Young people matter to God. This reality has been a central component of my faith and ministry call since before 1997. Statistics and stories have frequently pointed to the fact that high percentages of people who have sincere and sustaining faith, did so before the age of eighteen. And unfortunately, smaller percentages of adults over eighteen are entering church or encountering the gospel in a salvific relationship. Therefore, it is imperative for the church to partner with parents to grow godly generations, and to facilitate an environment where young people can become an integral part of the family of faith. Youth are not just the church of tomorrow, but of today.
Our church, Severna Park Baptist Church (SPBC), has historically had a productive outreach to families and our community. Early years of our church benefited from the positive views and values of society about the church. Further, the drive of a church growth movement in the 80’s and 90’s offered Severna Park increased congregation attendance, ministry development and communal expansion. However, church leadership transitions, faith and decision-making stagnation, and social evolution have combined over the years for the church to plateau and decline in its efforts of reaching younger families. As always, there is more background and complexity to the current status of our church. Yet the reality is we are at a significant turning point.
As pastor of SPBC for the last ten years, we have seen numbers triple in size but only to level off and experience some decline. The transient nature of living in a region with government jobs, military bases, and high cost of living has not helped. Thus, for our church, revitalization is the ongoing buzzword and burden for the church. But we cannot do it alone. We desperately need the Spirit of God. Our devotional and prayer life as individual Christians and corporately as a church must be refreshed with a holy hunger. Further, we must be humble enough to discern ways to receive help from others in the faith journey. The sovereignty of God has intersected us with a variety of circumstances that is leading us to some unique decisions.
One of the opportunities presented before us is partnering with two other churches (Bay Life Church and Trinity Bible Church) for a community youth outreach. We have started a Severna Park Youth Collective, with its aim to encourage and equip youth with faith, hope, and love in Jesus Christ. Our Collective shares biblical convictions that enables us to work together for a common goal of reaching youth with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The three churches will share roles of hosting, teaching, and supporting the ministry. Each Wednesday, 6:30-8:00pm youth and families are invited to participate in connecting activities and biblical teaching.
Many churches in a local community may not agree on specific faith convictions or may even appear to compete for those attending church. Yet, our three churches understand the vastness of the task with a sea of young people who are rapidly drifting away from faith and church. If we are going to have any impact on our ever-changing culture, then Christians must work together. I believe our Youth Collective will become one of the keys to our three churches revitalization efforts, as well as making a tangible difference in our community.
SPBC has also begun a relationship with BLC to consider ways of combining its ministries. To start, BLC is hosting its weekly worship services on Saturdays, 5pm. They also have a food and support outreach to underprivileged individuals and families that meets the second Saturday of each month from 1-4pm. SPBC is hosting BLC, but we are also intentionally building relationships and meeting together with leadership to prayerfully consider ministry alignment and merging potential. This process is not without its challenges.
Many church mergers operate with a sense of one thriving congregation and the other barely surviving. In our case, both churches are not manifestly thriving, but neither is on the brink of fading nor failing. Yet, by God’s grace, there appears to be several common values and complementary structures that may provide a context for two churches to consider becoming one.
The ministry landscape of churches is shifting. A significant amount of churches are closing each year, not to mention ministry prognosticators expect scores more to close and pastors to leave the ministry due to the global pandemic. Increasing amounts of church members and attenders are not comfortable returning to in-person gatherings, and are either content with virtual worship, or are finding other priorities than the local church. In all, the status quo will not sustain the church, nor should it ever, based on the supremacy and Lordship of Jesus Christ. What the future holds for our local church, or any other, is up to the sovereignty of God.
We know Christ as promised His church to prevail against the gates of hell. We know God has unleashed in us the same presence and power that resurrected Christ from the grave. We know the Spirit is still speaking to the churches and the lamp is not snuffed out. We know, we know, we know… but the time is begging for Christians to not only know but to do; we must act on our knowledge, or we will be as one who looks intently into the mirror but forgets our identity as having been forgiven and transformed as a child of matchless grace.
Based on reflections from this post and your time in God’s word, what is God saying to you? Where is He leading you? What hinders you from acting on your faith? What is your next step of involvement and investment with the most cherished people on earth – the church?