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Rainer, Moore speak during KBC annual meeting
November 22, 2004
By David Roach
Two Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professors addressed Kentucky Baptists during the 167th annual meeting of the state convention Nov. 16-17 in Louisville.
Thom Rainer, dean of Southern's Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, led a workshop on "Baptism Trends and Recommended Strategies for Kentucky Baptist Churches." Russell D. Moore, the seminary's senior vice president for academic administration, spoke at the annual KBC Southern Seminary Alumni Luncheon.
Rainer exhorted KBC messengers to move beyond mediocrity in the area of evangelism and strive to reach increased numbers of Kentuckians for Christ.
Rainer and his son Sam presented a comprehensive report on the spiritual health of Kentucky Baptist churches and argued that successful evangelism requires a willingness to invest intentionally in the lives of unbelievers.
"We need to be a group of people … that cannot help but speak about what we have seen and heard," Rainer said. "Ask God how you can be obedient."
Although Christians should not place their focus on numbers, surveying statistical data can help to gauge the spiritual health of churches, he said.
Citing a study conducted by the Rainer Group church consulting firm, Rainer noted that baptisms in Kentucky declined from 20,460 in 1980 to a low of 13,395 in 1994. Beginning in 1995 the number of baptisms began to increase, but the growth of Baptist churches in the state still lags far behind the growth of the overall population, he said.
"If the current trends continue, [Kentucky Baptist churches] will net a loss of 58 persons per year by the year 2025," Sam Rainer said.
In order to reach the state's population more successfully, churches must make sharing the Gospel with children and young adults a priority, Thom Rainer said.
Research reveals that the Bridger generation (those born between 1977 and 1994) is both the most unchurched generation alive today and the generation most receptive to the Gospel, he said. This data should encourage churches to increase their efforts to reach unchurched young people, Rainer said.
"We have had a decline in reaching young people, yet this generation [the Bridger generation] has 72 million young people — second only to the Boomer generation," he said. "When we begin to test receptivity to the Gospel, … the Bridger generation is the most receptive to the Gospel. This generation is both the most receptive and the least reached."
The most effective way to reach the Bridger generation is not necessarily to launch new and creative programs, Rainer said. Instead, churches must make an intentional effort to build relationships with young people and lovingly teach them the good news of Christ, he said.
"It all boils down to intentionality," Rainer said. "Are we being intentional? … Can we not help but speak about what we have seen and heard? Those who are intentional about reaching young people tend to reach young people. Those that are not intentional don't reach young people."
Moore, speaking to a group of Southern Seminary alumni, said that one of the seminary's main goals is to confront the forces of darkness with the light of the Gospel. Preaching from Mark 1:21-28, Moore said that the increasingly pagan culture drives Southern to produce students who will step out of their comfort zones and proclaim the truth of Christ.
"We're preparing our students for the fact that the days of nominal Christianity in the United States of America are almost over," he said. "… Increasingly, they are facing a culture that is more and more and more neo-pagan with people who have absolutely no concept of what the Gospel is all about at all."
For some Christians the decline of American culture causes only sadness and consternation, but Southern Seminary views American culture as an environment with exciting evangelistic potential, Moore said.
"This is the most exciting time in history," he said. "… We have the alternative between a very clear paganism and a very clear authentic Christianity. … Our students are ministering in a world that has real questions about some very deep things."
The deep questioning of many Americans calls for ministers who will proclaim a transformational, countercultural and authoritative message, Moore said. Because of the need for such a message, Southern Seminary is training young men and women to be bold witnesses for Christ, he said.
"We're sending students out of here … with an authoritative message of Christ, and we know the result. The result is that principalities … tremble and quake."