Mississippi’s Missions Challenge
Mississippi Baptists are facing a daunting missional challenge in the early years of the 21st century. Baptisms in our churches have declined from more than 16,000 in 2000 to just over 11,000 in 2013. Weekly worship attendance has dropped from a high of over 240,000 on a typical Sunday morning to 226,000 in spite of an increase of almost 150,000 in the state’s population. Research shows that as Mississippi Baptists our churches have reached less than 8% of the state’s total population.
When we realize that Mississippi Baptists are the largest denomination in the state, our hearts should be broken over lostness in our state and by the lack of spiritual productivity. Our best estimate is that there are more than 2 million Mississippians who are not meaningfully connected to a local church. How has this happened to us, and what can we do to correct it?
Seeing Our State As A Mission Field
There is a new “unchurched culture” in our state that makes it easier to overlook segments of the population that need to know Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Savior. Aging boomers are dropping out of church because it doesn’t quite deliver the spiritual fulfillment they have always demanded. The social stigma of non-participation in a local church has been greatly reduced except in small rural communities where extended family ties keep folks involved at a nominal level. Mississippi Baptists reach rural, country communities better than any other population segment in the state, but because they are close-knit communities, they are slow to recognize or accept non-believers or new residents.
Mississippi Baptists have over 2000 white churches serving 58% of the state’s population, but less than 40 black churches serving the 1.3 million African-American that comprise 37% of the total population. Yes, there are hundreds of National and Missionary Baptist churches (predominantly black) in our state, but effective gospel partnerships among our churches are very rare. We may co-exist, but we have not transformed our communities into redemptive expressions of the Kingdom of God. Lostness looks like unrealized reconciliation.
Reaching New Generations
Traditional churches may have difficulty making room for new generation millennials. Over 800,000 people living in Mississippi are between 18-34 years old. And yet, they are sparsely represented on our church roles. Traditional churches are often resistant to adjusting their methodologies or do not believe they have the resources to do the things that new contemporary churches are dong to attract hundreds of new younger members. Because many Mississippi Baptists see our state as being over-churched they have been reluctant to plant new churches with new methodologies to reach the unchurched. It’s a lose/lose proposition.
Reaching Hard To Reach People
Mississippi’s poverty masks lostness as well. Twenty-three percent of the state’s population subsists on income below the national poverty level. Holmes County has the highest rate of children at risk for hunger out of any county in the United States. Over 60% of the state’s population is functionally illiterate, meaning they cannot read well enough for comprehension. Mississippi Baptists are under-represented within working and poor communities, and over represented within upscale communities. In other words, we reach well-educated, affluent persons at twice the rate we reach the working class and the poor.
What Is The Solution?
When Jesus was confronted with the lostness of Jerusalem, He wept for the people and their city (Luke 19:41). But brokenness for the lost is not enough to bring about the needed transformation in our communities or the needed change in our churches. Jesus commands His followers in John 4 to open their eyes and see the harvest. If Mississippi Baptists are going to reduce lostness across our state we must put a face on lostness. We must identify who lives in our state and who is not being reached with the gospel. We need to not only determine who is not being reached with the gospel, we must figure out why they’re not being reached. And then, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we must craft an effective missions strategy that helps us fulfill God’s mission for us to make disciples of all nations.
Planting new multiplying churches that are laser focused on reaching people who are not engaged in a church is one of our most effective options. We know new churches baptize at higher rates than existing churches and we know that a new churches need to survive encourage more missional behaviors from it participants. We should work to apply this proven solution across our state. Church planting does not need to be our only solution but it is one we must aggressively implement now.
We Need To Be Broken
Brokenness and a holy determination to discover and address lostness in a Biblically faithful and culturally appropriate way are the essential elements of a biblical missions strategy. Mississippi is a mission field. Let us come honestly before God and pray that He will break our hearts for the lost and that He will send laborers into the harvest to live for His glory and the good of others (Luke 10:2).
Please consider visiting our www.impactmississippi.net site for specific information on Mississippi’s lostness, down to the zip code level. Also visit our state-wide 242 church multiplication network at www.242network.com.
The Need For Full Disclosure
Stop! Please take a few minutes to read and process the following words. If you are considering planting a church, there is nothing more important than for you to realize the gravity of the journey you are considering taking. In the years that we have worked closely with church planters, one of the most important things we have learned is that we cannot underestimate the difficulty of planting a church in the over-churched culture of Mississippi.
An estimated 80% of the households in our state have someone in them with a protestant church heritage (or family experience). Yet only an estimated 20% of the people in our Mississippi households attend an evangelical protestant church at least once a month. The simple math leaves 60 % of our households that know what church is and what it represents but that choose not to participate regularly. The reasons for this absence from church are many, making determining how to engage our neighbors with the life giving Gospel of Jesus a major challenge. We do not believe people have given up on Jesus, just on organized religion. The church familiarity of our Mississippi contexts create significant challenges for new churches that are trying to reach these unreached households.
So how does someone begin to address our state’s contexts? It must start with the person that is considering taking on this challenge. First, they need to take adequate time to discern if their interest in planting a church is truly a call from God. Someone who is planting a church for any other reason than a clear call from God to do so will not have the inner strength and stamina to withstand the things requires in this journey.
One of the most effective ways to help a potential planter examine their call is for them to participate in an extensive church planter assessment. The 242 Network offers 2 assessment retreats a year to assess planters. The 242 Network website: www.242network.com provides the details for these assessments.
If a potential church planter passes their assessment, they then begin their personal development stage of being a planter. This process is guided by a Personal Growth Plan that is specific to each planter. The planter is assigned a ministry coach who works with the planter to prepare and manage their plan, including gathering input and help from the planter’s Parent Church. The goal of the Personal Growth Plan is to direct a planter to master behavior changes that they believe God wants them to make to become a better ministry leader.
Also after a planter has passed their assessment, they will participate in Hub Training that is conducted over approximately 6 months. This training is focused on developing specific competencies in each planter that along with their Personal Growth Plan produce a planter that compare favorably to the individual described in the document “A Well Prepared Mississippi Church Planter”.
Generally after a planter completes their training they are recommended by the 242 Network for funding provided by the Margret Lackey State Missions offering. The Mississippi Baptist Convention makes all final determinations for funding and they use the recommendation from the 242 Network as a basis for their consideration. The planter will continue to be provided a coach to work with them for at least 18 months after they begin their training. Encouragement and fellowship will be provided from local Hub meetings that will involve other planters and local church leaders. A planter’s progress will be assessed each year that they receive funding to determine if their progress warrants for the next year. Over time each planter will also be asked to participate in their local hub to help support new planters.
Downloads: A Description of a Well Prepared Mississippi Church Planter
Church Planting Strategy
A Multiplication Movement
Planting new churches is important. It is one of the primary ways God brings new life to His church on earth. But more important than planting a new church is the basic mentality that the early church demonstrated as described in Acts 2:42-47. Paul describes an attitude of multiplication of the Gospel message by many of the early church members that the Holy Spirit help make extremely contagious. We desire to see that same reaction spreading across our churches as they become involved in church planting and see God at work expanding His Kingdom. We resolve to accept nothing short of this type of movement across our state.
Becoming Part of A Movement
Words are easy to craft. The real challenge is finding how to engage a growing number of leaders to the point where they are willing to lead their churches to understand the Biblical commands of multiplication and the benefits to a local church from committing to be a multiplying church. The hope of the Mississippi Baptist Convention is to provide several ways for a local church to take clear steps to begin a journey to become a multiplying church. This journey will require prayer, faith, leadership and perseverance from the local church. Mississippi Baptist’s help for churches making this journey will primarily be the 242 Network. The following steps are suggested for churches interested in joining this movement. More details can be found at www.242network.com.
• Attend a local 242 Network Hub meeting to meet planters and other multiplying church leaders.
• Sit in on a 242 Network training session.
• Attend the annual 242 Network Multiplying Church Conference
• Talk with a Hub leader about the requirements for being trained and certified for planter coaching or training.
• Request a church planter to present a Margret Lackey Missions offering message.
• Provide financial support for a planter after interviewing the planter and his Hub leader.
• Become a Parent Church for a church planter, including providing financial and mentoring support.
• Work with Missions Mobilization to identify and work with church planters across North America.