Author: Baptist Press

SBTC funds ultrasound placements in Texas through Psalm 139 Project

HOUSTON (BP) – The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) presented a gift of $228,000 to the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity Tuesday (May 17) for the placement of six ultrasound machines at pregnancy resource centers in the state.

The SBTC grant was made to the Psalm 139 Project, a ministry of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) that provides ultrasound technology to pregnancy centers and trains staff members in its use. The donation will cover the placement of the six machines, as well as staff training. Locations for three of the machines already have been selected, according to the ERLC.

Including the three pregnancy resource centers already chosen in Texas, the ERLC has now placed or committed to centers to place 36 ultrasound machines toward its goal of 50 placements between December 2020 and January 2023. The 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion throughout the United States will be Jan. 22 of next year.

A Texas law that prohibits the abortion of an unborn child whose heartbeat can be detected went into effect Sept. 1 of last year. By definition, the Texas Heartbeat Act (S.B. 8) bans abortions as early as five to six weeks into pregnancy. Pregnancy resource centers in the state have reported a dramatic increase in the number of clients since the law became effective, including a center in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex that experienced a 48 percent surge from the previous year, according to the Southern Baptist Texan, the SBTC’s official magazine.

Rachel Wiles, the ERLC’s director of Psalm 139 placement, told Baptist Press, “We are so grateful for this partnership with the SBTC and know the Lord will use these funds to save lives.

“The ERLC continually seeks to save lives and serve mothers, especially in partnership with pro-life clinics,” Wiles said in written comments. “Since the passing of S.B. 8, the Psalm 139 Project has been contacted by several Texas pregnancy centers requesting updated ultrasound machines. Improved technology in newer machines provides much earlier heartbeat detection and allows a woman to see the growing life inside her.”

Tony Wolfe, the SBTC’s associate executive director, described the presentation to the Psalm 139 Project as “one of many examples of the SBTC’s commitment to supporting pro-life initiatives in our state. Through cooperation with the ERLC and other pro-life organizations, SBTC churches are consistently working to make abortion not only illegal in our lifetime, but unthinkable and unnecessary as well.”

Nathan Lorick, the SBTC’s executive director, presented the gift Tuesday to Elizabeth Graham, the ERLC’s vice president of operations and life initiatives. The presentation occurred during a private gathering for Texas pastors and ministry leaders hosted by the ERLC at Northeast Houston Baptist Church.

Wolfe urged churches to prepare for what could soon be a post-Roe America. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue an opinion in the next several weeks in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, which regards a Mississippi ban on abortion after 15 weeks’ gestation.

In early May, Politico published a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that, if it becomes final, would strike down the 1973 Roe decision. Four other members of the high court have joined Associate Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the draft opinion, in support of reversing Roe, according to Politico. If a majority of the Supreme Court follows through in its final opinion by overturning Roe and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling that affirmed its 1973 decision, the action would return abortion policy to the states. About half of the 50 states will have laws prohibiting abortion or restricting it at some stage if Roe is overturned.

With what could be Roe’s reversal near, “churches need to be more involved now than ever in ministering to families in the pro-life space,” Wolfe said. “Yesterday’s grant is intended to spur along this conversation and effort across the Lone Star State and, prayerfully, the nation.

“A grant from a network of 2,704 churches can make a large, brief splash in the movement, but the rushing waters of a culture of life will only flow as preborn children are protected and expecting parents are cared for every day, one at a time,” he said. “The local, everyday ministry of churches is where the pro-life movement matters most.

“We encourage church leaders everywhere to strategize and take immediate action toward real-time, first-world ministry to champion, protect and serve vulnerable image bearers of God from womb to tomb.”

Ultrasound technology has proved to be a vital tool for pregnancy resource centers in their ministry to abortion-minded women. The sonogram images of their unborn children have helped many women choose to give birth.

Since 2004, the Psalm 139 Project has helped place ultrasound equipment at centers in 16 states. In September 2021, the project made its first international placement in Northern Ireland.

All gifts to the Psalm 139 Project go toward machines and training, since the ERLC’s administrative costs are covered by the Cooperative Program, the SBC’s unified giving plan. Information on the Psalm 139 Project and how to donate is available at psalm139project.org.

3 steps for welcoming kids with special needs to VBS

HOUSTON (BP) — Last summer on the final day of VBS, I stood at the back of our worship center with one of our staff members as we scanned the crowd of kids singing and dancing along to the Destination Dig theme song. “It’s awesome that we were able to welcome more kids with special needs than ever before!” he said as he noticed some kids wearing noise-reducing headphones and others interacting with volunteers who were wearing buddy bags.

And it was awesome! But it took some planning ahead of time to make sure they felt welcome and everything ran smoothly. If you want to have your most inclusive, accessible VBS ever this year, I have some tips that will help.

If our VBS gatherings reflect our communities, up to 1 in 5 of the students we welcome for a week each summer will have a physical disability, cognitive disability, learning disability or mental health diagnosis. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the 2019-20 school year, 14 percent of total public-school students (ages 3-21) received special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Add in kids with learning disabilities and mental health or behavior diagnoses who fall under 504 accommodations, and you’re likely close to 20 percent in your school district.

These students need learning, sensory and behavioral support at school, but they don’t often receive that help at church. This has led to the underrepresentation of children affected by disabilities in our churches – especially hidden disabilities like autism, ADD/ADHD, and learning disabilities. A 2018 study found children with autism are 84 percent less likely to attend church than their peers who aren’t affected by autism. The latest data from the CDC reported approximately 1 in 44 8-year-olds in the U.S. are on the autism spectrum. That’s a significant number of students we aren’t seeing on Sunday mornings.

The good news is churches can glean from this mission field of families. And welcoming all children to VBS this summer is a great way to start!

Here are three steps your church can take to reach families affected by disabilities and welcome them to VBS:

Add a question to your VBS registration form that communicates you’re prepared to welcome kids with disabilities

Ours says, “Does your child have an allergy, special need, learning disability or behavioral diagnosis you’d like to share so we are prepared to help him/her feel as safe and comfortable as possible?” Combining these options shows parents we aren’t making judgments about any of these additional needs. But it also shows we want to be prepared to serve their family well.

If they answer with a diagnosis, we follow up to ask more questions. We ask what supports the child has at school and home that we may be able to adapt for church. For example, if a child has dyslexia, we tell the teachers and ask them not to call on him to read aloud. If the child has a sensory processing disorder, we offer noise-reducing headphones during our large group worship time. This allows the child to participate without feeling as overwhelmed. Asking what works for the child helps make his or her time at church less stressful.

Equip teen and adult buddies to come alongside kids who benefit from extra attention and help

We model this after the partnership between Moses and Aaron in Exodus 4. God called Moses to speak before Pharaoh, but Moses responded, “my mouth and my tongue are sluggish” (v. 10b, CSB). In verses 14-16, God told Moses his brother Aaron would be with him as a helper, speaking when Moses couldn’t. The calling God had for Moses stayed the same. But God made modifications to the way Moses fulfilled his calling by providing a helper. Similarly, our buddies serve as helpers so our friends with special needs can fulfill the callings God has put on their lives.

Our buddies can be one-on-one helpers or present in the classroom to help anyone who may need it. They carry buddy bags with fidgets, a visual schedule, noise-reducing headphones, and other items that may be helpful depending on the child’s specific needs. The buddies can also help with academic work and navigating social situations. You can learn more about recruiting, training, and supporting buddies on the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention’s website.

Have spaces designated for sensory breaks

Sometimes students have too much energy and need a place to get that energy out. Sometimes they’re overwhelmed by sensory input and need a place to relax and feel calm again. We have sensory rooms that can meet both needs, but every church can create a place for sensory breaks: the playground swings, a hallway where they can take a walk, or a quiet corner with a comfortable rug and soft pillows. I have a Pinterest board with ideas for sensory rooms and spaces that any church could adapt.

We want families to feel welcome in our churches, so we take steps to make their kids with special needs comfortable at VBS. Then they can hear, understand and respond to the Gospel. Making VBS inclusive and welcoming is a great first step to reaching these families!

Major decline in adoptions accompanies COVID-19 pandemic

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (BP) – A substantial drop in the number of adoptions in the United States coincided with the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report.

Intercountry adoptions declined by 45 percent from 2019 to 2020; private, domestic adoptions by non-stepparents by 17 percent; and public adoptions from foster care by 13 percent, the National Council for Adoption (NCFA) reported May 11.

The fall in adoptions by Americans during the pandemic followed a 16-year plunge in the number of children adopted from other countries. International adoptions plummeted by more than 90 percent from a peak of 22,989 in 2004 to 1,622 in the fiscal year that ended in September 2020, according to the U.S. State Department. Meanwhile, total domestic adoptions in the United States dropped from 133,737 in 2007 to 115,353 in 2019, the NCFA estimated.

Southern Baptist public policy specialist Hannah Daniel called it “deeply concerning to see the dramatic impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on all types of adoptions.”

“Jesus tells us that caring for orphans and vulnerable children is an essential part of living out the Christian faith,” said Daniel, a policy associate with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), in written comments for Baptist Press. “It is critical that the church continue loving and caring for these children through adoption and finding ways to enhance and grow these efforts. The ERLC is committed to advocating for policies that further that goal.”

Herbie Newell, president and executive director of Lifeline Children’s Services, said he thinks the pandemic “did a lot of things as far as motivation to adopt.”

During the pandemic, knowing “that kids were languishing and that kids were in need at the same time we were locking our homes down, we were putting on masks, we were talking about social distancing” proved a “confusing message” for many families, he told BP in a phone interview.

“One of the things I think internationally that definitely COVID has affected is travel,” Newell said. “Of course, there’s still 400 kids that have been matched with U.S. families that are waiting to come home from China, and we don’t know when the end of that will be.”

The fact few children from China – the leading sending country for intercountry adoptions in 2019 – were adopted in 2020 and none in 2021 and 2022 has definitely affected the number of international adoptions, he said. The Chinese government has prohibited travel by adoptive families into the country during the pandemic.

The State Department largely attributed the 45 percent decline from 2019 to 2020 in intercountry adoptions by Americans to the pandemic’s effect “on operations in countries of origin worldwide, travel restrictions” and its own “Do Not Travel” global advisory.

In its report, NCFA said the pandemic “upended nearly every aspect of life in the United States, and child welfare is not an exception.” While the federal government had reported the decline in intercountry and public adoptions, its new report is the first to demonstrate the drop in private, domestic adoptions, according to NCFA. No government agency or non-governmental organization other than NCFA reports on the number of private, domestic adoptions.

NCFA acknowledged the fall in intercountry and public adoptions could possibly reflect delays in adoptions that occurred after the federal fiscal year ended in September that might result in “a catch-up” later but said it would be “unlikely to be true” for private, domestic adoptions.

Ryan Hanlon, NCFA’s acting president, said the report demonstrates “how great the need is for more Americans to consider adoption, particularly adoption from foster care and intercountry adoption where thousands of children continue to wait.”

“[T]here are too many children being left behind without a permanent, loving family here in the U.S. and around the world,” he said in a written release.

About 5.2 million children in the world have lost either a parent or caregiver to COVID-19, the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health medical journal reported in February.

“One thing that I would hope as believers and especially as Southern Baptists that as we look at those numbers that we don’t believe or begin to think that it is because there’s not need,” Newell said. “The need of children has actually risen.

“[T]he most vulnerable have become more vulnerable. [W]e need believers to step up to the plate and agree to foster, to adopt domestically, to care for kids in need and to adopt internationally.”

Newell added that he “would pray that as a church we would look at it from a much more child-centered approach and see that there are children in need and what can we do for those children in need,” he said. “And maybe we’re not called to adopt, but what are the other things that we can do for children in need and how can we really meet the children who are waiting and find parents and resources for children as opposed to finding children for parents. And I think if we would do that, just that subtle shift, we would really see more believers get into the space of child welfare.”

Hanlon recommended Americans pursuing a private, domestic adoption prepare for “longer wait times, and increasing costs, because the reality is that there are far more hopeful adoptive parents than there are infants being placed for adoption each year.” NFCA has seen that trend “accelerate during the pandemic,” he said.

In its report, NCFA’s recommendations included a requirement that states report on the number of private, domestic adoptions, as well as federal and state funding to inform birth parents about adoption. The report also consists of adoption statistics from each state.

In its advocacy for child-welfare policies, the ERLC is supporting congressional passage of the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act and the Adoptee Citizenship Act. The former would bar government discrimination against adoption agencies and other child-welfare organizations that refuse to take part in serving in a way that contradicts their beliefs. The latter closes a loophole in a two-decade-old law by enabling a child born overseas and adopted by an American citizen to acquire citizenship upon passing specific requirements regardless of when the adoption was completed.

The House of Representatives approved the Adoptee Citizenship Act in February as part of the America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-eminence in Technology and Economic Strength (COMPETES) Act. The Senate passed its own version of the overall bill without the adoption measure, and the ERLC has urged a conference committee to include the Adoptee Citizenship Act in the final, compromise legislation.

Lifeline Children’s Services, which is based in Birmingham, Ala., performs child-welfare work in more than 20 countries. Its domestic work in 16 states includes pregnancy counseling, adoption and family restoration.

IMB worker perseveres while waiting on a harvest 

She has traveled a lot of rough roads. She has dealt with spiritual warfare. She has persevered through years of sowing with lean harvest – one of the most discouraging things for a missionary to write home about.

Yet she is trusting God to bring about His harvest in His time. And that trust is slowly paying off for Molly Petry, an IMB worker among an Unreached People Group (UPG) in a hard-to-access valley in Central Asia. She and her team of national partners who serve among this group are partnering with Send Relief, the joint compassion ministry of the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board, to bring clean water to the area.

“God really got my attention when I was studying in college about how He has created us as physical, emotional and spiritual beings,” Petry said. “Oftentimes we separate those things out. But He desires to transform all those areas of our life.”

Petry said she loves that the focus of the ministry among her UPG is also multifaceted. Her team brings clean water to those who need it most due to a plethora of lethal waterborne illnesses. They also bring “the Living Water because, without Him, they will die for eternity.”

A bonus for Petry is getting to share this physical water and Living Water alongside national partners. “They have insights and understandings and are able to communicate in ways that I am not able to,” she said.

As her team goes to this remote UPG, like they’ve been doing for the last five years, they’re working closely with one believing family and have seen one new believer, Sally, who lives in the capital city, come to faith.

Sally’s people group numbers 28,000 souls. Many, like Sally, have left their remote mountain valley to find work in larger cities. But they still consider this valley their home. Due to weather, the valley is inaccessible for months of the year. Petry’s team must travel six hours from the capital, going as far as the road will take them. In what Petry describes as “tough physical conditions,” they travel on foot to the villages to bring help and hope.

A few months back, Sally’s extended family, the only believing one that Petry’s team is aware of in the remote valley, was celebrating a wedding. Sally traveled home with Petry’s team. Petry joked that Sally was a “captive audience” of sorts, and during travel, the team shared the love of Christ with her. By the end of the trip, Sally made a profession of faith. Now, going back to the capital city after the wedding, she can plug in to a church and be discipled.

While celebrating this victory, Petry’s team of national believers also was experiencing relational conflict that Petry recognized as spiritual warfare. Petry said she was discouraged, to put it mildly.

“Anytime someone comes to faith, it’s a miracle to see the work of God in their life,” she said. “But to be able to be part of that, as our team was going through this relational conflict, was a gift from Him.”

“We were reminded that He’s at work in faraway places and using His Church and His body to make a difference and to bring His kingdom to come.”

Sally’s story was a reminder to Petry that sometimes a missionary can labor for years before seeing people respond to the Gospel. It reinforced in her that her team is in the planting years. But soon enough, whether it be months or years from now, God is going to bring about a great harvest.

Lydia Pettus, who lived with Petry in Central Asia, shared that often she’d see Petry sitting “at her desk, writing out and practicing the best way to share the Gospel in the local language, so that she can communicate in a way that her people can understand.

“Molly’s perseverance is seen in her razor-sharp focus on getting the Gospel to the dark places at the cost of her preferences or strength. She lives a rhythm of life that relies on the Holy Spirit’s power to help her to do what she cannot do.”

Some names may have been changed for security reasons.

The joy of giving

ROCHESTER, Minn. (BP) – As a kid, our family struggled financially, and as a result, I rarely got an allowance. But when I did, I was taught to give some of it back to the Lord. I heard regularly about the tithe (10 percent) but when I got a quarter, it seemed easiest to give a nickel back to Jesus – that’s 20 percent!

When I started babysitting, I tithed. When I got an adult job, I tithed. I still remember the first time, as a college student, when I gave over $100. That was over 40 years ago, yet I fear half the people in church today have never given a check that large. I feel sorry for them. They’ll likely never know the joy of giving.

I’ll never forget when a businessman joined the church I pastored. We’d been friends and even worked together on projects in our city. He made an appointment with me and stunned me with these words. “I tithe on my income and will give it faithfully to the church every time I pay myself.” Then he went on, “I also tithe off the earnings of my three businesses. As my pastor, I’ll bring my income statements to you quarterly, and I want you to help me find out where God wants the money to go.” He knows the joy of giving!

I’ll never forget when I had a breakfast meeting with a man who was selling his lifelong business of more than 40 years. He said, “Pastor, my wife and I have never really made much money all these years, but this is our one opportunity to give a great deal to the Lord. How much would it cost us to pave that parking lot?” They gave more than $40,000 to get it done and then more than $10,000 for outreach projects. That couple knows the joy of giving!

I’ll never forget having lunch with a man who was supervising the construction of our new sanctuary. He’d been hired back on to help the company he’d recently retired from. I asked him about the bills for the steel that hadn’t come through the office. He look down and the table, embarrassed, and said, “Pastor, they’re paying me a lot of money right now that my wife and I didn’t expect. I think God gave it to us for this purpose.” I estimate he paid more than $30,000 in bills we never saw. That couple knows the joy of giving!

Just recently I received a Facebook message from old friends who had been a part of the church I pastored 25 years ago. He asked, “Could you use some money to help with the work up there? What could you use?” I sent him back a request for $1,000 to help two pastors’ families during some difficult times. He wrote back, “Pastor, you’re thinking too small.” Ultimately, he sent us $11,000 to help fund a retreat for pastors and their wives as well as meet the two needs I’d mentioned. That couple knows the joy of giving!

At our church here in Rochester, we’ve been presented opportunity after opportunity the past two months. We’ve given people the opportunities to give for Ukraine war relief, help a partner church in Cuba buy cement, help a missionary couple get to their mission field with the International Mission Board, support church planting in North America through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, purchase a new playground for our church and send our kids on a mission trip to Iowa. Many times I feel like we ask too much of the people at Emmanuel. They give, and give and give. They know the joy of giving!

R.G. LeTourneau, one of the most successful inventors, engineers and businessmen of the last century gave 90 percent of his income back to God. He is purported to have said, “I shovel out the money, and God shovels it back – but God has a bigger shovel.” This is the joy of giving!

Sarah and I don’t have enough money to give it all at once, so we are shoveling out our gifts as God shovels them in. In the next couple of months, I’ll get paid for teaching opportunities that will allow me to give. I believe God gave us these extra dollars, so we could give most of it away. This is so much fun. This is the joy of giving!

“A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25).

‘On the business’: McLaurin reflects on interim EC post ahead of 2022 SBC

NASHVILLE (BP) – Willie McLaurin expresses a difference between working “in the business” and working “on the business.”

“So many leaders, they’re working in the business. They’re putting out fires. They’re crossing the Ts and dotting the Is. That’s working in the business,” McLaurin said. “But I’ve learned how to work on the business.

“That just simply means that on a regular basis, I have to constantly plan [for] the future. I need to be thinking strategically about the future, vision casting, and just thinking futuristically about our work together. So somebody has to be thinking and working on the business.”

With 20 years of service in Southern Baptist leadership, much of it with the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, McLaurin is a few months into his post as interim president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee.

Between much travel and many meetings in serving an increasingly diverse body of Southern Baptists, he sat down with Baptist Press to reflect on issues related to his job and Southern Baptist life.

He spoke of his appreciation for being warmly received by Southern Baptists, and the joys and challenges of leadership at this particular time in history. The importance and health of the local church, committed pastors, entities he described as Christ-centered and a diligent Executive Committee staff were among topics.

He addressed unity in the SBC, as opposed to uniformity. He views the challenge of restoring unity across the SBC as among the most important faced.

“No network of churches is without its challenges. And I think if you would ask any number of Southern Baptists what the challenges are, that they will articulate those challenges from their culture, from their context or from their point of view,” he said. “We just need to make sure that as a network of churches, a network of Great Commission Baptists, that we are unified around the core issues.

“We’re unified around the Gospel. We’re unified around the fact that there are people that are lost and they’re on their way to hell and they need Jesus, and that we’re unified around the fact that we’ve got to get the Gospel to our nations and our neighborhood.”

McLaurin is accustomed to numbering his days, inspired by Psalm 90:12, that pleads for God to teach His people to number their days, that they might gain a heart of wisdom.

When he spoke with Baptist Press, McLaurin was on his 860th day of service to the EC, where he began in 2019 as vice president for Great Commission relations and mobilization, and approaching his 100th day serving as interim CEO and president of the EC, a post EC officers appointed him to Feb. 1.

Serving his immediate family well empowers him to serve Southern Baptists, he said, taking time to praise his wife Antonia and daughters Sierra and SiChanna.

“I could not do what I’m doing without having an amazing wife. Antonia, she has walked with me throughout my entire ministry journey. But especially in these first 100 days, she’s been the person that I could talk to,” he said. “She listens to me, laughs with me, challenges me, she pushes me, and really, she manages some of the larger aspects of my life.

“When the opportunity came for me to be the interim, she said this: ‘If you don’t manage our home and our family well, then you don’t deserve the right to lead Southern Baptists.’ Every day, I’ve just really tried to love my wife and make sure she feels loved and not lonely, and to make sure that my children feel like rewards and not rentals.

“I learned this from home. When I serve my wife and serve my daughters, they empower me, and they empower me because they like it when I serve them. … And what I’ve tried to do, and what I want to continue to do, is I want to serve Southern Baptists. I want to serve our team well, then my team will continue to empower me. Why? Because they like it when I serve them.”

Southern Baptists are weeks away from the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting and its subsidiary events June 12-15 in Anaheim, Calif.

McLaurin expressed joy inspired by the numerous volunteers and generous Southern Baptists working to make the annual meeting a success, including committees, local churches and the EC staff.

“I’m anticipating that we come out of the meeting in Anaheim having approved the budget for sending the largest missions force to the world,” he said. “And then, I’m looking forward and anticipating a new slate of volunteers that will serve Southern Baptists on a number of boards and committees, hundreds of people who are serving on boards and committees.”

Uplifting and promoting the Cooperative Program around which Southern Baptists have united for nearly a century, churches from around the U.S. renewing friendships and fellowshipping onsite, and new relationships that will last a lifetime are among exciting things he describes as awaiting Southern Baptists in Anaheim.

Also in Anaheim, messengers are expected to respond to the Sexual Abuse Task Force report delving into the past 20 years of the Executive Committee’s handling of any complaints of sexual abuse that might have come before the EC. McLaurin has prayed for task force leaders and pastors Bruce Frank and Marshall Blalock, and SBC President Ed Litton, offering the EC’s support in making their work in leading the investigation as efficient and effective as possible.

McLaurin plans on reading the report as soon as it is publicly released, making sure he understands all that is contained in the report, and laying the groundwork to ensure that the EC staff is on the right path toward implementing any recommendations approved.

“If I can model strong, competent, courageous leadership and just reassure our larger convention that we’re here to serve, and we’re here to keep a laser-sharp focus on the Great Commission,” he said, “and provide what I call a non-anxious presence, then I really think that’s what our convention needs right now. … I need to be able to focus on the issues and separate how others may feel, and even separate how I may feel, particularly from an emotional perspective, and then be very objective and just really try to help move us forward in a path that is Christ-honoring.”

McLaurin is the first African American ever to lead an SBC entity, even in an interim capacity. He has expressed gratitude for the warm reception extended to him by entity leaders, pastors and Southern Baptists across the nation, and the EC’s unanimous affirmation of his appointment by EC officers.

“That unanimous affirmation by our trustees is a representation of a wide network of churches that are in the Southern Baptist Convention. Here’s what I’ve learned about Southern Baptists in this short time. They love Jesus, they love the church, they love each other, they have a heart to see lost people won to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Humbling for McLaurin is the ability to serve as interim EC CEO in a convention birthed in the era of slavery.

“Even though we are a diverse convention, the vast majority of our brothers and sisters are Anglo,” he said. “I’ve been kissed by nature’s sun. And we are a convention that, for the 177 years of its history, was started out of slavery, if you would. So now, to have a descendant of a slave to lead in the convention, and to see just the openness and receptivity of all kinds of people has just been absolutely humbling.

“And it really is a direct reflection of what I see in the local church.”

During his ministry, McLaurin has served in interim pastorates at more than 15 churches, all of them majority Anglo.

“And so, I’m not surprised by the response I’m getting from the larger convention,” McLaurin said, “because on a regular basis for the past 18 years, I’ve had the privilege of serving in churches that the majority doesn’t look like me. … I’ve been really, really encouraged by that, very hopeful for the future.”

Southern Baptists see baptisms, giving rebound in 2021

NASHVILLE—Southern Baptist congregations saw a rebound in the number of baptisms and an increase of $304 million in overall giving in 2021, both hopeful signs congregations are recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Southern Baptist congregations baptized 154,701 in 2021, a 26 percent increase from 123,160 reported in 2020, according to the Annual Church Profile (ACP) compiled by Lifeway Christian Resources in cooperation with Baptist state conventions. Although baptisms are not back to pre-COVID levels, Southern Baptist leaders rejoice that numbers are moving in the right direction.

“I am incredibly proud of local churches that have stayed steady with evangelism during the pandemic,” said Willie McLaurin, SBC Executive Committee interim president and CEO. “The increase in baptisms highlights that local pastors and churches prioritize soul-winning, evangelism and discipleship. However, while we rejoice with the uptick in baptisms, more individuals still need to hear the life-changing Gospel of Jesus.”

While baptisms and giving rose, other key metrics declined, including membership, average weekly worship attendance and total number of Southern Baptist congregations.

The number of churches cooperating with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) increased by 22 to 47,614, while the number of church-type missions dropped 9.5 percent to 2,809, bringing the total number of congregations to 50,423. This is the fourth consecutive year of decline in total number of congregations after a peak of 51,920 in 2017. Multisite congregations reported 575 campuses where additional local church ministry takes place.

Membership in Southern Baptist congregations continued its long-term decline with a 3 percent drop from 14,089,947 in 2020 to 13,680,493 in 2021.

Attendance declines

Two years after COVID-19 caused shutdowns and delayed reopenings of worship services and other church activities, Southern Baptists are finally seeing the full impact of the pandemic on in-person attendance. Average weekly in-person worship attendance declined from 4,439,797 in 2020 to 3,607,530 in 2021 – an 18.75 percent decline. And the average attendance of in-person Sunday School, Bible study and small groups declined from 2,879,130 to 2,241,514 – a 22.15 percent decrease.

“We suspected the statistics from the 2020 ACP did not show the full impact of COVID-19 on attendance,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “Every year we instruct congregations to calculate attendance averages for the weeks they meet in person. Churches that only met in person prior to the pandemic in 2020 would have reported average weekly attendance for those weeks. Many churches resumed meeting in person in 2021 and only then registered a pandemic-related drop in attendance.

“It’s not fun to document difficult seasons of ministry, but we know God is as faithful today as He has ever been. And these statistics continue to show the faithfulness and sacrifice of congregations during trying times.”

Online participation

For the first time in ACP history, churches were asked to include data for online worship and group participation. Southern Baptist congregations reported 1,447,313 in average weekly online worship participation and 198,122 in average online Sunday School/Bible study/small group participation.

“Many churches began sharing their worship services online during the pandemic,” McConnell said. “While some may only continue this practice until it’s safe for all to return, others have made it an ongoing part of their ministry or outreach.”

Giving and mission expenditures increase

Total church receipts, undesignated receipts, total mission expenditures and Great Commission Giving all increased in 2021. Total church receipts reported through the ACP increased 2.6 percent to $11.8 billion. Undesignated church receipts increased 2.6 percent to nearly $9.8 billion.

Congregations reported total mission expenditures of $1.1 billion and Great Commission Giving of $516 million.

“The increased generosity among churches is a high point in the Annual Church Profile. The increase in giving through the local church has accelerated our unified Great Commission efforts of mobilizing more missionaries and planting more churches,” McLaurin said. “For 97 years, Southern Baptist churches have maintained steadfastness in Cooperative Program giving, and the increase we see in baptisms and giving are reasons for us to pause and thank God for His faithfulness.”

Giving through the SBC’s Cooperative Program is not included in the ACP statistical summary. Those totals are available through Baptist state conventions and the SBC Executive Committee which process the mission gifts.

Reporting

Seven in 10 Southern Baptist churches participated in the 2021 ACP by reporting at least one item on the profile, up 1 percentage point from the 69 percent who reported last year, but still well below the 75 percent that reported in 2019.

Totals for various categories of the ACP were affected by the fact that not all state conventions asked congregations for all the information in a way that would allow proper year-to-year comparisons. The impacted categories and their 2021 totals include:

Total members: 13,680,493

Other membership additions: 124,356
Online weekly worship average participation: 1,447,313
Online Sunday School/Bible study/small group average participation: 198,122
Undesignated receipts: $9,774,807,128
Total receipts: $11,830,303,965
Total mission expenditures: $1,119,075,812
Great Commission Giving: $516,093,240

The ACP is compiled by Lifeway Christian Resources in cooperation with Baptist state conventions. Individual congregations voluntarily report their ACP data to their local Baptist associations and/or their state conventions. National statistics are compiled and released when all cooperating state conventions have reported.

See a state-by-state table of statistics here.

SBC messengers long resolved to overturn Roe v. Wade

NASHVILLE (BP) – A leaked copy of a Supreme Court opinion that would essentially overturn 1973’s Roe V. Wade decision has prompted Southern Baptists to reflect on their pro-life history.

The draft was originally published by Politico and was later confirmed to be authentic by Chief Justice John Roberts in a press release issued by the Supreme Court.

The leaked document suggests the SCOTUS is set to overturn not only the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, but also 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision. Overturning these decisions would essentially return the determination of abortion law to state-level governments.

Brent Leatherwood, acting president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), called the leak of the SCOTUS draft “the most consequential leak of our lifetime,” in a first-person piece released this week.

He said if the decisions are in fact overturned, it would be an incredible step in developing “a culture of life.”

“Overturning the Roe-Casey precedents will mark massive progress toward this goal as the jurisprudence stemming from these cases has been the number one factor inhibiting pro-life laws from taking effect,” Leatherwood said.

“It will mark a hopeful and substantial step toward establishing a true culture of life in our nation by giving states the freedom to pursue policies that protect preborn children. Christians should be in earnest prayer for such a moment.”

Leatherwood referenced an SBC Resolution from 2003, ‘On Thirty Years Of Roe V. Wade,’ which called for not only overturning Roe v. Wade, but striving for a society that would consider the act of abortion “unthinkable.”

“RESOLVED, That we pray and work for the repeal of the Roe v. Wade decision and for the day when the act of abortion will be not only illegal, but also unthinkable.”

Leatherwood said the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade will hopefully serve as a step in that direction for society.

“This leaked draft opinion would indicate we are closer than we have ever been to that reality,” Leatherwood said. “When that day is upon us, we will enter a time when the inherent rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are finally extended to our most vulnerable neighbors.”

This 2003 resolution is not the only time Southern Baptists have stood in opposition to Roe. After a somewhat uncertain start in 1971 and 1974, they solidified their stance with resolutions passed in 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1979.

In 1980, they took on the challenge of legalized abortion on demand for the first time. They were resolved saying, “That we abhor the use of tax money or public, tax-supported medical facilities for selfish, non-therapeutic abortion,” calling “for appropriate legislation or a constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion except to save the life of the mother.”

Resolutions calling for the end of legalized abortion followed in 1981, 1982, 1984, 1986 and 1987.

In 1989, messengers passed a resolution on encouraging laws regulating abortion, and in 1993 messengers passed a resolution regarding The Freedom of Choice Act.

More recently, the convention based a 2015 resolution on the sanctity of human life, and in 2021 passed two resolution on both abolishing abortion and on taxpayer complicity related to The Hyde Amendment.

Bart Barber, chair of 2022 SBC Committee on Resolutions, said the committee had already been working on a resolution calling for the repeal of the Roe v. Wade decision before this week’s news, and will now be reworking that resolution in case the opinion reflected in the leaked draft becomes finalized.

“Southern Baptists have long stood for and been united around the sanctity of every human life, including the preborn,” Barber said in a statement.

“The Committee on Resolutions was already working on a resolution asking the Supreme Court to reverse the disastrous Roe v. Wade decision. The things we have learned in the past 24 hours have given every member of this committee an even greater hope that American jurisprudence will soon make a giant leap forward toward recognizing the right to life of the preborn.

“We are now working to revise the resolution that we had already begun to draft in such a way as to celebrate the final opinion in Dobbs—an opinion that we hope maintains the strength and clarity of the draft we’ve seen—to give thanks to God, and to envision the task before us as the Roe regime fades away into the annals of history. Southern Baptists long for the day when the dignity of every human life is celebrated and we redouble our ongoing efforts to care for vulnerable women and children throughout our communities.”

Southern Baptists meet for the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim on June 14-15.

Chelsea Sobolik, director of public policy for the ERLC, said the potential overturning of Roe will serve as an opportunity to step into people’s lives with the Gospel.

“For decades the SBC has stood for the most vulnerable among us and longed for the day when our laws will also protect the pre-born, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that the highest Court in the land could vote to send the issue of abortion back to the states, allowing them to make their own decisions regarding abortions,” Sobolik said.

“I pray that Christians throughout the country will continue to love and serve women and children, and point to the hope of Jesus.”

State of the Bible: 40 percent of Gen Z believe Jesus sinned

PHILADELPHIA (BP) — Nearly 40 percent of Generation Z believe Jesus was a human and sinned like other people when He lived on earth, the American Bible Society reveals in State of the Bible 2022.

The perception among Gen Z, polling at 38 percent, was comparable to other age groups, including Generation X, 37 percent; and millennials and boomers, 35 percent. Only the elderly polled significantly lower in believing Jesus sinned, at 26 percent. The numbers based on age groups do not address whether those polled identify as Christian or non-Christian.

Among the Scripture-engaged of all ages, only 18 percent believe Jesus was a sinner, the ABS said.

The findings are included in Chapter 2 of the 2022 report, in part focusing on how the Bible shapes ideas about spiritual things, specifically their perceptions of God, Jesus and Satan.

ABS expressed hope in finding that Gen Z registers high in curiosity about Jesus and/or the Bible, with 75 percent falling between a little curious (11 percent) and extremely curious (31 percent). One-fifth, 21 percent, said they were very curious and 13 percent said they were somewhat curious.

“Curiosity has been called the most underrated tool of persuasion. If that’s true, then Christians are well-positioned to share God’s message with their neighbors because curiosity is trending higher,” ABS said, gauging curiosity about who Jesus is and what the Bible says. “It cuts across all generations. The Elder generation leads all age groups at 87 percent curiosity.”

The rise in curiosity was found despite a drop in Bible readership.

“It’s crucial for churches, ministries and practicing Christians to understand the questions that non-practicing Christians have and help them find answers in the Bible,” ABS said in its study. “We need to invite them into life-giving relationships centered on biblical faith and vibrant Christian community.”

Overall, those whom ABS described as Scripture-engaged held a more scriptural perception of Jesus, with only 18 percent believing that Jesus was a sinner. Among those in the Movable Middle category, which includes both those who are Bible friendly and Bible neutral, 33 percent perceive Jesus as a sinner. The highest portion of respondents who believed Jesus was a sinner, 43 percent, falls among those categorized as Bible Disengaged.

Nearly all respondents in the Scripture-engaged category, 92 percent, perceive God as an “all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect creator of the universe who rules the world today,” compared to 76 percent of the Movable Middle and 33 percent of the Bible Disengaged who expressed that belief. When studied by age group, irrespective of Bible engagement, 57 percent of Gen Z held the Scripture-based view of God, compared to 48 percent of millennials, 63 percent of Gen X, 67 percent of boomers and 82 percent of the elderly.

Chapter 2 of State of the Bible 2022 is available here, with subsequent chapters slated for release throughout 2022.

ABS researchers collaborated with the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center to survey a nationally representative group of American adults on topics related to the Bible, faith and the church. The study conducted online via telephone produced 2,598 responses from a representative sample of adults 18 and older in all 50 states and Washington D.C.

Apathy in churches looms large for pastors, Lifeway Research study reveals

NASHVILLE—Pastors often deal with churchgoers with strong opinions, but they’re much more concerned about the people in their congregations who don’t seem to care much at all.

In the final release from Lifeway Research’s 2022 Greatest Needs of Pastors study, most pastors say the primary “people dynamics” challenge they face in their churches is apathy or lack of commitment.

“Many people can be a member of a church, but not participate in the work of the church,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “Pastors see the potential of mobilizing everyone in the church to minister to others in the church and in their community.”

People dynamics challenges

For the 2022 Greatest Needs of Pastors study, Lifeway Research interviewed 200 U.S. Protestant pastors who identified 44 issues related to their role and then surveyed 1,000 additional pastors to determine which of these needs was most prominent among pastors. The nearly four dozen needs were divided into seven categories: ministry difficulties, spiritual needs, skill development, self-care, personal life, mental health and people dynamics.

Among these categories, 22 percent of pastors say people dynamics in their congregations are the most challenging or require the most attention today. Skill development (23 percent) is the only category more pastors identify as their area of greatest need.

Six of the 44 total needs are classified as people dynamics, but pastors say apathy is by far the most pressing issue in this category. Three in 4 U.S. Protestant pastors (75 percent) say apathy or lack of commitment is a people dynamic they find challenging in their congregations. Among all 44 issues pastors identified, developing leaders and volunteers and fostering connections with unchurched people are the only issues more pastors say they recognize as a need.

Close to half of pastors say they find it challenging in their ministries to deal with people’s strong opinions about non-essentials (48 percent), resistance to change in the church (46 percent) and people’s political views (44 percent). Around a third point to people’s unrealistic expectations of the pastor (35 percent) and caring too much about people’s approval or criticism (32 percent). Fewer than 1 in 10 (8 percent) say none of these are challenging for them as a pastor.

“Congregations are filled with many opinions,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “It is not easy to bring a congregation’s focus to a few things to do together that matter. People’s obsession with non-essentials, politics and a dislike for change all hamper a pastor’s ability to provide leadership.”

Young pastors, those 18-44, are frequently among the most likely to say they face challenging people dynamics at their church, including people’s strong opinions about non-essentials (60 percent), people’s political views (55 percent), resistance to change (52 percent), people’s unrealistic expectations of the pastor (46 percent) and caring too much about people’s approval or criticism (45 percent).

White pastors are among those most likely to say they deal with strong opinions about non-essentials (50 percent), challenging political views (47 percent) and caring too much about people’s approval or criticism (33 percent).

Pastors in different denominational families are likely to struggle with different people dynamics in their congregations. Baptist (79 percent), non-denominational (78 percent) and Pentecostal pastors (77 percent) are among the most likely to say they find people’s apathy challenging, while Lutheran (40 percent) and Methodist pastors (38 percent) are among the most likely to point to caring too much about people’s approval or criticism as a ministry challenge.

In facing strong opinions about non-essentials, Lutherans (58 percent) and Baptists (50 percent) are among the most likely to say they deal with this. Lutherans (54 percent), Presbyterian/Reformed (51 percent), pastors in the Restorationist movement (51 percent) and Methodists (48 percent) are more likely than Baptists (35 percent) or Pentecostals (34 percent) to say they find people’s political views to be a challenge in their congregations. Methodists (53 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed (50 percent) are among the most likely to say they see resistance to change in the church as a challenging people dynamic.

Most challenging people dynamic

When asked to narrow down all the people dynamics they identified as an issue, close to half of U.S. Protestant pastors (47 percent) say people’s apathy or lack of commitment is the one they find most challenging.

Around 1 in 9 pastors say the most pressing people dynamic for them is people’s political views (13 percent) or resistance to change in the church (12 percent). Fewer than 1 in 10 pastors point to people’s strong opinions about non-essentials (8 percent), caring too much about approval or criticism (6 percent) or unrealistic expectations of the pastor (6 percent). Another 9 percent say none of these are their most challenging people dynamic or they’re not sure.

“The typical church is not overrun by politics or stuck in the past, but many are,” McConnell said. “A Christ-honoring church keeps its focus on the spiritual mission of bringing people in their community the Good News of what Jesus Christ has done for them. When this focus shifts to personal agendas, pastors are burdened to shift it back to the Gospel.”

Evangelical pastors (51 percent) are more likely than mainline pastors (42 percent) to say their primary people dynamic challenge is people’s apathy. Similarly, pastors 65 and older (51 percent) are more likely than pastors 18-44 years old (42 percent) to say apathy is their greatest issue in this area.

At least half of Pentecostal (55 percent), Baptist (52 percent) and non-denominational (52 percent) pastors identify apathy as their top people dynamic concern.

The more the education, the less likely a pastor is to say their greatest people dynamic challenge is people’s lack of commitment: pastors with no college degree (58 percent), Bachelor’s degree (52 percent), Master’s degree (43 percent) and doctoral degree (39 percent).

African American pastors (22 percent) are the most likely to say their primary challenge with people dynamics is resistance to change in the church. Pastors at churches with fewer than 50 in attendance (15 percent) are more likely than pastors at churches with 250 or more (7 percent) to say resistance to change is their top concern in this area.

Pastors of larger churches (11 percent) are, however, among the most likely to say caring too much about people’s approval or criticism tops their people dynamic issues.

Pastors in the West (20 percent) are more likely than those in the Northeast (12 percent) or South (10 percent) to say people’s political views create their most challenging people dynamic.

“These challenging people dynamics all affect the unity within a local church,” McConnell said. “Unity matters greatly to Christ as seen in his prayer for his followers in John 17. Many things can disrupt that unity and one of the most common is not outright disagreement but silently abstaining from what the church is doing together.”

For more information, view the complete report or visit LifewayResearch.com/GreatestNeeds.