In the U.S. context, we often hear laments about the decline of Christianity, how younger generations are walking away from faith and about our culture’s increasing embrace of immorality. If we hear such stories of doom and gloom enough, perhaps we start to believe them. But what if there’s more to the story?
Last month, I attended the annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance. It’s inspiring and convicting to hear Baptists from nearly 50 nations testify about their work and their challenges. One cannot stay at such gatherings long before realizing that God is at work in the world. Rather than accept the stories of decline — which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy — we should instead press forward with a spirit of biblical hopefulness.
Here are some statistics that capture the big picture. While BWA Baptists in North America have declined over the past 25 years and those in Europe have plateaued, we see a global revival in other regions. BWA General Secretary Elijah Brown explained why he’s excited about what’s happening right now among Baptists globally.
“In the 400 years of the Baptist movement, the last 25 years have seen the greatest expansion of the Baptist faith around the world — unprecedented growth,” Brown said. “In the last 25 years, Baptists in the Caribbean have grown 76 percent, in Asia-Pacific they’ve grown 119 percent, in Latin America 190 percent and in the last 25 years, Baptists in Africa have grown 800 percent. And the good news? In many of these areas, the revival is just beginning.”
What Brown noted in overall statistics matches what I’ve seen firsthand in numerous contexts, such as among Baptists in Cuba, Guatemala, India and Turkey. Baptists are planting new churches, sometimes so quickly that there’s a critical need for more pastors with theological training. Even in contexts of persecution — like in Turkey — Baptists are baptizing new believers and planting new churches. If there, why not here? If them, why not us?
Those of us in the U.S. should pay attention. We need to pray for the faithful witness of our Baptist brothers and sisters, that God would continue to bless their ministries and fuel their zeal. And we need to support them, not to direct their effort but to join hands where God is already working.
But beyond praying and supporting, we also need to listen. As Brown noted, “The BWA is critical for Baptists in North America who often perceive that their faith community is shrinking.”
That’s why we must remain connected with the global Church. Not for them. They don’t need us to save them for they already have a Savior. (They could, of course, accomplish more with our support as long as we don’t try to take over and mess up their work.) No, we need to remain connected for us.
We need them. We need their passion. We need their faith. We need their hope. To paraphrase Paul in 1 Corinthians 12, “The American cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” God has put us together and, as Paul reminded us, we “should have equal concern for each other.”
If we keep telling ourselves the same story, eventually we believe it and live it out. If we see our faith as dying, we will add to the decline. But if we are willing to see ourselves as part of a greater story — and humbly recognize those in other nations who are leading the way — then that spirit of hopefulness can renew our own passion for missions there and here. That’s the power of hope. Or, as Isaiah reminded us, it is that hope in the Lord that transforms us from fainting while walking to soaring on wings like eagles.
That’s why I agree with the line in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption,” which tells the story of a Joseph-like character wrongly imprisoned and yet a blessing within prison to all who befriend him. That character, Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins), tells his good friend Red (played by Morgan Freeman), “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”
Brian Kaylor is editor & president of Word&Way.