LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – The biggest reason churches in America shrink is because they’ve muddled the message of Jesus, Kentucky Baptist Convention President Bill Langley said Tuesday.
“You and I are living in a culture where there is a lot of confusion about Jesus,” Langley told KBC messengers gathered at Highview Baptist Church’s east campus in Louisville. “It’s politically incorrect in our culture to say Jesus Christ is the only way to God. And, over the past few years, we’ve watched several of the mainline evangelical denominations forsake their loyalty as it pertains to this key doctrine.”
Langley said those mainline church leaders will acknowledge Jesus as a unique historical figure, but they’re unwilling to go farther.
“They would also say there are other ways to God,” he said. “They would say you can be a Muslim and know God. You can be a Hindu and know God. You can be a Buddhist and know God. In other words, they would say there are many paths that lead to the top of the mountain, that there are many belief systems that lead to heaven.”
Because of that kind of teaching, churches have stopped growing, Langley said. In fact, he said, 78 percent of churches in America have plateaued or are declining.
“Roughly 22 percent of our churches are growing,” Langley said. “However, out of the 22 percent that are growing, 11 percent are growing by transfer of membership. That means people just get mad at their preacher, or they dissatisfied with the programs at the church they’ve been attending, so they go down the road to another church. And they stay there at that church until they get mad at that preacher and dissatisfied with those programs. Jesus has called us to go after his lost sheep, but a lot of churches are satisfied just to swap sheep from one pen to another.”
Of the 22 percent of churches that are growing, 11 percent are growing through evangelism, and, of those, 8 percent are only baptizing children of the people already attending.
“Thank God for that,” Langley said. “I’m thrilled that my children know the Lord. And you ought to be incredibly grateful if that’s true in your family. But, obviously, we want to do a lot more than that.”
Langley said only 3 percent of evangelical churches in America are reaching identifiably lot people.
“In our culture today, a lot of people believe in Jesus; the problem is very few of them seem to know who Jesus really is,” he said. “Our kids go off to college and listen to professors who sound like they know the deep truths of an enlightened world. And before long, our kids are embracing ideas that don’t even resemble the truth. Why does this happen? It happens because we, as parents and pastors and church leaders, haven’t helped them see Jesus for who He really is.”
Langley said 80 percent of the college-bound students who grew up in evangelical churches and profess to be Christians return home four years later with their faith no longer intact.
“The reason is they’ve never truly been taught what the Bible says,” he said. “So, when they sit in class and hear a professor of higher education discredit the Bible, these students don't have a defense. And they’re easily deceived into believing the Bible is no longer credible.”
Langley said the good news is that a hunger and thirst to know God is imbedded within every culture.
“People want more,” he said. “And our job as Christians is to help them understand that the only One who can give them what they truly want and need is Jesus Christ. Everything else is just a poor substitute that’s going to leave them unfulfilled and disappointed.”
Jesus left the wonder of heaven to come to earth and became a flesh and blood man so that he could die in the place of sinful men.
“The only way our sins could be forgiven is that someone without sin die in our place,” Langley said. “And that’s exactly what Jesus did.”
That, Langley said, is the message that will turn churches around and win the world for Christ.
“It’s not about pop psychology in the pulpit,” he said. “It’s not about more and better church programs. It’s not about slick presentations that impress people. It’s not about making a name for ourselves. It’s about making Jesus’ great name known.”