Published September 9, 2010
In 1992 when I was pastor of Peachtree Corners Baptist Church in Norcross I took a group of our people on a short-term mission trip to the Ukraine in the former Soviet Union. We ministered in the capital city of Kiev and in the town of Jagotin (Yahotyn). It was an incredible experience.
Prior to the trip I fervently prayed for four things.
1. I prayed that God would use the experience to break my heart. The Psalmist said, “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” (Ps. 34:18).
I knew that God often uses broken things. Someone said, “It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, and broken bread to give strength. It was a broken alabaster box that gave forth sweet perfume, a broken Jacob limping from Jabbok who had power with God and men, and a broken Peter, weeping bitterly, who returned to greater power than ever before.”
2. I also prayed that I would encounter people who had an insatiable hunger for the truth of God. And, wow, did that ever become a reality.
When we got to the airport in Moscow we passed out Bibles to the people in the terminal and everyone immediately opened the Bible they had just received and began to read it. I took a picture of about 20 people sitting on a long row of connected seats and each one was reading his/her Bible.
Only hours later I stood on an elevated platform and started preaching in the Moscow train station and a large crowd gathered immediately to hear the message. After 75 years of being brainwashed with atheistic communism and evolution they were hungry for the Gospel. It was amazing.
3. I also prayed that God would break the material stronghold in my life and that He would give me the conviction to come back and break the material stronghold in our church. I saw a handful of Christians in the Ukraine who had nothing, but whose countenance and attitude indicated that they had everything. At that time the average monthly income in the Ukraine was the equivalent of $8 in U.S. currency, but the Christians were thrilled to share whatever they had and were about the most joyful folks I had ever met.
4. My fourth prayer for the trip was that we might be able to accomplish some good for our Savior.
To sum that incredible experience up in a nutshell – it had an everlasting affect upon my life. After I got home I wept for days when I thought of the Christians we met in the Ukraine and I talked about my experience for weeks. One Wednesday evening I was talking to some of my flock at the church supper and one lady said, “Preacher, that mission trip apparently was a life-changing experience for you, but remember we called you to be our pastor here at Peachtree Corners. We hope you are not going to become missionary to some foreign country and forget about us.”
Since 1992 I have been privileged to minister in a lot of places where our international missionaries serve and if God had called me to the international mission field I feel certain I would have gone wherever He led. But we must not forget about the mission field here at home – in our Jerusalem and Judea.
Our Judea is Georgia and we have lots of needs right here in our own state. Dr. J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, recently stated that 70 percent of our state is unchurched. Based on the 2009 U.S. Census Bureau estimation that 9,829,211 people live in Georgia, that means approximately 6,880,447 have no church relationship. It is conceivable that an even larger number of people in Georgia have no relationship with Jesus Christ.
Bryan Nowak, consultant with the Research Services Department of the GBC, has compiled some very helpful statistical information relative to church demographics in our state and nation. He proclaims, “If present trends continue we have been told that by 2025 it is estimated that 90 to 95 percent of the U.S. will be unchurched.”
These are alarming projections.
Justice Anderson* asserts, “The American church is in the midst of one of the largest mission fields in the world today. Only three other nations – China, India, and Indonesia – have more lost people.”
Aubrey Malphurs* lamented, “Essentially, what was once a churched, supposedly Christian culture has become an unchurched, post-Christian culture. People in our culture are not antichurch; they simply view the church as irrelevant to their lives.”
Win Arn* observed, “Each year 3,500 to 4,000 churches close their doors forever; yet only 1,100 to 1,500 new churches are started.”
There is a desperate need for new churches in our land. Ron Sylva* noted, “In spite of the rise of mega-churches, no county in America has a greater churched population than it did ten years ago.”
Bill Easum* insists that there is a desperate need for new churches. He explains, “Although the number of churches in America has increased by 50 percent in the last century, the population has grown 300 percent. There are now nearly 60 percent fewer churches per 10,000 persons than in 1920.”
Now, take a look at these additional figures:
• 1920 – 27 churches per 10,000 Americans
• 1950 – 17 churches per 10,000 Americans
• 1996 – 11 churches per 10,000 Americans
• 2025 – ?? churches per 10,000 Americans
Nowak reports that there are 3,600 Georgia Baptist churches in a state with almost 10 million residents. He then concludes, “At our current average resident membership of 290 people per church, it would take 20,690 new churches of that same size to reach everyone in Georgia today.”
One sure way to reverse the trend that has developed in Georgia and across America is to plant new churches. The Georgia Baptist Convention is committed to doing just that. Your prayers for God’s help in establishing new churches and your gifts to this year’s Georgia Baptist State Missions offering will help start new churches. The theme is: “Planting the Gospel – A New Church in Every Community.” The goal is $1,750,000.
Please, don’t forget Judea! Get on your knees and pray for a great outpouring of God’s Spirit as we consider how to reach the huge unchurched population in Georgia with the Gospel.
The following individuals were the sources of the information in this editorial:
Justice Anderson – pastor, international missionary, and long-time professor of missiology at Southwestern Seminary
Aubrey Malphurs – Senior Professor of Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary
Win Arn – President of the American Society of Church Growth
Ron Sylva – Pastor of The Springs, a church in Ocala, Fla.
Bill Easum – President of 21st Century Strategies, a ministry focused on facilitating missional church growth.
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