What legacy ministry in the SBC means
Do you consider your church to be a legacy ministry?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (merriam-webster.com) defines legacy as “of, relating to, associated with, or carried over from an earlier time, technology, business, etc.”
While there are those Baptist brethren among us that consider legacy ministry to be a dirty word, I feel nothing could be further from the truth.
Merriam-Webster goes on to say, “In its basic meaning, a legacy is a gift of money or other personal property that’s granted by the terms of a will – often a substantial gift that needs to be properly managed. But the word is used much more broadly as well. So, for instance, much of Western civilization — law, philosophy, aesthetics — could be called the undying legacy of ancient Greece. And the rights and opportunities that women enjoy today are partly the legacy of the early suffragists and feminists.”
When it comes to the eternal impact of the Church, we all should want to be a part of a legacy ministry that continues to reflect the redemptive message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Where legacy gets a bad rap is when it is attached to a ministry that appears – at least on the surface – to no longer be effective in furthering the cause of Christ in today’s world.
For example, I have been appalled over the years that the work of Baptist associations – which pre-date the establishment of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) – is often labeled as something that is no longer needed.
To be certain, as with anything, there are strong associations and weak associations. But in my experience in working with associations across the U.S. for nearly 30 years, more often than not the association is seen as a key partner of the local church – especially among smaller churches – in fulfilling the Great Commission.
It’s interesting to me that the work of state Baptist newspapers often falls into the category of legacy ministry as well, when most still reach more Southern Baptists than practically any other denominational medium of communication.
Perhaps it is by nature that Baptist newspapers are holistic in reporting and documenting the activities of Baptists that they get a bad name.
After all, their focus is broader than, say, a Baptist college or children’s home. But at the same time, their work is important in providing Baptists with information about things such as the governance of their denomination, pertaining to providing information like how their missions dollars are spent.
The fact is that we are a denomination in decline.
While Southern Baptists reported an increase of more than 270 churches in 2017, membership fell for the 11th consecutive year, to 15 million. Since 2006, SBC congregations have lost about 1.3 million members, according to Annual Church Profile (ACP) reporting.
Even more disturbing is that baptisms also declined, as they have for eight of the past 10 years. Congregations reported baptizing 254,122 people — 26.5 percent fewer than in 2007. The ratio was one baptism for every 59 church members.
But ACP statistics don’t tell the entire story.
Despite the best efforts of associations and state conventions across the country, 26 percent of churches did not participate in the survey, according to LifeWay Research (see related story page 6). Seventy-four percent of churches participated in the 2017 ACP survey by reporting at least one item. That’s down from 80 percent in 2013 and 77 percent in the past three years.
Is there apathy related to participation in the SBC, due to our denominational bureaucracy and politics?
I pray not, because even on our worst day, I count it as an honor and a privilege to be part of the Southern Baptist legacy of faith.
Tim Yarbrough is editor/executive director of the ABN.