Briefing

Survey: Church attendance linked to higher levels of happiness
Church participation leads to more happiness and civic engagement, according to Pew Research’s analysis of surveys from the U.S. and 25 other countries. Religious affiliation without participation does not lead to the same positive outcomes, Pew found.

Young adults keep Christian label; fewer ‘devout’
Most young adults who attended church as teenagers say they believe in God today, but fewer consider themselves devout Christians, according to a LifeWay Research study released Jan. 31. And some say they believe in God but are uncertain of Christianity.

Boy Scouts officially accepting girls
The Boy Scouts of America officially changed their name Feb. 1 and began accepting girls in all scouting programs. Troops, however, will continue to be single gender, the organization has said. Maybe a quick quote from the opposition?

Asia Bibi finally free to leave Pakistan
On January 29, the Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld its decision to acquit Asia Bibi. In one of the most high-profile Christian persecution cases in the past decade, Bibi spent eight years in prison convicted of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad—which is a crime punishable by death in the Islamic Republic—until Pakistan’s Supreme Court rejected her conviction last October. Bibi was the first Christian woman in the country to be convicted of blasphemy and to have her case go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Who is most ‘Bible engaged’ in the U.S.?
Amid cultural shifts in beliefs and reading habits, African Americans consistently outrank other racial groups for their reliance on the Word. Last year, the American Bible Society (ABS) once again named African Americans “the most Bible engaged in the US.” They are more likely to own a Bible—93 percent of African Americans do, versus 82 percent of Americans overall—and more than twice as likely to say Bible reading is crucial to their daily routine, according to the society’s 2018 State of the Bible report.

Sources: BP News (2), Christian Headlines, Christianity Today (2)

What churches need

Lisa Misner —  February 4, 2019

By Nate Adams

Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt once starred in a box office hit that bore the simple but provocative title, “What Women Want.” The movie’s premise, of course, is that men can be notoriously oblivious to understanding what women want. But after Gibson’s character receives an accidental shock from a hairdryer, he finds he can hear what the women around him are thinking. And that makes all the difference.

One of the serious take-aways from this romantic comedy is that we would all better understand what others want or need if we would just ask, and listen. None of us can hear one another’s thoughts, and most people are reluctant to talk openly about what they really need, at least until someone asks directly.

That’s one reason IBSA remains committed to an annual survey of churches each fall. It’s our way of asking churches what they really need, and hoping they will tell us, so we can help.

Our annual survey finds we have a lot in common.

Of course, Illinois Baptist churches are diverse, as we rediscover every year. From north to south and large city to rural community, each church’s size, setting, age, leadership, worship style, and culture make it unique, and deserving of individual consideration and attention.

At the same time, we found again this year that a handful of key needs appear consistently in many churches. For example, when asked what kind of assistance a church needs most, evangelism consistently again led the list of responses, followed by leadership development, and then spiritual renewal.

When asked what age groups churches need most assistance trying to reach, respondents consistently say they need help reaching college age and young adults, followed by students or youth. When asked about missions, churches ask for more help engaging in missions opportunities nearby, in Illinois, compared with international or North American mission fields.

We also ask in the survey how churches prefer to receive assistance or communication. Not surprisingly, churches prefer personal contact when possible, followed by e-mail and then phone. And recently, churches’ reported use of digital communications such as IBSA’s website or social media channels have actually slightly surpassed print communication channels, though both are still valued.

Every year we read and digest carefully this input from hundreds of churches. We seek to set our priorities and budget, and even hire and structure our staff, around the needs churches express. Here are two “take-aways” from this year’s survey I would like to communicate to every IBSA church:

First, you are not alone. Your church’s needs and even its frustrations are shared by many other churches. So don’t allow those needs to make you feel isolated. Use them as an opportunity to reach out and connect with other churches and leaders who have experienced the same needs, and who can advise or help.

Call IBSA for a connection or a consultation. Ask us to recommend a church that has found a way to meet the kind of need you have.

Second, choose to face your needs. Don’t just agonize over or lament them. Throughout the Bible, when God sees a need or hears a cry for help, he raises up a person, and that person leads others in a process that meets the need. Just ask Moses, or Gideon, or Solomon, or Nehemiah, or Jesus’ disciples, or the early church apostles. Paul promised the Philippian church, and us, that God would supply all their needs through his own riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

So what person and what process might God use to help meet your church’s greatest needs this year? He actually can read your mind. But he loves it when we admit our needs, and humbly ask for his help.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

‘We’re here to help’
Across the country, local churches and national ministries ministered to furloughed federal workers during the recent 35-day government shutdown. “We’re here to help,” said Don Williams, who with his Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief team served three meals a day to federal workers.

President Donald Trump and Congress reached a deal last week that will keep the government open until Feb. 15. During the record-breaking shutdown, Christians found ways to help, donating gifts cards, setting up makeshift food pantries, and helping furloughed workers pay their bills.

Former White House staffer criticizes Trump advisers
A former White House communications staffer asserts in a new book that President Donald Trump’s evangelical advisers didn’t push the president to offer asylum to persecuted Christians. Trump adviser Johnnie Moore disputed the claims in Cliff Sims’ book “Team of Vipers,” telling The Christian Post he had “personally witnessed on many occasions the exact opposite of what this author alleges.”

Illinois Baptist named to 2019 SBC Committee on Resolutions
IBSA President Adron Robinson will serve on the Committee on Resolutions for the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention this summer in Birmingham. Robinson and his fellow committee members will consider resolutions submitted prior to the meeting, and also may propose their own.

Pro-life advocates dismayed by Pritzker’s executive order
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed an executive order Jan. 22 to enforce a law directing state employee health insurance plans to include abortion services. The move disappointed pro-life advocates wary of how the new governor might seek to expand abortion rights in the state.

Moore: Christians can speak dignity into a dehumanizing culture
“God does not ignore what happens to the cries of the poor and the vulnerable and marginalized and the unborn and the elderly and the stranger,” Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore preached at the annual Evangelicals for Life conference Jan. 17. The two-day meeting, held prior to the March for Life on the National Mall, gathered Christians for discussions on the sanctity of life, including abortion, adoption, refugees, and criminal justice reform.

Start with ‘One’

Lisa Misner —  January 28, 2019

Baptists mobilize for year-long emphasis

By Meredith Flynn

pajak one

IBSA’s Pat Pajak (left in this IB file photo) will help Illinois Baptists engage with “Who’s Your One,” an initiative to help people share their faith in 2019.

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear is encouraging Southern Baptists to answer a simple question in 2019: Who’s your one?

The question is at the center of an evangelism and prayer emphasis Greear introduced last year to his own congregation, Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham.

“We asked each member of our congregation to identify one person they could pray for and seek to bring to Christ over the year,” Greear wrote in SBC Life. “The phrase we kept repeating was, ‘Who’s your one?’”

The idea isn’t complicated, Greear continued, but the intentional focus on evangelism worked. Summit Church baptized 700 people last year. Now, Greear is inviting churches across the SBC to participate in “Who’s Your One?” this year.

“Intentional evangelism has always been a defining characteristic of Southern Baptist mission,” Greear said. “And rightly so, because evangelism is the primary tool by which we fulfill the Great Commission.”

He will join Johnny Hunt, the North American Mission Board’s senior vice president of evangelism and leadership, to train associational leaders in the strategy during a simulcast Jan. 31. They’ll also introduce a kit designed to help pastors lead a multi-week emphasis in their churches encouraging every member to become more focused and intentional about evangelism.

“Associations have always served as a valuable partner in cooperation, mobilizing churches together,” Greear told Baptist Press. “It only seemed natural for every association in the country to work together.” There are 1,000-plus local associations, or networks, of churches across the SBC.

Prayer is at the core of the emphasis, said IBSA’s Pat Pajak, associate executive director of evangelism. “Every Illinois Southern Baptist is encouraged, challenged really, to begin praying for one person in 2019. As they pray for that person, we believe the Lord will begin to touch their heart to witness to them. We believe God will open an opportunity to share their testimony and a gospel conversation, allowing them to present the gospel sometime in 2019.”

He has used the phrase “each one reach one” to describe a one-by-one strategy to reach people with the gospel. “Who’s Your One?” is built on the same idea. There are more than 8 million people in Illinois who haven’t trusted Christ, Pajak said. It’s an overwhelming number, but strategies like “Who’s Your One?” could have a huge impact.

“There are 114,359 resident members in IBSA churches in Illinois,” Pajak said. “Can you imagine the impact we could have on our state if each active church member began praying daily for a relative, friend, neighbor, or coworker, and then looked for an opportunity to share the truth about the death, burial, and resurrection of our Savior?”

For more information about evangelism training, resources, and this year’s “Who’s Your One?” emphasis, contact Pajak at (217) 391-3129 or PatPajak@IBSA.org. You may also visit gospelaboveall.com to register and receive additional information about “Who’s Your One?”

Briefing

Study: 66% of young adults drop out of church for at least a year
In a 2017 LifeWay Research survey released on January 15, 66 percent of Americans between 23 and 30 years old said they stopped attending church on a regular basis for at least a year after turning 18. Moving for college was the top reason young people said they stopped attending church. Other popular reasons to include: a perception that church members were hypocritical (32%), disconnect with church life (29%), disagreement with the church’s stance on political/social issues, and the inability to attend due to work responsibilities (24%).

Harvest Church pastor takes ‘indefinite sabbatical’
On January 16, the elders of Harvest Bible Chapel announced that pastor James MacDonald would take an “indefinite sabbatical” from preaching and leadership at the Chicago megachurch while it works to reconcile with past critics. The announcement follows recent reports of criticism of the church’s financial and management practices. The elders said MacDonald has permission to continue preaching at the Harvest location in Naples, Fla., this winter but he has recused himself from having any leadership role in the reconciliation process and will participate only when asked. 

Abortion defunding bill fails in Senate
An effort to remove the federal government from the abortion business failed January 17 in the U.S. Senate. Senators voted 48-47 to bring the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act to the floor for a vote on final passage. But the roll call fell short of the votes needed to succeed in the procedural move. The proposal, S. 109, would establish a permanent, government-wide ban on funds for abortions by standardizing the prohibitions that now exist in various federal programs. The bill also would block federal money for abortion coverage under the 2010 health-care law and guarantee full disclosure of abortion funding by health insurance plans that are part of the controversial arrangement.

N. Korea again tops list of countries with highest persecution
Open Doors USA has published its 2019 World Watch List of the top 50 countries in the world where Christians face the most extreme persecution for their faith. North Korea was listed at the very top of the World Watch List for the 17th-consecutive year, with Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen, Iran, and India rounding up the top 10. Additionally, China jumped 16 spots, from 43 to 27. As many as 4,136 Christians were murdered last year because of their faith, while 1,266 churches or Christian buildings were attacked.

Some LifeWay stores to close
In light of “an accelerated rate of erosion” at “brick-and-mortar” stores, LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer has announced that some LifeWay stores will be closing. “We will be transitioning many resources from our LifeWay stores to digital channels.” Rainer wrote in a January 15 email to LifeWay employees. “The good news is that we will be better prepared to meet the future. The challenging news is that some of our stores will have to close.” The number of stores to close and the timing of those closures has not been announced.

Sources: Christianity Today, BP News (3), Christian Post

 

Dr. King’s mountaintop

Lisa Misner —  January 21, 2019

By J.D. Greear

mlk day 2019

Our Declaration of Independence put forth a lofty ideal about the equality of races, one of the most eloquent and profound any government had ever made: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Yet many of the framers would return home to their slaves.

Our country has always had high aspirations of equality, but we’ve never been able to achieve them. Not during the century of our birth, when imported African slaves were bought and sold as subhuman property. Not after the Civil War, when Jim Crow laws kept newly liberated African Americans from the full rights of citizenship. Not today, when there are still disparities between the black experience of America and the white experience.

Sometimes I get discouraged with our lack of progress. But when I listen to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I don’t hear the voice of defeat or discouragement. I hear the voice of someone who has seen something — something that, in God’s power, is possible; something God wants to give.

The mountaintop is where we see the world as God meant it to be, the world that Jesus died to recreate.

“We’ve got some difficult days ahead,” Dr. King said. “But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land.”

The mountaintop is where we see the world as God meant it to be, the world that Jesus died to recreate. Multi-racial harmony is a preview of God’s eternal Kingdom, and God wants to display it first through His church. What our society has been unable to produce through its laws, God creates through the Gospel.

The Gospel teaches us that all men are created equal because they are each alike, made in the image of God. All races suffer from a common problem of sin and look toward a common hope in Jesus. The Gospel creates a new humanity, a redeemed race made up of all colors, in Christ’s image. God created the races to display His glory like a multi-splendored diamond, and we ought to see that glory first reflected in the church.

Dr. King looked ahead and boldly declared that God’s desire for racial harmony was possible. As we look to our future, would you join me in asking God to give us the courage to speak — and live — a similar word of counter-cultural, racially diverse, bold and unified faith?

I believe that God has appointed this moment in the world for the church to rise up and demonstrate the unity that the world searches for in vain. From that mountaintop we continue to dream; toward that promised land we continue to strive.

J.D. Greear is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C. This article first appeared at BPNews.net.

The generation that changed everything is changing its mind. Growing numbers of Boomers are interested in church again.

By Meredith Flynn

boomerang

The Boomers are coming! The Boomers are coming! Thom Rainer exclaimed as he reported new research showing that one-in-five Baby Boomers are more interested in spiritual things than they were earlier in their lives. One-in-five Baby Boomers represents about 19 million people, the president of LifeWay Christian Resources noted—presenting the church with a huge opportunity for growth and new ministry.

But the trend also means an increase in needs—for evangelism, discipleship, and intentional relationship-building. Many Boomers aren’t coming back to church as fully-formed Christians ready to participate in outreach ministries. They have questions. They can be skeptical.

Chaplain Matt Crain led a multi-generational church in southern Illinois before becoming a chaplain at Shawnee Christian Village in Herrin. At his church, Crain said, it was the Boomers who acknowledged, “I’ve been out of church for 20 years. And I’ve got a friend that said I really ought to try this.

“But I want you to know, pastor, I may not be back.”

Boomers may not be coming back to church in big waves yet, Crain said, but they have renewed interest and “they want to see if anything’s changed.”

The children of the 60s who fought hard for social change are also held responsible for the  ballooning the national debt. They’re “tanned and healthy and living way past average life expectancy,” Philadelphia Magazine reported. They also face financial and health crises avoided by the generation before them, Crain said.

“There is just under the surface an undertow current of ‘Wow, I see my own mortality now, and my health is beginning to fade,’” Crain said. “Am I going to have any legacy? Will it matter that I was here?”

Helping Boomers answer those questions is the church’s challenge—and an historic opportunity.

Prodigal generation
Boomers fill an interesting middle ground in American culture. Most were raised with a foundation of values straight out of Mayberry. But the tumult of their formative years took them far away from the comfort of Aunt Bea’s kitchen. In ways physical and spiritual, they moved away from what they knew as children, and raised their own families (which many started later in life than their predecessors) with new values.

But as they reach the later stages of their lives (the first Boomers turned 65 in 2011), they’re thinking about what really matters. And in some cases, they’re returning to a form of the faith they were raised with—although it may be more about personal spirituality than organized religion.

“We have seen some Boomers thinking more about eternity and about what really matters most in life,” said Doug Munton, pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon. Boomers have the same spiritual needs as other generations, he said—a personal relationship with God through Christ, forgiveness of their sin, and meaning and purpose for their lives.

“They want to know what matters most deeply and how they can find that,” Munton said.
The research that showed Baby Boomers might be returning to their spiritual roots highlighted three reasons for the shift: more time on their hands, a realization of the brevity of life, and an awareness of life’s fragile nature. There are currently more than 70 million Baby Boomers, but data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows the group will shrink to 16.6 million by 2050.

It’s in this environment that the church can help meet practical needs of Boomers, as well as spiritual ones, Crain said. The simple things a church does to help a Boomer improve his or her quality of life can build relationships that can lead to gospel conversations. Encourage physical health, diet, and exercise, Crain suggested, or offer to take someone to a doctor’s appointment.

And when Boomers do come to your church, he added, they may be surprisingly nostalgic. “They are OK with singing some hymns,” Crain said. “They might put it to a new beat and add a couple of instruments…remember, they are children of the 60s.” In other words, don’t forsake “The Old Rugged Cross,” but jazz it up.

Ready to invest
At 62, Pastor Bob Dickerson is on the younger end of the Baby Boomer spectrum. But he identifies with a generation closer to the end of their lives than the beginning, and wanting to use their time well.

“I want to finish well,” said Dickerson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Marion. “I’m not going to accept just ‘doing stuff,’ because I don’t have enough time left to just do stuff.” Dickerson, and many fellow Boomers, want to see results from the things they do. They want what they undertake to matter.

At FBC Marion, retirees minister at the local homeless shelter. They’re involved in Disaster Relief. The church’s JOY choir of 70-80 older adults put on their first Christmas concert this year for an audience of more than 400. (JOY stands for “Just Older Youth.”)

Crain cited North American Mission Board church planting specialists who have noted the similarities between Boomers and their children. “Baby Boomers and Millennials are alike in the sense that they’re concerned with acts of love, kindness, justice, and mercy,” he said. “They want to know: What are you doing for our community? What are you doing for someone who can’t repay you?”

Even before they’re believers in Christ, Crain said, “they will jump into an opportunity to bless someone.” And once they’re in the church, their need for meaningful action is a warning for church leaders. “I can’t just make them ushers,” Crain said. “That’s not going to scratch that itch. They want to know, ‘When are we going to help somebody?’ That’s really important to them.”

My generation, and yours
The sheer number of Baby Boomers makes them a force to be reckoned with, especially for churches tasked with the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations (and ages within them). But they’re not the only generation in need of Jesus. Reaching them may provide churches with new potential for multi-generational worship and discipleship.

“Most of your Baby Boomers long for cross-generational experience,” Crain said. “They may not have learned how to do it, but they want to do it.” He encouraged churches to look for ways to connect people of different generations that are less about programming and more about building friendships.

Boomers are worried about their children and grandchildren, Dickerson noted. FBC Marion encourages opportunities for older adults to interact with youth, and to serve as surrogate grandparents to kids in need of them.

Amy Hanson is the author of “Baby Boomers and Beyond: Tapping the Ministry Talents and Passions of Adults Over 50.” She noted the similarities between Boomers and Millennials (generally, adults born 1981-1996) in an 2017 interview with the National Association of Evangelicals.

“They both care about social justice issues and making a difference with their lives,” Hanson said. “Both have an entrepreneurial spirit and are not afraid to try new things. Both groups are technologically savvy, and both are interested in strong friendships that cross generational lines.

“Focus on these things. Don’t be afraid to put people together and see what happens.”
The potential of a Baby Boomer boom in churches is a reminder of the call to reach all people with the gospel, regardless of age. Especially when presented with so great an opportunity, Thom Rainer urged leaders.

“Please, church leaders, don’t take this information lightly,” he wrote. “I can’t recall a generation in my lifetime potentially returning to church in such numbers.” The opportunities are incredible, Rainer said, “maybe they are groovy.”