This Sunday I continue a practice I began about 20 years ago. I'm presenting the State of the Church message to the congregation of Dallas Bay Baptist Church. I am convicted that as the spiritual and administrative leader of this great church it is my responsibility to report how we are functioning in our attempt to be an effective component in God's economy. As always there will be reasons to rejoice and reasons to reflect and repent. So in preparation for Sunday I had our staff tally some information from 2013.
Financially, we have continued to emerge from the budget challenges that began all the way back in 2008. Our total tithes and offereings were $3,382,000. That's up $200,000 from last year, PTL. Out of our total giving we spent $215,000 on missions. That's up $55,000 from last year. Another reason to praise the Lord! We exceeded our Christmas missions offering goal by more than 25%. These numbers place Dallas Bay in the top 1/2 of 1% of Churches in America. God is good.
We grew by 148 members. Dallas Bay's membership is now 3,058. We helped 750 adults and children through our community benevolence ministries. This does not include members of Dallas Bay that were helped. These numbers are kept confidential, but they are not insignificant. The Lord has certainly been gracious to this great church.
But, we are woefully weak in one important area; evangelism. We baptized 47 in 2013. Baptisms are one of the few visible means to measure evangelism in a Baptist church. Let's think about this for a second. Over 3,000 born again believers were able to lead only 47 people to Christ in one year. That calculates to 1 salvation for every 64 members. How would I characterize that effort; pathetic. I have done a terrible job leading our church to share our faith. I have let the Lord and the chucrh down. This is not brand new information to me. I really don't get surprised by the statistics that the staff supplies me for Suday. I have pretty good idea where we stand all year long. So I have been concerned about this for a while. So does a pastor just excuse the poor numbers on culture or the complacency of his congregation? Some do. I can't. I wish I weren't this way, but I can't just "ride it out" and wish it weren't so.
I have felt for some time that we were quenching the Spirit in our worship services. The Lord's graciousnes is at least partly to blame. He has grown our family from 24 to 3,000 in these 24 years and we struggle to provide adequate space to contain such rapid growth. In the past we have done as many as 5 services on Sunday morning. Even now, after adding seating and an additional campus we will have 5 services this Easter. But on a weekly basis we have to clear the hallways and parking lots in 15 minutes between services at our main campus. If I run over, even a few minutes, it throws the whole morning into chaos. So as the service nears an end I have to quickly summarize. Sometimes I don't have time to even give an opportunity for a response. After having explained this scenario, Pastor Cymballa at the Brooklyn Tabernacle asked me, "How is the Spirit allowed to move in such a situation?" "I don't know" was all I could say.
So beginning February 16 we are adding time to each service. We are also adding 30 minutes between services so people can slow down and I can let the Spirit close the service and not a clock. Some who have heard about this change are happy and others are not. It means starting our first service earlier than ever. "People won't get up that early". Or, "its already hard enough to get children up and ready for 1st service", others have said. I wish I weren't this way. I wish I could settle for the status quo. I just can't.
I expect the negatives about the change in times will seem insignificant compared to the other change. I have asked the great choir and orchestra of Dallas Bay to lead out in worship in our first service. In an attempt to have more in the choir on Sundays, I have asked that they no longer choose between worship or Sunday School. If they are all in the first service our church will hear how great they are when they are all together. That means the second service will be different than normal and that is where I am getting the most criticism. I won't even attempt to descibe this service except by telling you what it isn't. It isn't a contemporary service in the way that most Baptists associate with he term. It will be different. God has so impressed on my heart this change that I can't ignore it any longer. If I could describe what has been laid on my heart they would be words like: intimate, connected, flexible, and Spirit led. Not Spirit led in a way that some churches characterize a chaotic or frenzied service as Spirit led. I mean the ability to step to the platform and change the direction of a song or call for a time of prayer. The more I try and explain the more difficult I find it to do. I just want people to know that it will not be a service where you're asked to stand for an hour as you repeat a chorus of 7 words 11 times.
Why am I doing this knowing it will result in controversy, and contrary to popular beliefs, I do not like controversy. Because I know that many of the unchurched are not attracted by choir and orchestra music no matter how great they are. And did I mention we have a great choir and orchestra? I also know that we have had many additions to our church who are musically talented but have no desire to participate in church worship as it has been offered at Dallas Bay. Both of these groups are more likely to have lost friends than those of who have been in church all of our lives. Sure, it would be less controversial to keep things the way they were. Some churches would be satisfied with 64 members to 1 baptism, but I don't think we are. I know I'm not. And that's not the spirit that got us to where we are today. I wish I weren't this way. I really do. But I cannot sit idly by and do things they way they have always been done just to avoid criticism. I am relying on the good people at Dallas Bay to have that same desire. To reach as many people with the Gospel of Christ as we possible can. I believe as deeply as anything I believe that the time is at hand. I believe all the signs are there for the Lord to call us home soon. And when He does, I want to be found doing all I can do to share His good news with those who need to hear.
I hope to see you Sunday.