While on vacation a couple of years ago my wife and I went to a Sunday morning church service. The building was nice, people were friendly and the attendance was good. The pastor was on vacation and the young associate pastor preached in his place.
He shared that he did some research on how many professions of faith and baptisms the church had in the previous few years and he wanted to preach on the importance of this and celebrate those who had professed faith and been baptized (he also included confirmation and infant baptism in the conversation).
He openly broke down in tears as he told his church that there had been no professions of faith and no baptisms for more than a decade. He then said, “I hope I have a job when the senior pastor gets back”, as he challenged the church with “this is unacceptable, we are not a real church if we don’t have professions of faith and baptisms!”
What if our standard of a vital church was.....
Yes, I am aware that we already have those designations for vitality as central to the WIG, along with worship attendance. But I am not sure most of our churches really understand and are integrating professions of faith and baptisms into their goals, strategy, and culture as a Church.
It’s much easier to celebrate vitality around the number of backpacks given out, how the community garden is working, and how many people the food bank serves each week (I believe in and celebrate these ministries). We do this part of church life amazingly well. The last church I led for more than two decades had an amazing mission and outreach in the community and worldwide. We also had more than 2,000 profession of faiths in those same years. But as a conference the number of professions of faith most churches have is strikingly few. This is often the case because the church does not place a high value on professions of faith and has little strategy or focus on connecting with the unchurched much less bringing the unchurched into a life in Christ. They might serve the unchurched, but the unchurched are seldom invited into the relationship with Christ that undergirds the very service the church is giving.
When churches don’t define professions of faith and baptisms as a core to vitality, they will decline, lose effectiveness, and eventually become irrelevant. Even though mission is a key part of being a church, if churches don’t focus as well on professions of faith, they won’t have anyone to do mission.
Unless one begins on the inward principle of personal faith, all good works are not more than a foundation of sand. However, to claim faith but not be zealous of good works was equally erroneous. John Wesley
Look at the number of professions of faith in your Church the last few years. I hope the number doesn’t make you cry, but if it does, what plan and strategy might be created to address the journey to creating a culture of growth where people coming to faith in Christ are a regular occurrence; invitations, message series, studies, community interactions, New Faith Communities, prayer focuses, personal conversations with broken, hurting, and lost people. Amazing grace is still amazing if we place it at the center of our definition of vitality.
Few things will change a church more quickly than visible, celebrated professions of faith and baptisms becoming a central focus of a Church.
Rev. Mike Ramsdell, Executive Director