As the most racially diverse denomination in Protestantism, American Baptist Churches USA has seen that commitment for inclusiveness manifest itself in the makeup of its churches and their members. Some of the most significant growth within our family in recent years has been witnessed in our African American, Hispanic, Native American, Haitian, Portuguese and Asian American churches. Indeed, it is predicted that by the year 2000, there will be no single majority racial or ethnic group within the denomination. The breadth of our denominational family can in part be attributed to our longstanding commitment to offering fellowship and support to all people. In many other areas, too, we are a diverse people: geographically, theologically, vocationally.
The growth and vitality of churches also is a primary concern of American Baptist International Ministries missionaries and their colleagues in dozens of countries in Asia, Africa, North and South America and Europe. American Baptists provide resources to help partners grow as witnesses for Christ–and the growth of the church overseas often can be accomplished in more effective ways than sending missionaries. Indeed, although fewer missionaries served during the period, the growth of our Baptist partners overseas between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s was dramatic: a marked increase in the number of baptisms, a doubling in membership to 2.6 million persons and a nearly 250 percent increase in the number of churches.
Many people in our stressful and secularized society are without a church home. American Baptists always have taken seriously the challenge to provide those persons with communities of faith. We seek to bring the unchurched into church life, where individual maturing in Jesus Christ is encouraged by all the resources of a witnessing people.
In 1984, we began an ambitious campaign to start 500 new churches before the end of 1994. This nationwide commitment to plant roots and grow churches surpassed its goal–with 504 new starts–thanks to the efforts of thousands of individuals, churches and organizations that acted on a vision of growth. An additional goal of 200 new churches by the year 2000 has been set. It is apparent that the power of the Holy Spirit has strengthened our church planting efforts. Growth of any kind is never entirely easy, and church planting is no exception. But the rate of success of these new starts–more than 80 percent–gives a strong indication of the energy, commitment and persistence of the planters and their young congregations.
The work of church planting and growth within existing churches remains an ongoing priority within American Baptist Churches USA, offering exciting prospects of new churches, new people, and new life in Christ.
Resources are available to help the local church grow and minister effectively, including Judson Press books that offer advice for small churches or churches that minister in urban areas or rural areas. Another important resource for local churches is the American Baptist Extension Corporation, which can provide loans and essential advice to congregations considering building programs or remodeling their places of worship.