“Where there is no vision, the people perish…” (Proverbs 29:18 KJV)
The first recollection I have as a Free Will Baptist was in the “Card Class” at Johnston Union FWB Sunday School. My teacher was Ms. Esther Fowler. Ms. Esther and many other teachers, preachers, and spiritual leaders, gave me the foundation for my Christian beliefs. But, I am Free Will Baptist because I was born into the Free Will Baptist Church. While I might have visited other churches, without a doubt, the Free Will Baptist Church was my home and where I became comfortable doctrinally.
But, that was over 60 years ago and sadly, the demographics of the Original Free Will Baptist geographical footprint have changed. The “urban flight” of young people from Eastern North Carolina in search of jobs has left our small rural churches in limbo…and some in the throes of death. Fewer and fewer children are being “born” into our churches, therefore, it is more important than ever for us to find ways to attract new members, or we will perish.
At the 2014 Convention of Original Free Will Baptists I issued a challenge for every member of our denomination. We must seek a way to become more relevant Christians—spreaders of the Gospel—if we are to insure the Original Free Will Baptist Church’s place in the future. We have the divine message and a strong doctrine; but that will not make any difference if there is no one in the pews.
My personal opinion is that we have an ever-shrinking window of opportunity to develop a vision for the future of our denomination. Many of our churches may already be past the “point of no return.” We, the leaders of the denomination, and you, the members, must decide if we are going to allow God’s work to diminish. Or, will we do what is expected of His people and develop a vision for the future so that others may someday write of their experiences as children within the Free Will Baptist Church?
Can we be more than a small factionalized denomination that seems to revel in how different we are than “those others”…whoever they might be? Can we take our wonderful doctrine and stand together to develop a plan to attract those from the darkness to its life-giving light? Socrates wrote: “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new!” Can we do that? I pray that we can! In fact, if we don’t, I believe that we are facing extinction.
Today is the day for us to begin building the new and improved Original Free Will Baptist Church. To do this, we first must evaluate what we are doing and how we are doing it. We must develop a Master Plan that we all can agree upon to strengthen our denomination and its attraction to the unchurched and those seeking relevant and enlightened churches.
To help us with this process, we have asked lay-leaders from each conference to develop a planning vehicle wherein we all can participate. Everyone is invited to participate in the assessment process to decide what we are “good” at and what we need to “work” on. We will seek to identify the “opportunities” that we might be missing; and, the “threats” that we need to defend against.
Following the assessments, the Task Force will draw up concluding statements and questions that our denominational and conference/association leaders can use to develop strategic goals and objectives. These goals will be brought to the Convention for ratification.
When the Convention has approved the goals and objectives, we can then begin to develop “action plans” that can be quantified and evaluated annually. Hopefully, we will all be moving in the same direction as a denomination, and, with God’s help, become a growing denomination again.
I believe that failure to take action is not acceptable in God’s sight. I pray that everyone reading this article will participate in the strategic planning for our denomination and will promote the participation of others in your church. May God send His blessing upon this work! Today is the Day!