By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Growing up in a Southern Baptist church I always knew that church attendance usually was higher on Easter Sunday and the Sunday closest to Christmas.
I naturally assumed that a lot of those Easter/Christmas attendees were non-believers. The more I have researched and talked with people who know more about church attendance than me, the more I realize that’s not necessarily true.
Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, wrote a blog nearly four years ago entitled “CEO (Christmas Easter Only) Christians.” Rainer wrote that “it is presumed that many, if not most, of the CEO Christians are not actually Christians at all. They thus present good opportunities to share the gospel.”
But the reality, he continued, is that “we actually found that most who attend on Easter are fairly regular attendees. They just happen to come together on the same day. On Easter, those who attend one, two, or three Sundays a month join those who attend nearly every Sunday.”
With that said, I hope pastors will still preach that strong evangelistic message on Easter Sunday to get those non-believers who make that obligatory visit to church to make Mom and Grandma happy.
But this question must be answered. If most unbelievers won’t come to church on Easter Sunday, can we really expect them to come any other time during the year?
The answer, of course, is no.
Statistics back it up. Tennessee has a population of more than 6.5 million people. Best estimates are that 3.65 million of those Tennessee residents have no personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Of those 3.65 million Tennesseans, about 16 percent identify themselves as “religiously unaffiliated” according to the Public Religion Research Institute’s American Values Atlas, cited in an Associated Baptist Press article.
And to take it a step further, Steve Holt of the Tennessee Baptist Convention staff notes that on any given Sunday, 80-85 percent of the state’s population are not in any church of any kind. That’s a staggering total.
The number of people who identify themselves as religiously unaffiliated or “nones” is growing across the nation. In fact, there are 13 states where the religiously unaffiliated group is higher than Catholics or white evangelical or white mainline Protestants.
The numbers nationwide and in Tennessee can be seen as a negative or churches can see that as a mission field ripe for the harvest.
My hope and prayer is that Tennessee Baptists will see it as an opportunity to reach people as never before.
To do so will come at a high cost — and I am not talking about dollars. It will actually require people to get out of their comfort zones (also known as the four walls of the church) and get out into their local communities.
Facts are facts. Non-believers typically do not go to church.
The key to reaching and baptizing more people (one of the Tennessee Baptist Convention Five Objectives) is to take the gospel to where the people are.
That’s what is so great about Tennessee Baptists’ 1-5-1 harvest field plants initiative. Harvest plants are simply off-campus efforts aimed at gathering lost people for the purpose of sharing the gospel. A harvest plant can be branches (extensions of existing on-campus Bible studies), groups (similar to branches but not connected to any other program of the church), or churches (a new work that will carry out all the functions of a church).
Last year Tennessee Baptist churches baptized its highest number of people since 2010 but we are still far short of our goal of 50,000 baptisms each year by 2024. See story on page 1.
The people are out there. We just need to go where they are and share the greatest story ever told.
Make a commitment this Easter Sunday to intentionally reach your friends and family members who are lost or do not go to church.
If we are not the “salt and light” to a state and world that is lost, then who will be?