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Baptist Problems Differ by Region
By Jim White

During the BWA Annual Gathering in Prague, the Church Health and
Effectiveness Workgroup focused attention on the health of pastors. Three
presenters provided glimpses into church life as experienced by pastors in North
America, Bulgaria and Chile.

Decline and Stress in North America

David Laubach, the North American presenter, emphasized the stress pastors
feel in relating to a culture increasingly at odds with their Christian heritage. He
cited statistical evidence of the move away from church attendance as the norm
in the United States and Canada.
Although 50 years ago it was reported that 80 percent of Americans attended
church regularly, that fi gure has fallen to between 20 percent, based on actual
seat counts, and four percent based on surveys by the Barna Group.
According to Laubach, 75 percent of US churches are declining and 24 percent
are growing because they are gathering the members of declining churches.
Only one percent of US churches are growing because they are reaching the
unchurched population.
Moreover, Laubach reported the failure of strategies used to attract new
members, such as providing parking, calling a younger pastor, shortening the
worship service and evangelistic campaigns. Ironically, according to Laubach,
“Churches with evangelism committees are growing more slowly than those
without such committees.”
Since most US churches are small, the issue of survival assumes critical
importance and depletes energy and resources. Across denominational lines,
churches of fewer than 100 members said that “keeping the church going”
was their greatest concern. The concern ranked number four and number six
respectively among churches smaller than 150 and 250.
“Shrinking resources, an absence of biological growth, aging mainline
denominational populations, mobility, a consumerist/entertainment culture,
a sometimes-hostile environment, increased pastoral expectations and role
overload, dramatically shifting ecclesiology, church change and confl ict” are
among the stress producers North American clergy deal with regularly, asserted
Laubach. He continued, “Emotionally drained pastors can succumb to moral
failure and personal and family breakdown.”

Growth in Bulgaria

In sharp contrast to the picture of the North American church, Bulgarian
Baptists are experiencing such sharp growth that they cannot produce leadership
and buildings fast enough to keep pace with conversions, reported Teodor
Oprenov, General Secretary for the Baptist Union of Bulgaria. Acknowledging
that Western Europe is experiencing some of the same problems as North America,
he said that the situation is far different in former communist countries.
The challenge in Bulgaria, he said, is not post-modernism, but rather post-
communism. People in former

(Photo: Teodor Oprenov)
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