I’m writing this the day after watching President Obama’s final State of the Union Address. After almost an hour of evidence and persuasion, the President neared the end of his address by declaring, “And that’s why I stand here, as confident as I have ever been, that the state of our Union is strong.”
A few minutes later, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley delivered the Republican response, acknowledging that President Obama “spoke eloquently about grand things,” and that “he is at his best when he does that.” Then she quickly added, “Unfortunately, the President’s record has often fallen short of his soaring words.” She went on to describe what she called a weak economy, a crushing national debt, an ineffective healthcare plan, chaotic unrest in many cities, and “the most dangerous terrorist threat our nation has seen since September 11th.”
And so viewers were left to wonder which facts to believe, which leader to trust, and which picture of America is most accurate.
I understand the dilemma, though. Here at IBSA, we are at the time of year when we cumulate and analyze data from almost a thousand churches’ Annual Church Profiles (ACPs).
Looking at some measurements, the state of our mission here in Illinois appears strong, at least compared to the previous year. The number of new church plants rebounded from 7 in 2014 to 22 in 2015. Cooperative Program missions giving was up 1.5% in 2015, and Mission Illinois Offering giving was up more than 10%. Mission trip participation remained strong at just under 24,000 volunteers.
But other measurements might produce a different picture. Baptisms reported by IBSA churches in 2015 are down from 2013 for the second straight year, and overall worship attendance and Bible study participation were flat to down as well.
My primary concern is that, in total, our churches’ statewide, cumulative impact on lostness in Illinois is not growing, at least not numerically.
President Obama quipped near the beginning of his address that he would try to be brief, because he knew there were several in Congress who were anxious to get back to Iowa (to campaign for the 2016 Presidential election). His joke underscored the reality that, whatever you may think about the current state of things, the more important issue is where we go from here.
To advance our mission here in Illinois, I would challenge us toward two primary imperatives—evangelism and leadership development.
I wrote recently about five actions in churches that, statistically speaking, most often result in people coming to faith in Christ. They are an evangelistic prayer strategy, Vacation Bible School, witness training, outreach events, and starting intentional new groups. If your church could use some help in these areas, our IBSA staff would love to assist.
I would also challenge us all to develop leaders more intentionally in our churches. At this month’s Illinois Leadership Summit, more than 200 church leaders are gathering at the IBSA Building in Springfield to explore what it means to “lead self, lead followers, lead leaders, and lead organizations” more effectively. Even if you miss the Summit, our IBSA staff will welcome the opportunity to help you and your church leaders with an intentional leadership development process.
In many ways, the state of our churches’ mission here in Illinois is still strong. But to keep it that way, and to advance the gospel into the lostness of Illinois, we must recommit to the important work of evangelism and leadership development.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.