How can we extend the gospel more effectively beyond the South? How can Southern Baptists best see the robust growth of evangelism and church planting in major non-Southern cities and pioneer areas? Does history offer us any clues about this question?
I'll be uncharacteristically brief. It is very, very difficult to change denominational maps like the ones that I discussed in my previous post. France is still Catholic, as are Spain and Italy. In Russia, you'll find that the Russian Orthodox Church is still the big kid on the block. Germany is Lutheran (even if only nominally so). Texas is Baptist. Once these geographic patterns are set, they are very difficult to change.
But change they sometimes do. Historically God has employed two major factors to effect these changes:
The Diaspora of Jewish Christians from Judea contributed to the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman world. Likewise, the westward migration of American citizens during the nineteenth century dramatically altered the religious landscape of the United States of America. The Great Depression enlarged the Southern Baptist Convention, forcing people out of the South and into places like California and New Mexico (two non-Southern states that traditionally are stronger in SBC life than many other non-Southern states). Even Alaska has a stronger Southern Baptist presence because of economic and military factors that relocated many Southerners into that portion of the country.
Maybe the best way to do missions would be to relocate entire churches of Southern Baptists into the areas that we wish to reach? Maybe we need to pray for some sort of an economic disaster in the South?
Spiritual Awakening or Reformation
The most dramatic alterations of the religious landscape of this continent took place in the First and Second Great Awakenings. As a result of these movements, a theretofore predominantly Presbyterian and Anglican nation was transformed into a predominantly Baptist, Methodist, and Restorationist nation.
Previously in Europe, the spiritual awakening known as the Protestant Reformation had entirely rewritten the spiritual map of the Old World. Spiritual constants that had been on place for centuries suddenly and dramatically changed, then to remain virtually unchanged from that epoch until today.
Rather than disaster in the South, perhaps we should be praying for reformation and revival.
Certainly, whatever is the dominant Christian denomination of choice in a region, it steadily grows weaker between times of spiritual awakening or reformation. We see that trend at work in each one of the places mentioned above subsequent to their last encounter with population migration or spiritual awakening.
I can't think of anything else in the entire history of Christianity that has worked. Can you?