alpharetta, GA: North American Mission Board, 2003), 23.
3 Annual Church Profile, 2002, LifeWay Christian Resources, Nashville, TN; Compiled by Research, North American Mission Board, Alpharetta, GA
4 Edward J. Stetzer, "The Impact of the Church Planting Process and Other Selected Factors on the Attendance of Southern Baptist Church Plants," Ph.D. Dissertation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2003.
5 Annual Church Profile, 2002, LifeWay Christian Resources, Nashville, TN; Compiled by Research, North American Mission Board, Alpharetta, GA
6 SBC Annual