Milton Hollifield, Executive Director-Treasurer, of the North Carolina Baptist State Convention recently wrote, in part:
((…..”With “exploding” growth, Hollifield said North Carolina is “an educated population” with more research and development jobs than New Jersey or Washington, and is the sixth fastest growing state. Church growth planners realize “we are not the Old South – we are finding that the people moving here have very little appreciation for all things religious,” he said. Not only are newcomers not southerners, Hollifield said, they “look at North Carolina Baptists as some sort of strange being.”))
To which I replied:
The above comments in recent Biblical Recorder article warrant discussion. The net in-migration patterns into North Carolina are not uniform state-wide. Actually, while North Carolina is growing robustly, some counties are losing population. So “doing church” in a regressing county will be different from “doing church” in a growing county. The growing counties also have many issues to understand. For instance, Pitt County (a growing county) has net out-migration among young adults graduating from college. That is, our children tend to migrate to Wake, Mecklinburg, Guilford, Forsyth, and other states. We get some net in-migration from other North Eastern North Carolina counties, some of which are losing population. We also get net in-migration from the North Eastern US and a significant Hispanic population. Among those from the NE, there is a net in-migration of African-Americans, Catholics, and many with no active church affiliation at all. Many of the African-Americans still elect to associate with predominantly African-American churches, the Catholics normally seek out Catholic churches, and Hispanics generally associate with other Hispanics even if they are missions of traditional protestant churches. The net in-migration from other NE NC counties is not enough to sustain growth in all existing churches. So for traditional churches to grow they have to evolve relationships with the un-churched, African-Americans, Catholics, Hispanics, or some measure of all of them. NONE of these folks are apt to show up in our worship services as visitors from their own initiative. So we can’t expect to sustain adequate growth from our traditional pool of visitors. Ironically enough that means we have to become missionaries where we are …. that is, become credible friends with non-believers or different kinds of believers. Increasingly, meaningful relationships will have to precede any expectation of the newcomers ever becoming visitors in an established church.
One way my 180 year old church, The Memorial Baptist Church, Greenville, North Carolina, is attempting to shift part of our focus is by facilitating a variety of endeavors focusing on Better Health. Following a series of meetings addressing nutrition and exercise, to which over 2,000 households in our adjacent neighborhoods were invited (with only a few attending), we are initiating a Neighborhood Walking Trail on our premises. Having experienced that most of our neighbors seem skeptical in attending a conventional styled meeting within our buildings, we are going out of that box (our building) into a more open setting.
Concurrent with that initiative we are launching a Better Health Blog:
While an aspect of our Better Health Blog is promoting our on premises Neighborhood Walking Trail, most of it is not geographically constrained. Even if we are successful in getting a few of our neighbors to move more by using our trail, we also have to succeed in getting a few of our members to move more by using our trail in order for relationship building opportunities to happen. The latter may be as much of a challenge as the former. While we have a few folks who have become engaged in eating smarter and moving more, most of our overweight and obese members seem content to remain so.
Even though the alarming rate of increase in overweight and obese adults (I’ll save children for another day) almost single-handedly accounts for the US falling from being in eleventh place as to “life-expectancy” to forty-second place in just a few decades I don’t read much about churches being very concerned. In fact church folk in general, and Baptist Ministers in particular, seem to be leading the charge toward excess weight gain.
If that statement is controversial enough to pique your interest 🙂 (I’m told Blogs have to address controversy in some manner to gain readership), frequently checking our Blog will keep you updated on our progress. Even if Better Health fails to facilitate meaningful new relationships, we will simply try other ways. Even if we get it wrong multiple times, we will keep trying until we get at least some of it right. The next 180 years, representing thousands of souls, depend on it.
Gene Prescott, Coordinator
The Memorial Baptist Church Better Health Initiative
Greenville, North Carolina