What is the Difference Between Methodology and Theology?
“…go make disciples…” (Matthew 28:19)
On a sunny Florida afternoon years ago, I heard the haunting and unforgettable words of a leading evangelical British minister who said, “Mark my words, North American Christians: Your large church buildings will be as empty as the cathedrals of Great Britain within a span of twenty-five to fifty years if you do not change your methodology.” Notice he said methodology – not theology. The well known cleric spoke with the assurance of a prophet, yet the humility of one who had been mellowed by many years of Christian service.
After hearing the English pastor speak, I decided to investigate his claims. In subsequent years I spent considerable time in England and in Europe and learned to appreciate the wisdom of his words. I discovered striking similarities between declining spiritual vitality and decreasing church membership in Great Britain and what we are seeing in large segments of the church in North American today.
Years ago, Europe relied on evangelism by addition through eloquent messages of such greats as Charles Haddon Spurgeon. But, there was very little, “equipping the saints for the work of ministry.” (Ephesians 4:12) As a result, few laypeople knew how to develop spiritual growth skills, mature in Christ, and then lead others to the Savior. The same oversight is now occurring in our churches throughout the United States.
Because of this oversight, the United States’ largest evangelical denomination has produced the following alarming statistics:
The Southern Baptist Convention has lost 14% of its membership nation-wide since 2006 – that is 2.3 million members which includes 14 consecutive years of membership decline.
Baptist News – www.baptist news.com – may 24, 2021
RNS – Religious News Service – May 21, 2021 – www.religiousnews.com
From 2018 to 2019 (before COVID) the SBC experienced its largest single-year drop in membership in more than 100 years.
Christianity Today – June 4, 2020
In 2019 (Before COVID) the SBC reported a total of 235,748 baptisms. This is the lowest number of baptisms in over 70 years.
It takes an average of 61 Southern Baptist church members one year to lead only one person to Christ.
I takes an average of two months for a Southern Baptist Church to lead one person to Christ and baptize them. Nationally, that average means only having six new Christians – per church – per year.
Associated Press – June 4, 2020 – www.apmnews.com
Paul’s timeless message to his son in the faith Timothy has been almost completely ignored: “And the things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)
Billy Graham, the famous evangelist, expressed it this way:
“One of the first verse of Scripture that Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, asked me to memorize was “The things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” This is a mathematical formula for spreading the gospel and enlarging the church. If every believer followed this pattern, the church could reach the entire world with the gospel in one generation! Mass crusades, in which I believe and to which I have committed my life, will never finish the Great Commission; but a one-by-one ministry will.”
Our seminaries do need to continue focusing on theological concepts, but also on the successful Biblical methodology that created explosive growth in the early church.