Month: October 2023

State of the Bible: Online worshipers lead in Bible reading frequency

PHILADELPHIA (BP)—Bible users who worship God online are most likely to read the Bible at least weekly apart from church service, the American Bible Society (ABS) said in its latest 2023 State of the Bible release.

Among online worshipers, 74% read the Bible at least weekly, whether they worship solely online or online and in person. Of in-person-only worshippers, 32% read the Bible at least weekly, the ABS said.

“This might seem surprising to those who see online church as a lesser experience, used by people who are less committed spiritually,” the ABS said in the report’s seventh chapter, focused on Bible use and technology. “We suspect that these numbers speak to the personal nature of online attendance.”

Online attendance, often done alone or with immediate family, “can be more about hearing about God and from God,” the ABS speculated. “It’s personal, as Bible reading often is.”

The findings are among the results of an 18-minute survey conducted in January among a representative sample of adults 18 and older within the 50 states and D.C. Percentages are based on 2,761 responses.

The release delved into how many people read the Bible at least weekly outside of normal church services and certain descriptive characteristics concerning them.

Among top findings:

  • 25% of American adults use the Bible at least weekly, amounting to about 65 million people.
  • More than half of Evangelicals, 53%, report reading the Bible weekly, compared to 21% of Catholics who do so.
  • Black Americans far surpass others in reading the Bible at least weekly, with 38% reporting so, compared to 23% among all other ethnic groups combined. Nearly one in five Blacks (19%) read the Bible daily, outpacing all other groups combined, which numbered 8 percent.
  • Curiosity about Scripture doesn’t necessarily drive Scripture reading, the ABS found. About 39 million U.S. adults say they are extremely curious about Scripture, but don’t read it at least weekly. More than half of Americans, 52%, wish they read Scripture more, but only 14% increased their Bible reading in the past year.
  • Among the top impediments to reading Scripture more frequently were a lack of time (26%), a lack of excitement (15%), not knowing where to start (17%), and difficulty in relating to the language (15%).

Among other findings:

  • The popularity of digital Scripture sources is about the same as in 2022. Just under 70% of Bible users read a printed Bible at least monthly, 50% read a digital Bible app at least monthly, and 48% read Scripture through internet searches at the same frequency.
  • Elders continue to favor printed Bibles at 87%; while 46% of Boomers are most likely to watch a Bible program on video.
  • Bible apps and podcasts are most popular among Millennials, 42%, and Gen X, 39%; with digital Bibles and online Bible reading plans also most popular among those generations.
  • Gen Z is most likely to access Scripture through internet searches.

The State of the Bible annually looks at the Bible, faith and the church in America. The ABS collaborated with the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center (NORC) in designing the study conducted online and via telephone to NORC’s AmeriSpeak Panel.

Tending to your sheep by tending to your membership roll


I’d guess it’s the reason your church rolls are five, six, even seven times larger than your average Sunday attendance. Everything in life gravitates toward disorder and deterioration without attention. If you need evidence, look at your lawn. Healthy grass is a product of attention. You must pull weeds. Water in the morning. Mow often. Spray and fertilize. Neglect the yard and entropy follows.

Likely, pastor, you inherited a decade or more of inattention to the rolls and, by this point, have probably added to it. As my high school coach used to tell me, “Josh it’s really not about where you are … it’s about where you’re going.” I find that encouragement helpful and hopeful as we think through this essential area of membership that has been neglected in Baptist life.

Before you begin evaluating your membership roll, here are three words of caution:

1. Be patient

Love is patient (1 Corinthians 13:4a). It takes years to build relational trust in a church. Take time to build trust by preaching God’s Word and loving God’s people. Tackle books of the Bible and never skip hard passages. Live out what you preach by loving your people. Answer phone calls. Attend different Sunday school classes. Counsel struggling couples. Visit the sick. Volunteer in the children’s and student ministries. Disciple faithful men. Equip leaders. Pray for your people. Be patient.

2. Work within your system

You (most likely) aren’t the first pastor of your church. Godly men, women, and children have prayed, served, taught, evangelized, worshiped, and systematically organized your church into the coherent and vibrant body it is today. The coherence you experience flows from your constitution and bylaws.

Before you start skipping merrily on your way in an effort to trim the rolls, get to know your system. Learn how your autonomous congregation organizes herself. Talk to seasoned saints who can give you greater insight into why certain structures are in place. Don’t break your constitution and bylaws to get to the finish line sooner—that will lead to discord and a loss in confidence.

3. Practice regenerate membership

Managing the rolls is deeply doctrinal. According to Article 6 of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, we confess: “A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel ….”

Membership is for baptized believers, which means we must have practices in place that support our doctrine. This may mean tending to your constitution and bylaws. Make candidates take a class on membership essentials. Have them sit with a pastor to share their understanding of the gospel and personal testimony. In most cases, don’t baptize anyone who isn’t moving into membership. Cleaning the rolls without having meaningful practices that support regenerate membership is like mowing a yard full of weeds. It only appears to have solved the problem. The weeds continue to spread.

Now that you have prepped the ground, here’s a few practical tips to help you get started:

Recruit a team

When I began trimming, I began with a team. I looked for people who had four characteristics: They understood and supported the vision; they were knowledgeable about the history of our members; they were willing and hardworking; and they possessed wisdom in handling potentially difficult or awkward conversations. Get like-minded people around you to help share the load.

Set priorities

Teach the team the basics of church membership. Guide them through the doctrine of church discipline. Coach them on how the roll is a tool to identify who the pastors are to lead. Encourage them with the tremendous opportunity of reclaiming straying members.

Think concentric circles

Our team started with non-resident members before we moved to resident members. Not only will this keep your efforts organized, but it prepares your team for more difficult cases later in the process.

Get to work

It’s much easier to talk about removing members from church membership rolls than actually doing it. But do it we must. Pastor, go after your sheep.

Our team spent hours finding good contact information, drafting countless emails, making hundreds of phone calls, messaging dozens of people on social media platforms, and having face-to-face conversations with local relatives. Then we took all our work to member meeting after member meeting and had the church look over our recommendations and vote. Our hope through it all was to reclaim as many sheep back to the fold as possible and give the pastors clarity on who they were to shepherd.

Peter writes to the elders of the persecuted church, “So I exhort the elders among you … shepherd the flock of God that is among you ….” (1 Peter 5:1-2). The membership roll is your flock. Pastor, you will give an account for how you shepherd them (Hebrews 13:17). Get to work.

But remember, member care is never finished. It’s a lot like a lawn. It will always need attention. When you cultivate a healthy lawn, in time, weeds become the exception. You notice them and it takes less effort to remove them. So, begin the good work—the hard work—of tending to your member rolls.

Reach Texas giving for 2022-23 campaign sets record

GRAPEVINE—With the 2023-2024 Reach Texas State Missions Offering in full swing, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is celebrating the generosity of its churches stemming from last year’s campaign.

SBTC churches gave $1,673,560 to Reach Texas—the most ever collected in a single year for the offering. The offering period covers September 2022 to August 2023. It marked the second time in three years a record Reach Texas offering was collected. The second-highest offering came during the 2020-2021 campaign, when $1,527,969 was given by SBTC churches.

SBTC Executive Director Nathan Lorick said giving to Reach Texas is critical for the advancement of missions and evangelism strategies across the state and expressed gratitude for yet another year of sacrificial giving on the part of convention churches.

“I am so grateful for the generosity of SBTC churches and their common desire to reach Texas and impact the world together,” Lorick said.

Reach Texas funds a variety of gospel-fueled efforts, including church planting, disaster relief, missions mobilization, and the annual Empower Conference, which emphasizes evangelism. Data indicates that an estimated 20 million of Texas’ 28 million residents are lost.

The 2023-2024 statewide challenge goal is $1.6 million. For more information or to give, visit

Southern Baptists in Israel urge prayer for safety, quick, ‘miraculous’ peace in the Middle East

ASHKELON, Israel (BP)—On Friday night, longtime Kentucky Baptist pastor and former Kentucky Baptist Convention staff member Alan Dodson walked on the beach in Ashkelon, Israel, as he met with U.S. ministry leaders planning future trips to the Holy Land.

Just a few hours later, a devastating barrage of 100 Hamas-launched rockets hit the city, beginning what many Middle East experts are calling the most serious conflict in the region since the Yom Kippur War exactly 50 years ago this month.

Dodson now serves as the vice president for North American relations at E.D.I. Travel, an Israeli company specializing in Christian tours to Israel. Dodson and the people he was with are safe and unharmed, he said.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” Dodson told Baptist Press. “Pray that hostilities would end quickly. Many Israelis are lost and need to know the hope of the gospel. The other side is in pervasive darkness. Pray for them as well.”

Dodson is among at least a half dozen groups of Southern Baptists who were in Israel as the Palestinian terrorist group, Hamas, launched a surprise attack on Israel this weekend. In the attack, Hamas sent thousands of rockets and armed forces into Israel. According to USA Today, 700 Israelis and 500 in Gaza have been killed in the conflict so far. More than 2,500 Israelis have been injured, another 100 have been taken captive by militants.

‘We need to be one’

Ric Worshill, the executive director of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship, noted that the attack came on the last day of Sukkot, one of the holiest of days on the Jewish calendar. Sukkot, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, is an eight-day festival that celebrates the harvest.

“It’s horrible,” Worshill told BP. “It’s just heartbreaking because this year has been the highest in anti-Semitism throughout the world since the Holocaust, and it’s really sad that they would pick the last day of a Jewish holiday to do all this barbaric stuff.”

Worshill asked Southern Baptists to unite in prayer for those involved in this conflict.

“We need to be one,” Worshill said. “We need to be one about everything. We need to be one about the Lord. We need to be one about politics. And we need to be one about being against the attacks of Satan in prayer. That’s the biggest thing I can say. There should be no division in the body of Christ. We, Southern Baptists, need to stick together.”

Tour groups playing it safe

Zach Terry, pastor of First Baptist Church of Fernandina Beach, Fla., arrived in Israel last week to lead a team of 54 people on a tour of Israel. Besides members of his church, he also has members of several other Southern Baptist churches in Florida and Georgia with him on the trip.

So far, Terry said the trip has stayed close to schedule despite the conflict. They’ve been able to see sites in Galilee, along with sites in Bethlehem, the Dead Sea, Masada, and Jerusalem.

“When it first started, we were up near the Lebanon border, north of Galilee, right in the top areas,” Terry said. “We could throw a rock and hit Lebanon from some of the places we were at. Then, when we got word that it started, we started to kind of move away from Lebanon, move toward Jerusalem to see how it would develop and what the danger was.”

Jerusalem, he said, seemed like the safest location because their tour company owned a hotel there where they could stay if the situation worsened. He said Jerusalem has been fairly normal and quiet since they arrived.

Earlier on Monday (Oct. 9), Terry said the group heard one of the rockets got through Israel’s “Iron Dome,” and landed in Jerusalem. The Iron Dome is an Israeli air defense system. The group, he added, can also hear fighting in Gaza and see smoke on the horizon.

Since the fighting has begun, Terry said he has heard from a number of Southern Baptists back in the United States, including Albert Mohler, president of Terry’s alma mater, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Bob Bumgarner, of First Coast Churches, his church’s local Baptist association.

The plan was for the group to return to the states on Thursday, but they’ve been told that’s unlikely right now. They are trying to at least get some of the women back to the United States, but that has proved difficult.

Terry also urged Southern Baptists to pray.

“First, pray for the end of the conflict, that it would end peaceably, and quickly,” Terry said. “As far as our group is concerned, just pray that God uses our time here, that we’re able to be good representatives of the Lord. We’re trying to get out of here, but some of these other brothers aren’t able to. This is home for them. We’re very aware of that. We have a lot of brothers/sisters here in Israel. We’ve got brothers and sisters in Gaza. So, we just need to lift them up. And for everybody that’s involved, we don’t want any loss of life.”

Just hours after Pastor Brent McDougal and his team from First Baptist Church of Knoxville, Tenn., arrived in Israel on Friday evening, they were awoken to sounds of sirens in Tel Aviv. A missile struck a few miles from their hotel.

The team, McDougal said, was on a pilgrimage to Israel to see some of the biblical sites in the country. They plan to leave on Oct. 20, but they currently can’t leave out of the airport in Tel Aviv. They are looking into backup plans for departing if the fighting continues to escalate and they need a quick escape.

“We are so thankful that Southern Baptists are a people of prayer,” McDougal told Baptist Press. “We’re grateful that people can be praying for us, not only for safety, but also for wisdom and making good decisions about continuing or finding the best way home. We would also ask that Southern Baptists would pray for those who are suffering in Israel on both sides. We are deeply saddened by the violence that we have heard about and grief that families are experiencing. It’s been eye-opening to be in the center of this conflict that has been going on for so many thousands of years.”

McDougal asked Southern Baptists, as they watch the events unfold in Israel, to renew their efforts to be peacemakers at home.

“The conflict here has been a great contrast to the ways in which we can be so divided in the United States,” McDougal said. “We believe that God’s people are called to be not only people of truth, but also people of peace. So, we hope that Southern Baptists can be renewed in their fervent prayers, and in their discipleship of the one who was called the Prince of Peace.”

Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., also has a team visiting Israel at this time. Everyone on the trip is safe according to an email from the church.

In addition, First Baptist Church of Loganville, Ga., has a team of 40 people in Israel right now.

Send Relief extends call for prayer, begins working with partners to bring aid in Israel

In the early morning hours of Oct. 7, 2023, militants with the terrorist group Hamas launched a surprise, multi-pronged assault on Israel — beginning with missile strikes near Tel Aviv — with thousands dead and injured from both sides within the first 24 hours.

The assault is the broadest in decades, escalating the long-simmering conflict into all-out war. Israelis along the Gaza border and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are displaced and scrambling to avoid street-to-street battles and intensifying retaliatory strikes.

With the conflict expected to rage for some time, Send Relief is working with partners in the area to quickly respond to needs of the thousands of Jews and Arabs reeling from the effects of war and displacement.

Prayer Points

  • Pray for peace in Israel, Gaza and the surrounding area.
  • Pray for survivors and the thousands injured in the fighting, as well as hostages and prisoners of war.
  • Pray for the families and individuals displaced due to the sudden conflict.
  • Pray for thousands grieving the loss of loved ones.
  • Pray for needed resources such as food, water, and medicine to reach those impacted by the conflict.

Financial gifts can be made through here.

SBTC DR relieves Baptist teams to serve Florida hurricane survivors

PERRY, Fla.—Though national media attention regarding Hurricane Idalia has ceased, recovery from the disaster continues. The category 4 storm slammed into Florida’s Big Bend region on Aug. 30. Southern Baptists of Texas Disaster Relief teams answered the state’s call for assistance in late September and remained working in Taylor County in early October.

“We were on alert status even before Idalia hit,” SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice said. “On out-of-state deployments, we don’t respond until the host state requests us. Our deployment was put on hold until Florida and Southeast Baptist DR teams cycled through. We came in and relieved them the last week of September.”

The Big Bend—also known as Florida’s Nature Coast, where the panhandle meets the peninsula—is an eight-county area densely forested and rural, far removed from big cities and popular tourist attractions, according to

Taylor County, the southernmost county in the Big Bend, has a population of about 22,000, ranking it 54th in population out of the state’s 67 counties. In 2021, about 18% of the residents lived below the poverty line, USA Today reported.

Serving disaster survivors in rural areas such as Taylor County presents challenges. Homes are far apart and rural roads sometimes difficult to clear.

An SBTC DR chainsaw team under the direction of Monte Furrh of Bonham arrived in the Perry area first. Six volunteers worked 10-hour days for a week and completed seven time-consuming chainsaw jobs. That task included removing large limbs—known as widow-makers due to their dangerous potential to harm if left in place—from damaged trees or helping homeowners with downed trees.

“The work is with massive live oaks. It takes time,” Stice said.

Furrh’s team was relieved by another North Texas team directed by Jesse Hauptrief of Anna on Oct. 1. The team is scheduled to work through week’s end, Stice said. SBTC DR team volunteers come from across Texas, he added.

Florida homeowner Randy Newman posted his thanks for the SBTC DR team’s help on Facebook. “Them showing up to our house was a godsend,” Newman wrote. “They worked all day cutting trees, most of them ‘widow-makers.’ They started the day with a prayer for safety, our community, and for me and [my wife] personally. I can’t explain the true compassion they have for all of us involved in the storm.”

Thus far, SBTC DR teams have recorded one salvation, many spiritual contacts, and many Bibles distributed, Stice said.


25 years of answered prayer with Chris Osborne & Nathan Lino

In November, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention will mark 25 years of answered prayer at its Annual Meeting at Cross City Church in Euless. Each month leading up to the meeting, the Texan will feature a brief conversation with past SBTC presidents about how they have seen God answer their prayers for the convention over the past quarter century and how they are praying God will bless the convention moving forward. This month, we feature past SBTC presidents Chris Osborne (2003-2005) and Nathan Lino (2015-2017).

Chris Osborne

What were some of your earliest prayers for the SBTC?

I thoroughly enjoyed my time as president and there was one particular thing I prayed about. We were committed, and still are, to the idea of the inerrancy of Scripture and its vast importance in the lives of the churches. My prayer was that as we stood strongly in this vein, that we not become a people who moved from that into silly legalism. I did not want us to become, as Jesus said, people who “strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.”

What is your prayer for the next 25 years of the convention?

It is still my prayer for us that we remain solid on the Bible without going beyond its teaching into areas that will bind us to wrong-headed ideas. I loved and still love this convention and have the highest hopes for it in the future.

Nathan Lino

What were some of your earliest prayers for the SBTC? 

I prayed for our state convention plant to make it—for God to give Dr. [Jim] Richards [the SBTC’s first executive director] wisdom and perseverance, our convention money, and spiritual protection from the enemy. Our convention started with a convention planter literally running the convention from the front seat of his car. I prayed the new plant would become a convention that made it long term. 

How have you seen God answer your prayers regarding the convention? 

As some church plants become far more than we could ever dream or imagine, so did the convention that Dr. Richards planted. That we are a convention of 2,700 churches with a budget of $28 million facilitating the scope and scale of ministry we see today is a miracle of Jesus Christ. 

During your service as president, how were you praying for the convention? 

My big prayer during my presidency was to see a wave of under-40s pastors actively engage our convention. 

What is your prayer for the next 25 years of the SBTC? 

I pray that seeking the manifest presence of the Lord is a primary priority of our convention. Our churches are in need of revival and our state is in need of spiritual awakening. Our secular culture is turning on the Lord and the mission of the church in ways that are catching us unprepared. The only hope of the church in fulfilling our mission during the next 25 years is that we are filled with the manifest presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.