About this time each year, many people within the church begin to wring their hands in fear and frustration because the time is coming when we, as Southern Baptists, are asked to turn in a report of our numbers, successes and failures, for the past 12 months. We call it the ACP which is short for “Annual Church Profile.” For better or worse, over the past few years, there has been an effort to update the way we report as well as an attempt to streamline what information we actually turn in.
The year we changed from SBDS (Southern Baptist Directory Services introduced in 2000) to the SBC Workspace (in 2016), was a difficult year for many reason. Pointing fingers does us little good. It was tough for everyone involved. But honestly, now we are past that and it’s time for all of us to report once again. I am taking a few minutes to write this because I DEEPLY believe we need EVERY CHURCH to report. Sadly and truthfully, some have little desire to do so. Let me give each of us a couple of things to consider and hopefully, we can get 100% of churches to participate.
Let me begin by challenging a misconception. That misconception is that “SBC CHURCHES are asked to report for the purpose of “honoring or humbling a work.” In other words, we can brag if our numbers are big and be scolded if our numbers are small. Admittedly, some have attempted to make our reporting into the ‘brag or belittle’ weapon, but that is not the focus nor is it to be accepted in such a way. Years ago, I heard someone quip, “The only people who don’t talk about numbers are those who have no numbers to talk about.” Whether this statement is right or wrong is of little importance in the grand design of our calling. It is my belief that every church ministry needs to report ‘whatever numbers’ they have, large or little, because it is the work of the Kingdom. If I pastor a church and we only baptize a few, disciple a few, and lose member, it becomes a personal motivation to seek God’s will more on a personal and collective level. If my numbers are large, I should thank God for His blessing and ask Him to keep me from being or becoming prideful and, at the same time, as Him to give me a vision for those yet to be reached.
Just this past week I spoke with Dr. Johnny Hunt, long time pastor of Woodstock-FBC and now the Evangelism Director for NAMB, to ask him about the numbers he quoted the conference on Associational Leaders. He said (what we have read and heard):
- We have had a decline in Membership for the past 15th years
- We have declined in Baptisms for the 8th time out of the last 10 years
Make no mistake, as Southern Baptist we must regain our spiritual traction that has sustained us in days past because we are not reaching lost people, we are largely not discipling those who profess Christ, and we are not being the salt and light in this ever-darkening culture. HOWEVER, in speaking with Bro. Johnny, I pitched to him the truth that, as Southern Baptists, WE DO NOT REALLY KNOW HOW WE ARE DOING. Why? Because many churches do not report anything. In fairness, we have church members who don’t want to be bothered and pastors (sorry men) who could care less about reporting. The result is this: Every time, I personally hear a statistic, I question its accuracy because, in my spirit and experience (from my small portion of the world), it seems we are simply not gathering enough credible information to know where we stand in fulfilling our mission.
Bro. Johnny did not even let me finish my question because he knew what I was saying. This is what he told me. “When I first came to this position at NAMB, I commissioned a 3rd party to study this very truth. We discovered that 33% of churches are not completing the ACP.” To know Bro. Johnny is to know he keeps a pretty hectic schedule and we did not have time to develop that conversation any further, you know, to talk about the ‘whys’ and ‘how we can change this dynamic.’ Candidly, if we are to pray through to gain God’s mind and then develop a strategy that helps God’s churches work together to reach the lost and unchurched, we need everyone to participate and cooperate.
Cooperate! There is that word again. Sometimes we forget that Article 14 of the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) is entitled “Cooperation”. This concept that we put in print, is the one that sets us apart from all other evangelical ministries. Our Missions Program is called the “Cooperative Program (CP)” for a reason. It is how we do missions, ministry, and life together. We COOPERATE. When we do, things get done and we don’t things largely go undone. The Bible says, “A Cord of 3-strands is not quickly or easily broken.” Whether you have 34 churches in an Association or 48,000 church in the SBC working together for the Kingdom, we are able to do much more because of our connections and cooperation than we can independently because the cord is not easily broken. It’s that simple.
All that I have written is to make the case that we should strive, one and all, to complete our report this year so we can assess the impact (or lack thereof) we are making that we might be better stewards of the sacred challis called the “Gospel of Jesus Christ” so that we might become more proficient in sharing His good news both in word and deed. We report so we can know how well we are doing what we have been called and commissioned to do. “WE” are important because “WE” are the sheep of HIS PASTURE.